What a wild week this has been for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
They split a weekend series with the Buffalo Sabres, gave up six goals in the third period of a game they still won, then rebounded with one of their more complete efforts of the season on Thursday night to keep pace in the East Division race.
Heading into the weekend the Penguins are tied for second place in the division (with the tiebreaker over the New York Islanders) and are just one point behind the Washington Capitals for the top spot. The division is right there for anybody to win with the Capitals, Penguins, Islanders, and Boston Bruins all separated by just four points in the standings, while the Bruins still have two games in hand on the other three teams.
In this week’s edition of Trending Penguins Players we look at the contributions of the defense, as well as some bottom-six forwards that keep getting goals.
Who Is Hot
The Defense. At least offensively. Go back to the start of April and Kris Letang, Mike Matheson, Cody Ceci, and Brian Dumoulin all have at least eight points in the 11 games since then. You expect that sort of production from Letang, but the other contributing that much offensively is a major surprise.
Matheson has been one of the most fascinating players on the team this season because his talent level is obvious. The guy can flat out skate and make some absolutely mind-bending plays with the puck. Sometimes he legitimately looks like he could be a star forward. Lately his defense has improved significantly and he has the offense to go with it.
Ceci has been an outstanding addition this season defensively, and is now starting to make more of an impact in the offense zone. He scored a goal in Thursday’s win over the New Jersey Devils and hit the post on another shot.
Teddy Blueger. Depth scoring has been a huge surprise this season (in a good way) and the Penguins are still getting plenty of it. Blueger has been especially productive lately with nine points in his past 11 games, including a three-game goal scoring streak. That includes another shorthanded goal on Thursday night in the 5-1 win over the New Jersey Devils. He has three goals, two assists, and is a plus-four in the four games this week.
Just to expand on the depth scoring this season again, the Penguins have a plus-11 goal differential when neither Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin is on the ice this season during 5-on-5 play and plus-17 in all even-strength situations (including four-on-four and three-on-three situations).
Evan Rodrigues. He has been one of the bigger surprises for me this season and looks like he is going to be an outstanding bottom-six player. He is having one of the best seasons of his career offensively and is currently scoring at an 18-goal, 36-point pace over 82 games. He has two goals and two assists over the past week.
The Sidney Crosby line. As always, they have just been fantastic this week. Crosby and Rust have had particularly big weeks, and while Guentzel had a quiet week goal scoring wise he still helped contribute with a lot of helpers. This line has a 36-24 goals edge during even-strength play this season and is dominating in shot attempts and scoring chances.
The Jeff Carter, Jason Zucker, Jared McCann line. When Evgeni Malkin returns this is the line I want to see stay together to form the new third line. It has only been five games, but it has been promising. In those five games they have combined for four goals and controlled more than 60 percent of the total shot attempts when they are on the ice.
Who Is Not
Tristan Jarry’s puckhandling. The third period on Tuesday was obviously brutal, and I still think that if Jarry plays that period normally that game turns into a rout and stays that way. But I am not ready to panic regarding his play, especially with the way he bounced back on Thursday. What I am a little worried about is the way he has been playing the puck lately. He is highly regarded for his puck handling abilities (and he has the offensive numbers this season to help back it up) but he has been a little sloppy with the puck in recent weeks with some egregious turnovers that have resulted in scoring chances against and goals against.
Him trying to play for the goal on Tuesday, fumbling it, then giving up a sixth goal in that third period is a tough situation.
The current fourth line. Specifically Mark Jankowski and Colton Sceviour. They have combined for just five shots on goal (all from Sceviour) over the past week and have been badly outshot and outchanced when they have been on the ice.
The good news is they have not allowed any goals this week, but they have also generated nothing. It is currently the only line not generating anything. When Malkin, Brandon Tanev, and Kapanen are all back to 100 percent there is a good chance both Jankowski and Sceviour will be scratches, and with the Carter-Zucker-McCann line presumably becoming the new third line, it will allow Teddy Blueger and Zach Astron-Reese (and Rodrigues) to become an outstanding fourth line.