It has not always been pretty, but the Pittsburgh Penguins are staying in it despite playing most of the season without most of their roster. Good news, though! Players are starting to get back in the lineup and the Penguins managed to get four out of a possible six points over the past week.
Should it have been more points? Could it have been six out of a possible six points? Absolutely it could have been. But go back to Saturday morning and look at the upcoming schedule for the week of Minnesota, Chicago, and Florida and imagine being told they would get four out of six points against that schedule without Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and using a makeshift defense. You would have taken that.
They have six out of a possible eight points over the past four games.
Do you want to rely on overtime games and shootouts every game to collect your points? No you do not. But when you have $30 million in salary cap space out of the lineup you do what you have to do to collect points. The Penguins have.
Now let us get to this week’s trending Penguins players.
Who Is Hot
The Evan Rodrigues line. Here is a fun development. The line of Rodrigues, Kasperi Kapanen, and Jason Zucker has been absolutely awesome for the Penguins this season and is looking like something that might have some staying power even when everybody starts to return to the lineup. The trio has played 88 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey together this season and have been absolutely dominant. They have not been on the ice for a goal against, outscoring teams by a 4-0 margin, and controlling more than 60 percent of the shot attempts, 65 percent of the expected goals, 61 percent of the scoring chances, and 68 percent of the high-danger scoring chances. That has been a great, great line. Sometimes the injury situation makes you piece together a line you never expected to have to use and It works. This line seems to work.
Tristan Jarry. At least for the 60 minutes of regulation and the five minutes of overtime. What a turnaround this has been for him this season. There was every reason to have doubts and concerns about him entering the season given the way the 2020-21 Stanley Cup Playoffs went, and given that his career has been very up-and-down in terms of production. But after Thursday’s shootout win against Florida, where he stopped 36 out of 38 shots, he now has a .929 save percentage for the season and a 5-2-3 record. We will get to the three portion of that record in a minute.
The Penalty Kill. Another huge turnaround from what we saw a year ago. This unit was one of the worst in the league during the 2020-21 season and a major Achilles heel for the Penguins. This season it is one of the absolute best units in the league and a major strength. They were a perfect 4-for-4 on Thursday night against Florida and are now a league-best 93.3 percent successful this season. Is it that a sustainable mark for a full season? Probably not, but it is helping them right now when they need to keep games as close as possible.
Jeff Carter. His two goal effort in Chicago gave them a point in the standings and he scored the game-winning shootout goal on Thursday. He has seven points in nine games this season. He has been great since arriving in Pittsburgh and given the early season absences of Crosby and Malkin it is a very good thing he is here.
Kris Letang. Not really sure what else to say here, except that he is playing some fantastic hockey right now and helping to carry what has been an undermanned defense. He is playing 30 minutes a game over the past week, has two assists, is a plus-three, and going back to Thursday over a week ago scored a game-winning goal in overtime. Guy still has it. He is still a legitimate No. 1 defenseman in the NHL.
Who Is Not
The power play. This group is still not good. Not only is it not good, they sometimes do not even seem like they are a threat to score. They did have a some good looks on Thursday against Florida, but even with the injuries to Crosby and Malkin you should expect more than a 10 percent success rate on the power play over a full month. They have to be better here.
Shootouts. Yeah, they won on Thursday, but this has been a big story so far this season. Jarry’s struggles have been well documented, but the Penguins shooters have not really been great in this area this season either. Letang in particular has been struggling here for a while now. The good news: Shootouts are only a regular season thing and you do not have to worry about them in the playoffs. Even if you lose them you still get that point in the standings. The bad news: In a close, competitive, great division like this you want to get as many extra points as you can.
Brian Boyle. Have immense respect for Boyle’s career and his journey and everything he has overcome, and I think he has done what has been asked of him over the first month of the season admirably. But I just do not see where he fits in when Crosby and Malkin return. Especially with the emergence of Rodrigues in between Kapanen and Zucker. He has been okay on the penalty kill, but I do not think he is the guy driving that success. Other than that, there just is not much there right now. At least not enough to keep him in the lineup when Crosby returns.