You had to figure Thursday was probably going to be a tough game for the Pittsburgh Penguins just based on the law of averages.
They had been on a roll going into the game and were probably due for a loss. Their opponent, the Toronto Maple Leafs, had been reeling a bit and needed a win. The two teams just played the game before with the Penguins winning in a rout. They were going to get Toronto’s best effort, and at some point you are going to lose a game. The Penguins did.
Even with that there still is not much to complain about this week as they did exactly what they were supposed to do.
They played a bad team on Friday and won by multiple goals. They played an even worse team on Sunday and won by even more goals. They played a slumping, fragile team on Tuesday and won by a lot of goals to move into first place in the Metropolitan Division.
Overall, the Penguins go into the weekend (with games against Buffalo and a first-place showdown with the Washington Capitals) tied for first place in the division with the Capitals (with the tiebreaker) and with a 23-7-2 record in their most recent 32 games since the beginning of December.
Have to like that.
With all of that said, it is time to check in with our weekly Penguins’ stock update.
Who Is Up
Sidney Crosby — What else can you say? He had nine points in the four games over the past week, including three multiple point games. No one had an answer for him and he has formed an immediate chemistry with new winger Jason Zucker. The best player in the world doing what the best player in the world does.
Jason Zucker — Oh yeah, he is going to be a nice fit. He had three goals this week (including two against Montreal) and has looked like a constant threat on Crosby’s wing. You do not want to get too far ahead of yourself here because you never really know how a player is going to fit until you see them play for an extended period of time with a new team and new linemates, but this is about as encouraging of a start as you could get.
The Power Play — The Penguins are one of those runs where the power play is starting to click as you expect it to, even when it is not scoring. They scored at least one goal in each game against Montreal, Detroit, and the first Toronto game, including three goals in the latter on only three attempts. They only had one attempt on Thursday, but it looked fantastic even if it did not result in a goal. Almost wonder how that game would have turned out had they been able to get one of those six shots by Frederik Andersen.
Patric Hornqvist — So after writing a week about how I just do not know what to make of his season and want to see more from him, he comes back with a three-game point streak, including a huge game against Detroit where nearly had a hat trick (and very briefly did). This is truly one of the strangest individual seasons I can recall for a Penguins player because the eye test tells me he is not playing as well as he used to, but he is still scoring at a near 30-goal pace over 82 games. There is something to be said for going to the front of the net and causing chaos. It is a skill that apparently does not age.
Who Is Not
Jared McCann — Puck luck is not on his side right now. He has not scored a goal in more than a month. He is still getting his fair share of shots, but right now he can not buy a goal. If he keeps putting the puck on net he is eventually going to start getting more goals because of how good his shot is, but right now he is going through a serious cold snap.
Another Injury — Of course. This time it is Zach Aston-Reese going out of the lineup on a “week-to-week” basis, temporarily breaking up the excellent shutdown line of Aston-Reese, Brandon Tanev, and Teddy Blueger. The Penguins were already going to be in the market for another depth forward, and you have to think Aston-Reese’s temporary absence only makes that a bigger priority before the NHL trade deadline on Monday afternoon.