After a maddeningly inconsistent stretch games of a week ago that seemed like it could have seriously damaged their playoff chances, the Pittsburgh Penguins followed it up this week with a rock solid performance that saw them go 3-0-0 (with two really sensational performances against the Montreal Canadiens and Columbus Blue Jackets — the two teams they absolutely had to beat).
That has put them back in a playoff position and dramatically changed the attitude around the team. But we have seen that before this season, where it looks like they have started to turn the corner and get back to where they need to be on a consistent basis only to take another step backwards soon after. The key is building on this recent momentum, taking care of business in Columbus on Saturday, and then trying to slow down a white-hot Bruins team on Sunday.
Do that, then they really might be on to something.
Now, on to this week’s Trending Penguins Players.
Who Is Hot
Sidney Crosby — His streak of multi-point games came to an end in Thursday’s win over Columbus, but his empty-net goal still added to his current point streak, which now sits at six. Overall he has at least one point in 12 of his past 13 games and recorded 25 total points during that stretch. Add in his 200-foot game and he has been as dominant as a player can be in the NHL today. If the Penguins do end up making the playoffs, Crosby is going to be the biggest reason for it. Still, he is not doing it alone, which brings us too...
Jake Guentzel — What a steal this contract is looking to be. The Robin to Sidney Crosby’s Batman right now, Guentzel has been on a roll this week as well with four goals (two each versus Montreal and the Florida Panthers) including an incredible individual effort in overtime to give the Penguins a much-needed point against the Panthers. His week has pushed him up to a 40-goal pace for the season.
Matt Murray — That meltdown in the rain in Philadelphia kind of seems like it was an eternity ago, doesn’t it? In three starts this week Murray went 3-0-0 with a .967 save percentage a shutout in what was probably the biggest game of the regular season to this point. Can not stress this enough: He has played extremely well since returning from injury in mid-December, even if it seems like we are always looking for a reason to jump on him for every bad goal or the occassional down game. Since returning to the lineup he has a .931 save percentage in 25 games. Among goalies that have appeared in at least 20 games since then, that is the third best mark in the league behind only Ben Bishop (.939) and Robin Lehner (.936), which is obviously pretty good.
The Defense — Everybody. Everybody in the lineup. Look, we’re all tough on Jack Johnson. Nobody liked the Erik Gudbranson trade. It is still, on paper, a very flawed group at the bottom, and with the injury situation things looked pretty bleak. But they have done everything that has been needed and played about as well as could have possibly been expected. They all deserve credit for stepping up when they were needed most.
Who Is Not
Zach Aston-Reese — It has been such a good week for the Penguins that I kind of feel bad putting anybody in this column, but ZAR has cooled off a bit after a really strong stretch. He had no points and was a minus-two this week with only three shots on goal. He has been better.
I honestly don’t think there is anyone else that really fits in the “not” category for this week.
Good week all around for the Penguins. Let us see if they keep it going in what will be a huge weekend of games.