Pretty good week for the Pittsburgh Penguins as they extended their current winning streak to five games with an outstanding performance in Washington, a strong goaltending performance against Anaheim, and taking care of business against a bad Montreal team.
When you consider the team is still playing without Evgeni Malkin, Jake Guentzel, and Bryan Rust it looks even better and even more impressive.
The key to the success is a strong mix of the stars still in the lineup (Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang) still playing at a high level and a bunch of complementary players putting everything together.
We look at those performances in this week’s Trending Penguins Players.
Who Is Hot
Evan Rodrigues. We looked at his season on its own on Wednesday and really, he deserves another mention here because you can not possibly say enough about the way he is playing this season. The numbers — both underlying and box score — are fantastic, he is passing the eye test with flying colors, and he just looks like a completely different and more confident player. Maybe you thought he could be a useful contributor on this team as a bottom-six player, or even a fourth-liner, but I am not sure anybody expected this sort of performance. What a year.
The Penalty kill. This unit is just outstanding right now. Goaltending has played a big role in that, but the group as a whole has just been fantastic from the very start of the season and done a complete 180 degree turnaround from the way they played a year ago. As of Friday they have a 92.7 percent success rate for the season, which is by far the highest mark in the league. No other team in the league is over 88 percent and only three others are over 86 percent.
Casey DeSmith. After an awful start to the season where it looked like the Penguins might have to do something drastic to address their backup goaltending situation, DeSmith has put together back-to-back strong starts. He earned wins against Seattle and Anaheim while allowing just one goal in the two starts. DeSmith stopped 61 out of 62 shots during that stretch, including a 33-save shutout in a 1-0 win against the Ducks earlier this week.
Brock McGinn. It has taken me some time to come around on this signing, but McGinn has been a key part of the penalty kill unit and has contributed more offense than I expected. With his two goals this week (including the only goal in that 1-0 win against Anaheim, a game where he nearly had a couple of more goals on top of that) McGinn has seven goals on the season and is scoring at a 20-goal pace per 82 games. Combined with his PK and defensive ability, pretty useful contributor.
Who Is Not
Jason Zucker. This one is just so frustrating. I like Zucker. I like the way he plays. I think he is a very good player that does a lot of important things well, and he is always creating chances. He just simply can not buy a goal right now. Not at all. He is either getting stopped on a breakaway, hitting the post, or just missing a chance, He has one goal in his past 22 games and none over the past 10 games, a stretch where he also has just a single assist. Good player, just can not buy a goal.
The 5-on-3 power play. While the power play as a whole is starting to show some signs of improvement lately, the Penguins still have some major issues with the two-man advantage. Is this nitpicking to put this here given how little actually see the 5-on-3? Maybe! But did you see how bad it looked on Tuesday night against Montreal? Or how bad it has looked anytime we have seen it in action this season? It is so weird because they are generally so good at the 4-on-3 power plays when they get them. Maybe they should take an intentional penalty on the next 5-on-3 power play (okay I am joking. Maybe.).
Still yelling about Jim Rutherford. Not really much else to talk about with the current Penguins team in this space, so why not put this in. Jim Rutherford became a talking point on the old Twitter-verse this week because he doubled down on defending his moves for Jack Johnson and Erik Gudbrandon and the two extremes took their positions on yelling about the former general manager. This really is not that complicated. Jim Rutherford had a rocky start in his first year with the Penguins managing the salary cap. He had a two-year run where pretty much every trade he made and every roster move he made was golden and produced back-to-back Stanley Cup championships. He had a two-year stretch where he made a lot of questionable to bad moves and needed to keep making other moves to fix them. Then he left the team abruptly for unknown reasons. All of these things are true. You can not look at one (good or bad) and ignore the other (good or bad). This is his story with the Penguins. It is complex. It is chaotic. Nothing more than that.