With the Pittsburgh Penguins on their bye week and the All-Star break there were no games this past week and no real reason to do a weekly Penguins’ stock update.
So instead we will take this Friday space and look at five players the team will need a little more from in the second half of the season.
Here we go...
Matt Murray. We are starting to see signs of him getting back on track. We went through this with him a year ago where he struggled through the first half of the season (understandably so, given what he was dealing with off of the ice) before going on a roll in the second half and playing not only the best hockey of his career, but some of the best hockey in the league. He has won six of his past seven starts (including five in a row) and while he still has had moments where he has looked sketchy in net the overall performance is where you want it to be. Even if Tristan Jarry keeps playing a lot of games and playing well, they still need Murray to be there as well. There is not only nothing wrong with having two good goalies, it is almost a necessity in today’s NHL.
Justin Schultz. Obviously we have not seen him for a while since he has been sidelined with an injury, but even before he went out of the lineup there were some flaws with his performance this season. It probably hasn’t been the year that he was hoping for given his contract situation, but he is going to be back in the lineup eventually and the Penguins are going to need some big minutes out of him. They are also going to need him to be better than he was at the start. They need more offense from him, they could really use him on the second power play unit (and maybe the first at times) and they need him to help round out their defense pairs. Nothing against Chad Ruhwedel or Jusso Rikkola, but I don’t like the idea of them playing meaningful minutes in the playoffs right now. Overall, the Penguins have been fine without Schultz, and even though he struggled at times in the first half he can still be a pretty big addition back to the defense.
Alex Galchenyuk. I hate to pile on him, because everyone knows he needs to do more. And his struggles are certainly not for a lack of effort and I am not even sure how long he will remain on the roster. But for as long as he is on the roster, and for as long as he plays, they really do need to see something else from him. It’s not even the lack of goal scoring or point production that is the problem. It is simply the fact that he just never seems to make an impact in any tangible way and never seems to be a threat to produce offense. I didn’t have overly high expectations for him at the start, but he absolutely should have more to offer than this.
Patric Hornqvist. Some might disagree with this, but I think they could use a lot more from Hornqvist. His goal-scoring numbers are fine (he is on a 27-goal pace over 82 games, which is what you expect from him) but I still do not know that he has played all that well this season. Or especially lately. It just seems like he has had shifts where he and his line have left goals on the ice and not capitalized the way they should have. This is purely anecdotal and eye test stuff here, but it just seems like he has too many chances and good lucks harmlessly roll off his stick with nothing to come out of them.
Dominik Simon. I like Simon. I like Simon on the Crosby line. I like the way Simon plays. He is also coming off a really strong stretch before the break. Including him here isn’t even about goal-scoring numbers or setting an expectation of what he should produce or needs to produce next to Crosby. I just thought there was a pretty lengthy stretch there where he was playing like the player his biggest critics always think he plays like. He wasn’t making the plays, or doing the little things, or making the passes that can make him such a useful player. He is never going to be a big goal-scorer, that is just a reality that everyone has to deal with. But he does enough other things well (and at a reasonably high level) that it makes him a valuable player, especially with his salary cap hit. We need to see more of that player in the second half. Based on the way he played before the break, I am encouraged he might be getting back to that level.