All things considered this start could have been a lot worse for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The defense is crushed by injuries, they have not played well and only held a lead for 34 minutes all season, they have played six of their first eight games against Philadelphia, Washington, and Boston ... and are still 4-3-1 and just had a five-game point streak get snapped on Thursday night.
Given the injuries, schedule and way they have played they could very easily find themselves sitting at the bottom of the division. Instead, the record is at least very passable with some very important points already banked.
With that said, it is time to check in on this week’s edition of Trending Penguins players.
Who Is Hot
Pierre-Oliver Joseph. He has not played a ton of minutes so far, and his spot in the lineup right now is simply out of desperation, but he is doing enough to earn a more prominent role. He should be forcing their hand to keep him in the lineup even when everyone else is healthy. He has been a bright spot for me this week and is making a pretty strong first impression. His development was always going to make or break the Phil Kessel trade, and if he can become a contributing player it would be a significant boost to the defense of a cap-strapped team given his age and salary cap number.
Kasperi Kapanen. I like him and I like what he brings. He brings speed and energy to the lineup and I thought he played great on Tuesday night as part of that comeback to help the Penguins get a point. That game tying goal was a great example of the speed and skill he can provide. He has consistently stood out since returning to the lineup.
Who Is Not
The injuries. This is picking right up where we left off a year ago, at least on defense. I had some concerns about this defense even before the season when everyone was healthy, but when you take five players out of the lineup, including two of your top-four, it is going to cause a lot of issues. Sure, it has given Joseph an opportunity to play (and play well!) but they do not have the depth to withstand the losses of Brian Dumoulin, Marcus Pettersson, Mike Matheson, and Juuso Riikola.
The slow starts. Every game, like clockwork, they find themselves behind on the scoreboard. Sometimes only a single goal. Sometimes two goals. They are just always in a position where they have to try to play catch up from the very beginning. Just because it has worked so far does not mean it is always going to work. While the ability to overcome deficits and never quit is a positive trait and a sign of this team’s commitment and grit, it would be great to see them actually play that way in the first period instead of only the third period.
Special teams. That was a bad trip through Boston for both the power play and special teams. The former was a momentum killer and looked horrendous (again), while the latter only killed off three of its five penalties. Just a bad week. The Power play had nine opportunities in Boston and was actually outscored 1-0, and I am pretty sure they were outchanced. At least it seemed that way.
The third line. This was a bright spot over the first couple of games, but they have cooled off significantly (even though they have not always consistently played as the same trio, I am including these three as “the third line”). Brandon Tanev has no points in six games. Mark Jankowski has no points in six games. Jared McCann has some points in three of his past four games, but they have come while playing up in the lineup. It is not enough for your bottom-six to simply play to a 0-0 tie every night. You need some scoring from that part of the lineup as well. That is not happening right now, and that is a problem.
Evgeni Malkin. He is collecting points, and he looked more involved in the first Boston game, but he is still not right at the moment. And even in that better first game in Boston there was still that 2-on-0 in overtime that he and Kris Letang messed up. That second line, and especially Malkin, has to get going more consistently if this team is going to do anything this season. I still think they will, but the fact it has not happened yet in eight games is mildly concerning.