All things considered this is a pretty successful start to the 2021-22 season for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
They started on a two-game road trip in Florida, against two outstanding teams in the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers, and the Pens managed to take three out of a possible four points. They did that without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the lineup for both games, without Jake Guentzel for one game, losing Bryan Rust in the middle of another game, and not having Mike Matheson on defense.
That is all great news.
The only negative news is that they were eight minutes away from taking all four points with a two-goal lead. You want to get that fourth point in that situation.
Still, not much to complain about herre so let us get started with our first look at Penguins trending players for the season.
Who Is Hot
Danton Heinen. If the Penguins are going to do something special this year they are going to need some surprising people in the bottom half of the lineup to make some big contributions. Heinen is off to an encouraging start with a pair of goals in the first two games. Along with the goals he has also just been very noticeable and played solid hockey. Of all the offseason moves he might be the most intriguing addition because he does have a track record of reasonably productive hockey. He was a 45-point player in Boston and maintained the same level of goal scoring in Anaheim. His problem with the Ducks was that his assist numbers plummeted, and when you look at the talent around him on that team it is not difficult to see why that might have happened. Would not rule out a 40-point season.
Marcus Pettersson. I was a little down on Pettersson at times last year, but I thought he was pretty fantastic the first two games, arguably playing some of the best hockey I have ever seen from him. He made a couple of standout defensive plays and just looked to be rock solid across the board. If he and John Marino have a big year that really changes the entire outlook of the defense, both short-term and long-term given their contracts. Good start so far.
The penalty kill. This unit stunk last year, let’s not sugarcoat it. But they were perfect through the first two games and that definitely helped them secure the point on Thursday night in Florida. Good goaltending certainly helped, but that is also a major X-factor for the season.
Jake Guentzel. It was only one game, but I thought he was the best player on the ice for the Penguins in Florida. He scored a goal on a clever play from behind the net, made a couple of fantastic passes, and had nine shots on goal. I always hated the suggestion that he was simply a product of playing next to Sidney Crosby. Does that help? Sure. But a lot of players have played next to Crosby and never produced the way Guentzel has. He is an outstanding — and smart — player all on his own merits.
Evan Rodrigues. Would I have loved to see him score on that breakaway in overtime? Yes. Did I wish it was somebody else that had that breakaway in overtime? Definitely. But he did score two goals (I do not care what they looked like) in as many games and had some great possession numbers. I am not sure what his role is on a fully healthy roster, but he played well enough in these two games.
Dominik Simon. Ah, Dominik Simon discourse. Welcome back, old friend. His goal was a fluke, but I thought he did his usual Dominik Simon things: Made a lot of smart little plays that kept shifts alive and created chances. It is what he does. He does it very well.
Who Is Not
Brock McGinn. Outside of that one really good scoring chance in the closing seconds on Thursday night he is probably the one player that did not really stand out much in the first two games. Am not saying he was bad. Just that I did not really notice him much at all. He was the significant addition of the offseason based on contract and cap space, but he has so far taken a back seat to Heinen in terms of impact.
Losing a two-goal lead in the third period. If you had told me on Tuesday afternoon the Penguins were going to score 10 goals in Florida and take three out of four points given the injury situation we all would have taken that without even hesitating. And it is still great. That does not mean you have to be happy about how they got there, because let’s be honest — that should have been four points. They not only played good enough to win on Thursday, they had a two goal lead with less than 10 minutes to play in the third period. That has to be a win 10 times out of 10 without question. Be happy with the result. Be disappointed in the path. It is okay for both to be true.