All of a sudden the Pittsburgh Penguins find themselves in a tie for first place in the East Division alongside the Washington Capitals and New York Islanders. That is how the standings look after the Penguins wildly impressive win over the Boston Bruins on Thursday night where they won their fifth game in a row and improved to 19-6-1 over the past 26 games.
It remains even more impressive when you consider how many players are still out of the lineup and how so many other players have managed to contribute across the board.
They are getting contributions from the stars, the defense, the goalies, and even the callups over the past two months.
We take a look at all of that and more in this week’s Trending Penguins Players.
Who Is Hot
Jared McCann. I said a little more than a week ago that the Penguins were going to need McCann to go on one of his hot streaks, and he has done exactly that. There are not enough positive words to describe the way he is playing right now. This is exactly what the Penguins had to have him in mind when they acquired him. He has six points, including three goals, in seven games since returning to the lineup and consistently looking like a difference-maker.
The Goalies. This was a big question mark at the start of the season, and the way Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith started in January it looked like it was going to be a concern. But since the start of February these two have been two of the most productive goalies in the league. Over the past two months they have combined for a .925 save percentage and solidified the position. Along with improved defensive play they have been a huge factor in this recent stretch of success.
Bryan Rust. Just a wildly underrated player league-wide whose value to the Penguins keeps increasing.
The Power Play. Have not been able to say many good things about this group this season, but lately it has been on a roll and really driven the offense. You could also include the penalty kill in this and just say the special teams in general has been fantastic over the past couple of weeks.
Depth forwards. Zach Aston-Reese has already matched his career-high in goals in only 26 games. Frederick Gaudreau seems to make an impact every single time he is on the ice. Brandon Tanev returned to the lineup on Thursday and look fantastic. Anthony Angello and Evan Rodrigues have contributed more offense than anybody expected. You need this sort of production from the bottom of your lineup all the time if you are going to compete for and win a championship. You especially need it when you have several regular forwards out of the lineup.
Mike Matheson’s offense. The guy has his shortcomings defensively. His contract is a terrible fit for the Penguins’ salary cap situation long-term. But Matheson can make plays with the puck. He had a pair of assists on Monday, and then on Thursday night scored one of the Penguins goals of the year on an end-to-end rush against the Boston Bruins. Earlier in the game he nearly set up a goal on another slick looking play in the offensive zone when he dangled around a Bruins defender and created a scoring chance. He has his flaws as a player. He is also really exciting.
Who Is Not
Brian Burke trying to make the Penguins something they are not. There is really nothing negative to say about the on-ice play right now, so I am just going to repeat my opposition to the front office insistance of trying to turn this team into something it is not by insisting on adding a “big physical forward.” Everything about this just screams “trade for the sake of a trade” or “add toughness for the sake of adding toughness.” Imagine watching this team right now and thinking that it needs that element anywhere on it. It is especially concerning to read Burke’s comment in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette this week and how he is going to have to “thrash it out with Sully” on how the the team plays. You have a two-time Stanley Cup winner that is keeping the team rolling no matter what his lineup looks like. You have another guy that in a decade has been in charge of one postseason series win and only two postseason appearances. Make sure you listen to the right person.