It was not always been pretty, but the Pittsburgh Penguins put together probably their best single week of the season by winning three out of four games, including two — TWO! — by multiple goals.
They still find themselves on the outside of the playoff picture in the East Division, but there is at least some progress.
Leads! Multiple goal leads! Regulation wins! That is the good stuff.
What is leading to those wins? Let’s take a look at some key factors in this week’s edition of Trending Penguins Players.
Who Is Hot
Tristan Jarry. It is still fair to wonder how good Jarry actually is and if he is good enough to be a capable starting goalie for a championship contender. That has been a fair question since the start of the season simply based on the lack of a proven track record.
Having said that, even if he is not the answer I am confident that he is not as bad as he showed over the first month of the season when he was one of the least productive goalies in the entire NHL. At some point there would be some “regression to the mean” that would kick in. Maybe that has started.
Jarry has played his best hockey of the season over the past three games — with his best effort coming on Thursday night — to help the Penguins win two of their past three games. Nothing will turn this season around faster than improved play in net, and Jarry has taken a big step toward doing that this week.
The Teddy Blueger-Brandon Tanev-Zach Astron-Reese line. Aston-Reese’s return to the lineup has reunited this popular trio from a year ago, and they have been great.
While they are known for their defense and shutdown ability, and it has been great so far, it is their offense that has been a surprise.
With that trio on the ice over the past four games the Penguins are absolutely dominating the possession and shot charts and outscoring teams by a 3-0 margin when they are on the ice together during 5-on-5 play.
Aston-Reese has scored three goals in his first four games back in the lineup, while Blueger has a goal and two assists in his past four games. Depth is always key, and this has been the Penguins’ second best line over the past week.
Bryan Rust. Can you believe that the Penguins’ leading scorer right now, a quarter of the way through a season where Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have played in every game, is Bryan Rust? You better believe it, because it is true. He has a two-point lead over Crosby for the team scoring lead and has been especially hot the past week with four goals and two assists in four games. He has become such a productive player these past three seasons.
Mike Matheson. Hey, credit where it is due. After he really struggled in his first few games, he has started to look more confident and comfortable in recent games and was absolutely incredible in Thursday’s win against the New York Islanders. The question is which version of Matheson is the version we can expect going forward. The one that struggled earlier? Or the one that has looked useful more recently? Or is it something in the middle?
Who Is Not
Evgeni Malkin. He scored a huge goal on Long Island in the closing seconds to send a game to overtime (where the Penguins won), but that was about it for this past week as his down year continues. I wish I had a theory or a reason for what the problem here is, but it remains the most stunning development of the season. I know he is another year older and eventually he is going to slow down, but he was great a year ago and players of this caliber do not just suddenly lose it no matter what their age is.
The fourth line. Does not matter who this unit is made up of, but pretty much every possible piece for that group has been invisible for weeks. I do not expect a a lot of offense from the fourth line, but it would be nice to get something. Mark Jankowski has not recorded a point since the second game of the season, Colton Sceviour has not done anything in over a month, and players like Sam Lafferty and Drew O’Connor have been equally invisible.