The Pittsburgh Penguins winning streak came to an end this week with a hard-fought loss to the Boston Bruins on Tuesday night, and a sluggish, sloppy loss to the New Jersey Devils on Thursday. That really is not the major concern this week, though. Eventually a team is going to lose a couple of games in a row, especially after winning as many games as the Penguins have over the past few weeks. The season is full of peaks and valleys and at some point some close games are not going to go your way.
The concern is the injury situation that has taken four of the Penguins top-nine forwards, including two of their top-three centers, out of the lineup for the time being.
We saw on Thursday how much the offense is going to struggle to score goals in the short-term, no matter the level of competition on the other side of the ice.
We take a look at that situation and more in this week’s edition of Trending Penguins Players.
Who Is Hot
Jake Guentzel. He is on an absolute roll right now with goals in five of his past six games. With so many top forwards out of the lineup there is going to be added pressure on the Sidney Crosby-Guentzel-Bryan Rust line to carry the offense. Overall Guentzel has shaken off what was a little bit of a slow start to again become one of the Penguins’ best all-around and most consistent performers. Playing next to Crosby is always going to underrate Guentzel, but he is an outstanding player in his own regard no matter who plays next to. A lot of people have played next to Crosby over the years and not been able to produce the way Guentzel does.
Tristan Jarry. After a miserable start to the season Jarry has really turned his season around. It is not a coincidence that it just so happened to be right around the time the Penguins started to play better as a team. No matter the team, goaltending always drives the bus. Over the past month Jarry has posted a 10-4-0 record for the Penguins with a .926 save percentage during that stretch. Those numbers include Thursday’s game in New Jersey. His 42-save on 43 shot effort on Monday night against the Boston Bruins was probably his best overall performance of the season. He keeps playing like this the Penguins are going to have a shot every night even with a shorthanded roster due to injury.
Sidney Crosby. More often than not Crosby is going to appear in this section, and he has been really good lately alongside Guentzel and Bryan Rust. He has been racking up points, including a three-point effort against the Boston Bruins on Monday night. That goal he scored against Boston on Monday night, as part of a three-point effort, as a picture perfect shot.
Who Is Not
The injury situation. It is not just the fact that it is Evgeni Malkin out of the lineup that hurts. It is the fact it is Jared McCann, Jason Zucker, and Teddy Blueger also out of the lineup at the same time. Keep the latter three in the lineup and you can probably get by without Malklin. Keep Malkin in the lineup and you can definitely get by without the latter three. But take them all out of the lineup at the exact same time and suddenly you are without four of your top-nine forwards and have an AHL lineup dressing behind your top line. That is a lot to overcome, especially in a shortened season and in a tough division where you are closely competing with four other teams for the four playoff spots. The good news is their next four games are against New Jersey and Buffalo so they should be getting somewhat of a break with the schedule here, even if they do have some back-to-back situations.
The Penalty Kill. Even with that big five-minute kill against Boston on Tuesday night this group is just not good enough. At all. They were only 8-for-11 this past week, and the power play goal they allowed on Thursday right off the draw (and after the Penguins’ first power play flopped in the game) turned out to be a game-changer. Both special teams units are abysmal this season, and that is starting to look like a poor reflection on the coaching staff for not having any solution on how to fix either grouping.
The bottom of the lineup. Even before the injuries started to mount the fourth line was a concern. Now we are really seeing the limitations of the bottom half of the lineup. In an ideal situation players like Mark Jankowski, Sam Lafferty, Colton Sceviour, and Anthony Angello are not getting regular shifts on Stanley Cup contending team. Evan Rodrigues and Brandon Tanev are not skating in the top-six. All of these players are going to get overexposed here in roles they are not suited for, when some of them are not even all of that productive in the roles they should be in.