Thanks to their 5-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday night the Pittsburgh Penguins are entering the weekend on a four-game winning streak and an 11-4-0 record in their most recent 15-game stretch. That has them in a playoff spot in the East Division (by total points and points percentage) at the moment, and with the toughest part of their schedule in the rear view mirror sitting in what should be a pretty good position.
There are a lot of reasons for that recent success, and Evgeni Malkin’s play is quickly climbing to the top of that list.
That is where we start in this week’s edition of Trending Penguins Players.
Who Is Hot
Evgeni Malkin. Now this is what you want to see. I am not going to say that Malkin is completely back to his normal level, but he is closer than he has been all season. His two point effort on Thursday extended his current point streak to six games, and also gives him 14 points in his past 12 games overall. That stretch includes four multi-point games, with three of them coming over the past four games. He is rolling right now. But I thought the most encouraging sign of Thursday’s game was not his goal to open the scoring, but he rush he made toward the net through the Buffalo defense in the second period that nearly resulted in a highlight reel goal. If nothing else it should have resulted in a penalty as he was tripped to the ice. Either way, he seems to have found his game and a linemate. Speaking of which.
The Evgeni Malkin-Kasperi Kapanen duo. These two just seem to have instant chemistry together and it is beautiful. It would not be the first time a winger acquired for the purposes of playing next to Sidney Crosby ended up finding a home Malkin’s wing (James Neal, Patric Hornqvist, Phil Kessel all say hello). They have just looked unstoppable together recently even with Evan Rodrigues filling in as the third player on that line in place of the injured Jason Zucker and Jared McCann. It works. When those two are on the ice together during 5-on-5 play this season the Penguins have 11 goals, including six in the past five games alone. Their goal on Thursday on a 2-on-0 rush off of a Buffalo turnover was just unfair. If this line keeps rolling the Penguins might really be onto something with their top-nine because of the next group.
The third line. You should have expected that the Teddy Blueger, Brandon Tanev, Zach Aston-Reese trio would do a great job defensively this season because, well, that is where they all excel and they were great at it a year ago. What is standing out so far this season is that they are providing more offense as well. They teamed up for another goal on Thursday night and when that trio is on the ice together this season during 5-on-5 play the Penguins have a 6-0 goals advantage more than 122 minutes of hockey. That is significant. They are all playing extremely well right now. Blueger has three points in his past three games, Tanev has five points in his past four games, and Aston-Reese has been great since making his season debut. Only thing I have not liked is that hit he had along the boards in the third period on Thursday against Dylan Cozens. Should have been a penalty. It would have been costly at that point in the game.
Tristan Jarry: playmaker. Yeah he is stopping more pucks and that is a big part of the Penguins’ recent success, but he also has three assists this season. Love the fact he went for the goal on Thursday.
Who Is Not
Injuries again. Just when Jared McCann and John Marino were starting to find their way, they both go out of the lineup due to injuries. The McCann injury is really significant because the Penguins are already down a top-six forward in Jason Zucker and McCann was playing great next to Malkin and Kapanen when he got that look in that spot. Do not forget Mark Friedman arriving with a couple of points in his first two games and then getting injured.
The Fourth line again. To be fair, they were great on Thursday and even scored a goal thanks to a beautiful play from Anthony Angello. But this line still needs some work and is the clear weak link of the team at the moment.
Marcus Pettersson. This feels like nitpicking a little bit. Maybe a reach because most of the team has played really well this week. But I have to find something, and that three penalty game against Philadelphia could have been costly. He is also not providing any sort of offense this season. That is not a huge part of his game to begin with, but would still like to see a little more than this. Again though, I do not think he is playing bad at the moment, we just needed somebody in this spot.