This has been quite an interesting week for the Pittsburgh Penguins. The injury situation has started to get absurd as they try to play without five of their top-nine forwards with Evgeni Malkin, Jason Zucker, Teddy Blueger, Brandon Tanev, and now Kasperi Kapanen all sidelined.
That has made it so an already top-heavy team has had its depth tested even more as a series of call-ups and players you never expected to see in Pittsburgh this season try and pick up points in the standings. All things considered, they have done a fine job.
With back-to-back wins against the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday and Thursday, the Penguins went 3-1-1 in their past five games against the New Jersey Devils and Sabres. That is seven out of 10 points. Maybe you would like an extra point or two out of that stretch given the competition, but that is setting a fairly high bar, especially with the players they have out of the lineup.
They key here is they collected a lot of points against teams they are supposed to collect points against and continued their recent stretch of strong play that has helped put them in a great position in the East Division playoff race. Entering Friday they are third place in the Division, six points ahead of the Boston Bruins (who have several games in hand) and 10 points ahead of the non-playoff teams the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers.
Let’s take a look at how they got there this week with this week’s edition of Trending Penguins Players.
Who Is Hot
The Sidney Crosby line. With so many forwards out of the lineup this line really needs to carry the offense, and right now they are. In four games this past week Crosby has eight points (two goals, six assists), Jake Guentzel has five points (two goals, three assists), and Bryan Rust has four points (one goal, three assists). This trio has been on the ice for seven of the Penguins’ 12 goals over the past four games. Those seven goals have come in 70 minutes of ice-time (all situations). The Penguins have five goals in the 158 minutes when none of them are on the ice.
Jared McCann. We said this week that the Penguins could really use a hot streak from him, and they are starting to get it. He scored two goals on Thursday and was one of the best players on the ice in Thursday’s win. He had several chances at a hat trick. McCann has the talent and the shot to be an impact goal scorer, and he has been showing that after a slow start to the season. Given the injury situation he is one of the few forwards that has proven finishing ability at the NHL level, and until some of their players start to return to the lineup the Penguins are going to need McCann to play like he has this past week.
Kris Letang. Just like with Evgeni Malkin, Letang’s slow start seems like a distant memory at this point. He just looks like he is back. Maybe not to prime, elite-level Kris Letang from his mid-late 20s, but as close as you might reasonably expect at this point in his career. He and Brian Dumoulin are back together and forming their usual rock-solid top-defense pairing.
Some unexpected players. A lot of players are getting an opportunity right now and they are taking advantage of it. Radim Zohorna gets his first chances and scores his first goal in his first game on his first shot. Frederick Gaudreau has looked more noticeable in a week than most of the regular fourth lines have looked all season, and that shorthanded goal he contributed to on Wednesday is one of the best plays of the season. At least it is one of the prettiest. Evan Rodrigues feasted on his former team. These players do not need to perform like this all season (nor should they be expected to) but the Penguins need some contributions like this right now from players like this. They are getting it.
Who Is Not
Injuries again. Tanev and Kapanen being added to the injury list is starting to make the situation absurd. The Penguins might be able to beat Buffalo without five of their top-nine forwards. Playing the New York Islanders this weekend is going to be a much bigger challenge.
The Fourth Line. The trio of Sam Lafferty, Colton Sceviour, and Mark Jankowski is simply a major weakness. They did not give up a goal on Thursday, but they were stuck in their own zone defending all night and were badly outshot, outchanced, and out-attempted against Buffalo. By a significant margin. The concern is two of these three players are regulars even when everybody is healthy. That has to change. As harsh as it may be to say none of these players have a regular spot on a championship caliber team.