We have a little more than one week of the 2020-21 NHL season in the books and that it means it is time to check in on our first trending Pittsburgh Penguins players of the season.
It has been a little bit of a mixed bag so far from every area of the team.
Sidney Crosby has been pretty good. Evgeni Malkin has not.
The third line has been a huge surprise. The second line has been a disappointment.
Kasperi Kapanen made a great debut. The two new defensemen did not.
We take a look at all of those areas and more.
Who Is Hot
Sidney Crosby. The captain has not been consistently dominant — at least not in the way we are used to seeing him dominate — but he has made a pretty big impact so far and been one of the team’s best players. He is the top scorer (three goals, two assists) through four games and just scored a game-winning goal on Tuesday night to complete an impressive comeback against the Washington Capitals.
Not to pile on, but I think Evan Rodrigues has held that top line back a little bit and getting Kasperi Kapanen into that spot alongside Crosby and Jake Guentzel will be significant for everybody involved.
The Third Line. Easily the most positive development from my perspective so far.
The Penguins’ ability to piece together a competent third line was always going to be a significant X-Factor for the season. That is why the early returns on the Jared McCann, Brandon Tanev, and Mark Jankowski line are so encouraging.
Tanev has been one of the team’s best players through the first four games, while the line as a whole has been a shutdown trio that has still been able to chip in some much needed offense.
This trio has played 30 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey so far this season, with the Penguins controlling the total shot attempts (64 percent), playing lockdown defense, and contributing offensively.
Tanev? He has been great. Jankowski? Huge surprise. McCann? He has not made a huge impact offensively but he looks better with this group than he did at any point in the bubble.
Kasperi Kapanen. It has only been one game but Kapanen was a massive bright spot in the Penguins’ 5-4 overtime win against the Capitals on Tuesday night. It was a Penguins debut that was more than six-and-half years in the making, and it was impressive. Kapanen was outstanding no matter what line the Penguins placed him on, and it looks like he is going to take his expected spot alongside Crosby and Guentzel on Friday night against the New York Rangers.
He brought speed, skill, and creativity to the lineup in his debut and really helped spark the team during what had been a brutal start to the game. They paid a significant price to get him, but he is a player that can still help them a lot and checks pretty much every box they should be looking for in a new player.
Who Is Not
The goaltending. We are four games into the season and the Penguins have already allowed 18 goals. That is not good. While there are a lot of factors at play there, and while it is not any one area or any one group of players, you can not hide from the fact the two goalies (Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith) have combined for an .820 save percentage so far.
That is not going to cut it no matter how the team is playing in front of them defensively.
There are going to be moments where there is a breakdown defensively. You are going to have to face tough shots and scoring chances. Sometimes you need a save. So far the Penguins have not consistently gotten those saves.
That is not to say they haven’t gotten any, because they have. DeSmith has made his share, including that crazy 3-on-0 save against Washington. But in that same game he also let in two awful goals just moments after the Penguins scored to get back in the game.
While the third line is a big X-factor this season, no position is going to do more to impact the Penguins’ season than the goalies. They need one (and preferably both) of these guys to be good. So far, they have not been. The good news: It is still very, very early and there is plenty of time for them to turn this around. Hopefully they do.
The Second Line. Probably the biggest disappointment so far this season because all there have been mostly invisible.
Evgeni Malkin has had a particularly tough start, and outside of his power play goal on Tuesday to tie the game he has been a total non-factor.
That is still a step above what we have seen from Bryan Rust, which is absolutely nothing so far.
I actually think Jason Zucker has had his moments and been very close to scoring, but this line has to get going. A lot of their success this season as a team will depend on it.
The new defense additions. Mike Matheson and Cody Ceci were two pretty unpopular additions over the offseason, and neither did much to win people over with their first impressions. I do not want to pile on Matheson too much right now because he is injured, but his first two games in Philadelphia were rough. He struggled, he took penalties, and it was just not the start anyone was hoping for. Ceci played just one game before finding himself in the press box.
I still think Matheson, even for his flaws and contract, has more to offer than what we have seen.
It would be very beneficial if it played out that way.