There has been a lot that has happened over the past week in the Pittsburgh Penguins world.
The front office has been completely overhauled with the hirings of Brian Burke as Director Of Hockey Operations and Ron Hextall as the new general manager.
They only played two games (both against the New York Islanders) and followed a script similar to the one we have seen all season: Fall behind early, never play with the lead, get burned by bad special teams play, play a one-goal game that could end up going either way in the end, win zero games in regulation.
That is the season — and the past 27 games going back to this past season — in a nutshell.
It is Friday, so that means it is time to look at all of that and more in this week’s edition of Trending Penguins Players.
Who Is Hot
The Sidney Crosby line. This is the one line that is really clicking right now and it was great the past two games against the New York Islanders.
How great has the trio of Crosby, Jake Guentzel, and Bryan Rust been? Just look at these numers.
In the two games at 5-on-5 play (in 34 minutes of hockey) they outscored the Islanders by a 3-1 margin. They held a 37-19 advantage in terms of shot attempts. They outchanced the Islanders by a 25-6 margin, including a 15-5 edge in terms of high-dancer scoring chances. They were the line on the ice with Evgeni Malkin in the 6-on-5 situation on Thursday to tie the game, so if you want you can get them credit for being on the ice for four of the six goals this week.
Along with the great numbers, they also had the look of a line that was getting things done. Their shift that resulted in Rust’s first period goal was kind of a game-changing moment because the team looked completely out of it until that point. They have also been great together all season.
In 92 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey for the season they had a 6-3 goals advantage, a 64 percent shot attempt share, and a 72 percent scoring chance share. The Penguins are a dramatically different team when this line is not on the ice.
Along with all of that, Crosby also scored the game-winning goal in the shootout on Thursday night.
Evgeni Malkin’s point production. The emphasis here is on point production, because Malkin still does not look like Malkin. He still looks like someone that forgot how to play hockey all of a sudden. It is probably the most baffling development of this young season. But he has started to at least find the scoresheet and the back of the net lately.
Thanks to his game-tying goal on Thursday, he is now on a four-game point streak with goals in consecutive games. Honestly though I thought the most encouraging shift of Thursday night for him was not necessarily the game-tying goal, but a shift he had in overtime where he made an outstanding defensive play in front of the Penguins’ own net to break up a cross-ice pass and start an odd-man rush the other way. The telltale sign for when Malkin is on his game is when he makes plays defensively and forces turnovers. The sign of things to come? Maybe? Hopefully?
Pierre-Olivier Joseph. Mathew Barzal gave him a “welcome to the NHL moment” on Thursday night, but I am not going to be too hard on Joseph. That is an All-Star level player going one-on-one against a rookie with less than 10 games of NHL experience. It is a mismatch, and Barzal can make a lot of seasoned veterans look bad in that situation.
Overall though I still love what Joseph is doing, and his first NHL goal earlier in the week was a beauty of play.
He remains a consistent bright spot in the Penguins’ lineup right now.
Who Is Not
Pretty much everybody else. The Penguins really needed those two points on Thursday night, no matter how they got them. They simply needed them. But it was another three-point game in the standings, another game where they never had the league, another game where they gave up the first goal, another game decided by a single goal, and another game they did not get a win in regulation and continued to allow their divisional opponents (who they are competing with for one of the four playoff spots in the East Division) to gain another point.
This is not sustainable.
If you go back nearly one full calendar year to the end of the 2019-20 seaeson the Penguins have played 27 games, including the bubble games and the first 12 games of this season.
The Penguins record in those 27 games is 10-15-2 with only five of those wins coming in regulation. Think about that. In their past 27 games they have won only five games in regulation.
During that 27-game stretch they have played with the lead for only 337 minutes out of 1,657 minutes. That is just under 20 percent of the time. In 12 games this season they have played with the lead for only 80 minutes, the second lowest total in the league just barely ahead of the Nashville Predators. They have yet to hold a two-goal lead at any point in the season.
There is no way to sugarcoat that, or hide from it, or justify it. That is bad. All of it. It has to change.
John Marino. Am not going to overreact here. It is 12 games. It is a long season and he has a long career ahead of him. But I think of all the disappointing parts of the season so far Marino’s start has been the most disappointing for me.
He just has not looked the way he did as a rookie, and if the Penguins are going to be good, especially on defense, they need Marino to not only duplicate his rookie season performance, but to also build on it.
Special teams. For the season the power play and penalty kill are both lousy and among the bottom-six teams in the league. Best special teams and better goaltending would go a long way toward making this season take on a completely different look. They have a long way to go before they can do that.
The Penguins only had one power play in the two games (it came on Thursday) and they looked awful, giving up a shorthanded breakaway to Jean-Gabriel Pageau not only long after they tied the game. Fortunately Casey DeSmith made the save. That was after a week of practice time for that unit.
The penalty kill was equally unimpressive, going 0-for-2 on the week, allowing a power play goal to the Islanders after a pair of delay of game puck over the glass penalties. The first of those came with less than three minutes to play in a game that had been tied at the time. It cost them at least a point in the standings (and maybe two points) and handed a pair of points to a division rival.
Data in this post via Natural Stat Trick