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Pensburgh 2021 Year End Awards

Some of the best and worst of 2021 for the Penguins

NHL: DEC 04 Penguins at Canucks Photo by Derek Cain/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Penguins have three more games on the schedule in 2021, but considering the unknown COVID environment and having two of those game scheduled to be played across the border in Canada, who knows if they will happen.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have played 86 regular season games in the calendar year of 2021, putting up an impressive 54-24-8 record. That makes for a .671 points%, which ranks eighth in the NHL this year. For all the talk and speculation of predicting the team’s downfall, they still are among the very best teams in the NHL.

With calendar 2021 is about over and with a pause in the action now, it’s a good time to take a look at the best in a very odd, disjointed, uneven, injury and illness-filled year.

2021 MVP: Jake Guentzel

Pittsburgh Penguins v Seattle Kraken Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Jake Guentzel played 80 regular season games in the year 2021, putting up 38 goals and 46 assists for 84 points. That led the Pens in goals and points. Not bad for a guy who started the year 2020 with his shoulder in shambles after a major injury at the every end of 2019. 2021 was the year that Guentzel proved beyond a doubt that injury is in the rear-view mirror. Like most his teammates, Guentzel was poor in the playoffs (1G+1A in six games), but with time that’s looking more about the bad fortune of Guentzel and the good play of Islander goalie Ilya Sorokin (Guentzel did fire 25 shots in those six games) more than anything else.

Ironman: John Marino

Anaheim Ducks v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images

John Marino appeared in 82 out of the 86 games, to lead Penguin players. Marino has played in all 30 games this season to date, and in 52/56 last season. Marino’s only absences were a trip to the IR from March 10-17th for a minor undisclosed upper body injury that cost him four games. It feels fitting that even in 2021, the Penguin player with the most games played still had a stint on the IR.

Can you guess who was second on the team in games played this season? The answer may be surprising given his reputation. (No cheating, answer at the bottom)

**DING** (/puck hits iron sound)

Montreal Canadiens v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images

Sidney Crosby hit the post 9 times without scoring. Add in one more crossbar well in 2021. That ranked sixth in the league (with Toronto’s Auston Matthews hitting the post 13 times in 2021). With a little more luck or just the slightest of better directing and Crosby could have added on quite a bit to his total of 28 goals in 73 games in 2021.

Sidney Crosby Highlights of the Year

It’s always difficult to narrow down the hockey genius of Sidney Crosby into one singular play with as many highlight reels he can generate, but here’s some 2021 additions to his film.

Mr. Black ‘n Blue: Kris Letang

Pittsburgh Penguins v Seattle Kraken Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Kris Letang finished second on the Pens in hits (153, Zach Aston-Reese led the way with 199) and Letang was tops in blocked shots with 105 (though Brian Dumoulin with 104 and 15 less games played was right on his tail). That’s a lot of bodies and pucks flying in and around for Letang, who isn’t in the mold of the typical rugged defensive defenseman, but as the Pens’ No. 1 d-man, sure has to play in all sorts of roles and situations.

Most Hockey Hugs: Letang

NHL: FEB 27 Penguins at Islanders Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Per Natural Stat Trick, Letang was on ice for 77 goals the Pens scored at 5v5 play, and 140 GF in all situations, both numbers well out in front of second place Jake Guentzel (despite Letang only playing one more game than Guentzel). Nobody was giving out more hockey hugs in Pittsburgh in 2021 than Kris Letang.

Jack Johnson Memorial Goals Against Award: Mark Friedman / Sam Lafferty

NHL: NOV 13 Penguins at Senators Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Depending on how generous we want to get, Mark Friedman (who only played 16 games with the Pens) was on the ice for a team-high 3.48 Goals Against/60 this season. If that’s not a big enough sample, the award moves on for Sam Lafferty with 291 GA/60 in 2021. Since one is a defenseman and the other a forward, it feels reasonable to give both a shoutout here. Perhaps not a coincidence, by the end of 2021 both of these players have been buried as deep depth and are typical healthy scratches, except for “break glass in case of emergency” situations.

Goalie’s best friend: Zach Aston-Reese

Montreal Canadiens v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images

Zach Aston-Reese ended up with an eye-popping .950% on-ice 5v5 save percentage in 2021. This wasn’t luck or a string of crazy saves either, but Aston-Reese’s defensive efforts had a big hand in helping the goalies to not need to make very many tough saves. Just look at that deep, beautiful blue in the lower left graph below near the net, recognizing defensive impact while Aston-Reese was on the ice in 2020-21.

It’s undoubtedly a reciprocal relationship and co-operative effort to keep the pucks out of the net and away from the goalie in general, but there’s no doubt the goalie has to let out a little smile seeing No. 12 hop over the wall and take a shift.

Most random player: Josh Currie

Philadelphia Flyers v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images

With excuses to Kevin Czuczman (2 games played) and Yannick Weber (2 games played), I don’t think a few years down the line many will remember that Josh Currie ever played for the NHL Penguin team, which he did in one game last season. If they even remember it now at the end of this year.

The 29-year old PEI native only played 7:24 in that one game for the Pens against the Flyers on March 2nd. He recorded no points, no shots on goal no penalty minutes, won two faceoffs and lost three, just barely putting his name down in franchise lore, but it’s there just the same.

2020-21 was the only season Currie was in Pittsburgh’s organization, he was also Wilkes-Barre’s leading scorer with 23 points (10G+13A) in 24 games. Currie became a free agent and opted to sign in the KHL with Magnitogorsk, which of course is the hometown club of one Evgeni Malkin.

Biggest vibe: Kasperi Kapanen

Whether times are good, bad, or in between, Kasperi Kapanen is probably the most watchable player on the team (this side of Crosby, anyways). Kapanen’s arguably the fastest straight-line skater on the club, which will stand out. He’s got dekes and dangles:

And then he’s also prone to streaky, inconsistent and downright honest self-admitted terrible play. It’s never really a mystery how he is feeling or doing, the answer is probably right there on his face.

Every team needs a wild card and that hint of manic energy, and Kapanen is that guy.

Top 15 scorers

Here’s the list of players for 2021 calendar year scoring.

Trivia question answer: Second place in GP behind Marino’s 82 games of 2021? It’s the player ranked third in points on the team, Kris Letang with 81 games.