The week started with such promise.
On Saturday night the Pittsburgh Penguins, playing without their top five players, absolutely steamrolled the Toronto Maple Leafs by a 7-1 margin. There were some puck luck, sure, but it was also a thorough beatdown of a pretty good — if perpetually disappointing — team. It also improved the Penguins to a rather stunning 3-0-2 record given the absences so far this season.
They seemed to have used up all of their puck luck for the week in that game because Tuesday and Thursday against Tampa Bay and Calgary were maddening games where an undermanned team did everything it could except actually score a goal.
The 9-1 aggregate on the scoreboard looks ugly, but both games were close — with the Penguins doing pretty much everything right — until unraveling late. It was not a reflection on the play. It was a reflection on having $35 million in salary cap space out of the lineup.
Keep the process going forward with some top-tier NHL players back in the lineup, and get a bounce or two to go your way, and better results will follow.
So let’s discuss this week’s Penguins Trending Players (and topics).
Who Is Hot
Jason Zucker. I love Zucker’s game so far this season. He looks better than he did a year ago, and the numbers back it up. He said he wanted to take more of a shoot first mentality this season and he has done exactly that. If he returns to his Minnesota form (and even the form he showed immediately after the trade to Pittsburgh) and that is a huge boost to the Penguins’ top-nine.
Marcus Pettersson. I was down on him quite a bit last year but he has looked much better this season, and has — in my view — been their best overall defenseman this season from the very start. Given his contract that is a positive development. He was especially strong against Toronto in that Saturday rout.
The Penalty Kill. This was a huge problem a year ago, but it has been a huge strength so far this season. So much so that the Penguins close out the week and enter the weekend with the best penalty kill percentage in the league at 94.2 percent. It is not just the fact they are preventing goals, they have also been one of the better teams in the league at limiting shot attempts and shots on goal in their penalty kill situations. That is a good indicator for future success.
Who Is Not
John Marino. Loved the way he started the season but I thought he took a big step backward this week. Like Pettersson, he is an important player on the Penguins’ blue line because A) they need him to solidify their top-four, and B) he has a significant contract that you do not want eating up salary cap space if he is not going to be a big time contributing player.
The Power Play. Look, a lot of players are out of the lineup. When you have to rely on Evan Rodrigues and Brian Boyle get power play time, things are probably bleak. But that does not mean the players on the ice get a total pass because they still need to do something. Especially when you get 1:44 of 5-on-3 time early in a scoreless game where you knew goals were going to be at a premium.
Kasperi Kapanen (sort of?). Here is the thing. I do not hate the way Kapanen is playing this season. He is noticeable. He is at the center of things. His speed is still a chaos causing asset for opposing defenses. But the production is not yet there, and even worse, he seems to be struggling to actually get shots off that have a chance of going in the net. He is putting himself in the right positions, but everything seems to fall apart once he gets there. I believe he is going to bounce back and have a nice season, but he is a little off in some ways right now.
The Teddy Blueger line. These guys are usually really good, but there is a reason they are a bottom-six line and not a top-six line. The past three games the Zach Aston-Reese/Blueger duo has a 37 percent Corsi mark and was outscored 3-0 during 5-on-5 play while getting especially beat in scoring chances and expected goals. Tough week for them.