The Pittsburgh Penguins continued their strong second half surge this past week with a pair of impressive wins in Dallas and New York, wrapping up a four-game road trip that saw them record seven out of a possible eight points and were just a matter of minutes away from what could have been a perfect road trip.
Perhaps the most encouraging thing about this past week was the fact the Penguins played two outstanding road games without two of their best players, scoring eight goals, with none of them coming from Sidney Crosby or Phil Kessel. Yes, I consider that encouraging because your best players are not going to score every night. Sometimes your best players may not be available on a given night. Sometimes that all happens on the same night. When it does, you have to have other players that can fill that void.
The Penguins are starting to find that, and it is a big reason why my thinking on this team’s potential has changed so drastically in such a short period of time.
Let’s take a look at who is hot and who is not in this week’s Penguins Trending Players, and it starts with a player that has been a big factor in the team’s ability to prevent goals as opposed to scoring them.
Who Is Hot
Brian Dumoulin — Is there a more underrated player on this team? Just a constant, consistent, steady rock on the Penguins’ blue line and an outstanding No. 2 defender. He was great over the past two games, quietly going about his business and helping to play a major shutdown role on the Penguins’ top defense pairing. In the two games this week he finished as a 61 percent possession player and was dominant when it came to scoring chance differential. Going back even further, over the past five games he has played 91 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey, more than any other player on the team, is better than 56 percent in Shot attempt percentage, scoring chance percentage, and high-danger scoring chance percentage, while the Penguins have outscored teams by a 5-1 margin with him on the ice. He has had his regular defense partner, Kris Letang, by his side for three of those games, something that certainly helps those numbers, but even in the two games Letang wasn’t there Dumoulin played outstanding hockey. As he always does.
Jared McCann — McCann made the “not” section a week ago but rebounded in a big way with three points over the past two games, including a two-goal effort in Dallas that featured his fourth shorthanded goal of the season (and his third since joining the Penguins). He is one goal away from hitting the 20-goal mark for the season and is tied (with Sidney Crosby) for the second-most goals on the team since joining the roster. Only Jake Guentzel has more since then.
Teddy Blueger — There really is not a reason for him to come out of the lineup, even when everyone is healthy. He looks like an NHL player. He teamed up with McCann in Dallas for the crazy spin-o-rama shorthanded goal that proved to be the difference in the game, and then followed it up with a two-goal effort in New York. Six goals and 10 points in 23 games, while barely playing more than 11 minutes per night, is a promising debut in the NHL.
Who Is Not
Eric Gudbranson — I am, admittedly, nitpicking here because somebody has to be trending down, but I thought the past two games were probably two of the tougher ones that Gudbranson has had since arriving in Pittsburgh. Overall the Penguins should still be thrilled with what they have gotten out of him because he has exceeded every possible expectation there was from him (I had none!), and quite honestly he has probably earned the right to stay in the lineup when Kris Letang and Olli Maatta return. But he has been better since joining the Penguins than he was this past week.
Patric Hornqvist — I love the way his line is playing with Nick Bjugstad. The chances are there. They are dominating possession. They look dangerous and like they can be on the verge of being a major factor. But we can not hide from the fact that Hornqvist has just two goals and five assists in his past 30 games. He has zero points in six games and not scored an even-strength goal since January 6. The way they are carrying the play is great and encouraging, but at some point they are going to need him to score.