For most of the night on Thursday the Pittsburgh Penguins seemed like they were on their way to what would have been a massive win against the Philadelphia Flyers. They jumped out to a 3-0 lead just four minutes into the game, Sidney Crosby is back in the lineup, and they should have been in a position where they could lock it down and get two important points.
Instead they allowed four consecutive goals and did not even get a point in a 4-3 loss that undid some of the positives they had put forward over the past week. There is no way to sugarcoat it. That loss stinks. For a lot of reasons. If the Penguins end up missing the playoffs by one or two points, that is game you can go back and circle. A 3-0 lead in that game, against that opponent, should be a win every time.
With all of that in mind let us check in this week with our latest edition of Trending Penguins Players.
Who Is Hot
Kris Letang. His recent play has been very encouraging as he has started to play a little more like the Kris Letang we have come to know and expect. In the four games this week he scored three goals, added two assists, was a plus-four, and logged over 24 minutes of ice-time per game. If the Penguins are going to be good this season, they need Letang to be better than he was at the start because he is one of the most important and impactful players on the roster. As he goes, the Penguins go. Even more than another goal, the one play that filled me with the most optimism on Thursday was an individual breakout he had in the second period, skating the puck through traffic and getting through to the neutral zone with an effortless glide. The only thing that did not work about the play is that he was on the ice with the fourth line and his pass ended up going to Sam Lafferty where nothing else happened on the play.
Jared McCann. His return could not have come at a better time, just as Jason Zucker had to exit the lineup. McCann has been very productive since rejoining the lineup and been one of the Penguins’ best, and most consistent players during this recent stretch. Ideally the Penguins might hope for him to become a solid third-line center and drive that line, but he also seems to fit in very well on the wing next to the Penguins’ two superstar centers.
Kasperi Kapanen. He seems to go back and forth between looking like a bonafide top-line winger and looking like a player that will top out on the thir/d line. Lately, he is looking like the former. Kapanen has been at the center of a lot of Penguins offense the past week and had a huge game on Wednesday night with a pair of goals and nearly his first career hat trick. Even though I still think the Penguins could have used their trade assets and salary cap space in a different way, I always thought Kapanen would still end up being a useful player. So far, he has been.
Who Is Not
Special Teams again. What a broken record this is becoming. The power play was especially disappointing on Thursday because it had two opportunities to put the game away and completely wasted them. The worst of the two was by far the first power play which came just after the Penguins had taken a 3-0 lead. Scoring a goal there would have pretty much put the game out of reach and maybe given you a different Flyers effort the rest of the way. Instead, the Penguins could not get set up, could not enter the offensive zone or stay in the offensive zone, and did not record a single shot on goal. At that point Philadelphia started to take over, and then immediately capitalized on its next power play to start the comeback. Bad power play, missed opportunities, and then give up a power play goal the first time you are on the ice to try to stop one of them. It just keeps happening.
John Marino. Outside of the slow starts for Evgeni Malkin and Letang, I do not think there has been a bigger disappointment this season than the regression of Marino. The defensive impact is not anything close to what it was a year ago and he has provided absolutely nothing offensively. The Penguins need him to regain his rookie form not only for the sake of their defense, but also because he is going to be starting a significant contract next season.
Mike Matheson. For as good as he can look with the puck in the offensive zone, things just completely fall apart for him in the defensive zone. Whether it is defending or trying to exit the zone with the puck. He had a rough game on Thursday, and his defensive metrics for the week have been as rough as anyone else on the roster. They have been badly outattempted, outshot, outchanced, and outscored with him on the ice this week. There are some positives to his game to be sure, but right now I am not sure they outweigh the concerns.