Even though Thursday’s game did not turn out well for them, things are finally starting to look better for the Pittsburgh Penguins this season.
Before dropping Thursday’s game to the Washington Capitals, the Penguins had won five out of their previous six games including three in a row to gain some significant ground in the East Division. Goaltending is better, players are starting to get healthy, and a couple of important players are starting to make the impact that is needed.
Even with all of that there are still some spots that need some work if the Penguins are going to have a chance to really make a run at another Stanley Cup this season.
Let us take a look at all of that in this week’s edition of Trending Penguins Players.
Who Is Hot
Tristan Jarry. This is a carry over from a week ago, but Jarry remained strong this week in net and is really taking a big step in turning his season around. His save percentage is inching closer to .900, and while that may seem like an alarmingly low bar even getting back to that point given where he was two weeks ago is a good sign as to how good he has been lately. He gave up three goals on Thursday but I think he still played well and gave the Penguins a chance on a night where they did not bring their A game as a team. If he is good, the Penguins will be good.
The Penalty Kill. Special teams has been a big issue for the Penguins this season but the PK was really strong this past week. I know they gave up the game-winning goal to Tom Wilson on Thursday, but there was a lot of bad luck on that sequence as a broken stick from Kris Letang disrupted things (though there is something to be said for him not getting a stick ... either from the bench of a teammate on the ice). The PK also scored a shorthanded goal to help spark a third period rally that nearly produced another comeback win.
Jake Guentzel. He passed up a couple of great shot opportunities on Thursday, but he also had four points in the three games this past week including a pair of goals. Both goals were a thing of beauty as well. On Tuesday he scored on a ridiculous deflection to tie the game shortly after the Penguins fell behinnd, and then on Thursday scored a game-tying goal midway through the third period on a tremendous individual effort coming out from behind the the net. He is very quietly having an extremely productive season with seven goals and 16 points in 18 games. That is a 31-goal, 74-point pace over 82 games.
Mike Matheson in the offensive zone. When this guy has the puck on his stick in the offensive zone he looks really, really, really, really good at times. I usually hate the “this offensive minded defenseman should be a forward” argument but I really do think Matheson is playing the wrong position and has been his entire professional hockey career.
Who Is Not
The Fourth Line. There is a lot to like about the way the Penguins have turned things around recently, but the forward depth is still concerning, especially as it relates to the fourth line. There are probably four forwards on the roster right now that probably would not be on a contender. That will eventually catch up to you. The quartet of Mark Jankowski, Colton Sceviour, Sam Lafferty, and Drew O’Connor is giving the Penguins absolutely nothing offensively. Jankowski has not had a point since the second game of the season (a 16-game pointless streak). Sceivour has nothing in his past eight games (going back to mid-January). Lafferty has one point (an assist) in 11 games. O’Connor has one assist in eight games and took a very costly penalty on Thursday that produced the game-winning goal for the Capitals. Look at it another way: Since January 20 that quartet of forwards has combined for exactly zero goals and two assists. In 14 games. That is a significant chunk of your lineup to be providing literally no offense of any kind. That has to be fixed. You do not need to get a lot of offense from your fourth line. You should not expect a lot. But you should expect something over 14 games. Hopefully the return of Jared McCann and Evan Rodrigues can help here.
The Power Play. This is actually kind of a tough one because they did score a goal in two of the three games this week, with one of those goals (Kris Letang’s goal) coming on a power play where they shot the puck as often as possible. But their performance on Thursday was so bad, and looked so much like the awful unit it was earlier in the season, that it kind of overshadows the two goals. Nobody seemed to have any sort of desire to shoot the puck. It was all pass-pass-pass-pass-pass-pass around the perimeter. They are turning me into a “shoot the puck” guy at times.
Kris Letang’s sticks. Seriously, what the hell happened there on Thursday, man?
Mike Matheson in the defensive zone. Refer to the section on Mike Matheson above. For as exciting as he is with the puck in the offensive zone, he is exciting for all of the wrong reasons in the defensive zone. He really might be a forward. Maybe even a good forward. He had three points in a game as a forward a year ago for the Florida Panthers.