The Pittsburgh Penguins received a little bit of help on Thursday night when Kris Letang made his return to the lineup following his COVID absence. He made quite the impact in a 3-2 overtime win against the Philadelphia Flyers to help the Penguins snap out of their recent funk and three-game losing streak.
We take a look at his return, as well as everything else from the past week in the latest trending Penguins players.
Who Is Hot
Kris Letang. While a significant portion of the roster is sidelined due to COVID protocols, the Penguins did get one important player back on Thursday night when Letang made his return. He was one of their best players against the Flyers, playing more than 28 minutes and scoring the game-winning goal in overtime. Letang’s underlying numbers have not been great so far this season, but he has looked really good in the games he has played. They absolutely missed him during his recent absence and his return came at a perfect time with Brian Dumoulin, Marcus Pettersson, and Chad Ruhwedel all exiting in the lineup this week. He is the one star player the Penguins have actually seen a bit of so far this season, and he is showing he can still play at a high level. He has one goal and four assists (five total points) in five games so far this season.
The Penalty Kill. I know they gave up a goal on Thursday against the Flyers, but they did have a couple of big kills after that including late in the third period. Overall this group has done a complete 180 from what we saw a year ago, going from one of the league’s worst units to the — as of Friday — the absolute best in the league at more than 90 percent successful. Give credit to Tristan Jarry for a lot of that, but also the the skaters in front of him as well for helping to shut things down. It is especially impressive given the offseason departure of Brandon Tanev who was one of the more effective players on the unit a year ago.
Danton Heinen. He remains a huge surprise so far this season and enters the weekend as the Penguins’ top scorer so far this season with four goals and three assists (seven total points) in the team’s first nine games. The top scorers list on the team right now is wild with Heinen, Drew O’Connor. Evan Rodrigues, Brock McGinn, and Jason Zucker making the top-five. Heinen was signed for a bargain basement rate in free agency and has looked outstanding so far. That is an encouraging development.
Tristan Jarry. This continues to be another encouraging development. Jarry has been fantastic in goal, doing his best to erase the sour memories of his Stanley Cup Playoffs appearance. He was the best player on the ice for the Penguins on Thursday night, keeping them in the game early and stopping 36 out of 38 shots. That gives him a .929 all situations save percentage and a 4-2-1 record in his first seven appearances this season. Good for him. Good for the Penguins.
Who Is Not
The lineup. Like seriously, what the heck is going on right now? Between injuries (Evgeni Malkin, Bryan Rust) and COVID protocols (Sidney Crosby, Dumoulin, Pettersson, Ruhwedel, Mike Sullivan) the Penguins still do not have anything close to a full lineup at the moment, and have not all season so far. Crosby made his return for one game after his offseason surgery and then immediately had to exit the lineup after testing positive for COVID. We still have not seen the Penguins as they have been really meant to look this season.
The Power Play. Part of this is because the lineup has been so shorthanded. Part of it is just simple ineffectiveness. This unit went 0-for-7 this week, including an ugly 0-for-5 in Saturday’s 4-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils. For the season they are converting on only 12.5 percent of their power play opportunities, a mark that is 27th in the NHL. Only the Montreal Canadiens, Colorado Avalanche, Seattle Kraken, Arizona Coyotes, and Vegas Golden Knights have been worse so far.
Kasperi Kapanen. Just a tough start for him this season with zero goals and only four assists through the first nine games. He said this week he admits his work ethic needs to be better, but he could also probably use a little bit of luck as well. He is a good player, and an important player for the Penguins, but I do agree with the mindset he is not somebody that can carry a line on his own and that he needs a top center to help drive his play. He has obviously not had that this season.