They enter the weekend tied for that top spot with 69 points, while also having officially punched their ticket for the playoffs thanks to Thursday’s 5-4 overtime win against the Capitals.
They have won five out of their past six games and are 28-10-2 in their past 40 games. That is a pretty impressive run, especially when you consider the injury situation during most of the season.
They recently got one key player back (Kasperi Kapanen) and seem to be getting closer to getting another one (Evgeni Malkin) back in the lineup. They have a stunning amount of scoring depth this season, are playing at a Stanley Cup Contending level, and seem to have made a great addition at the trade deadline to complement the rest of the roster.
We take a look at all of that and more in this week’s Trending Penguins Players.
Who Is Hot
Kasperi Kapanen. The Penguins just look like a different team with him in the lineup. It is incredible the dimension he brings to the lineup with his speed and skill, and that was all on display on Friday night with his two goals against the Capitals. Both goals were absolutely fantastic efforts. I have said all along this season that my initial thoughts on the trade were a very mixed reaction. I was not totally crazy about it because I thought they paid a steep price and those assets could have been used in a different manner. But I also knew he was still going to be a really good player and make the team better. He has simply turned out to be more productive than I originally imagined. With 10 goals and 25 total points in 35 games he is on a 25-goal, 60-point pace over 82 games. You take that every single time.
Jeff Carter. You just have to love the way he plays. His shoot first mentality has been a breath of fresh air on a team that always looks for the extra pass and has a tendency to overpass in every situation. He has three goals in his past six games and seems to generate a scoring chance on almost every shift. Even at age 36 he still has the wheels to create chances for himself and his teammates, and the shot to occasionally get on the scoreboard. He has just simply been a wonderful addition and his presence as third-line center when Evgeni Malkin returns is going to give this team a quartet of centers (with Freddy Gaudreau waiting for when he is needed) that are going to be extremely difficult for opponents to match.
Jake Guentzel. He gets some attention here for his two game-winning goals this week, scoring the only goal in a 1-0 win over Boston on Sunday and then scoring the game-winning overtime goal on Thursday.
Depth scoring in general. This is still the biggest surprise for me. This season when neither Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkiin are on the ice during 5-on-5 play the Penguins have a plus-14 goal differential and are averaging 2.69 goals per 60 minutes. For perspective. With Crosby on the ice at 5-on-5 they have a plus-eight goal differential and are averaging 2.57 goals per 60 minutes. With Malkin on the ice they have an even goal differential and averaging 2.75 goals per 60 minutes. Those are wild numbers. It makes this team very intriguing for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That is a 2015-16 level of scoring depth on this roster.
Who Is Not
The Sidney Crosby line. You almost never see this group in this section, but they did not have a great couple of games, even when you take into account Guentzel’s big goals. Yes, they did score the only goal a week ago in the 1-0 win over Boston on Saturday, but the past two games were not great. Tuesday’s game was chalked up to being matched up against the Patrice Bergeron line. But they came back on Thursday and struggled almost as much against the Capitals, while Bryan Rust messed up an empty-net situation on Thursday that helped send that game to overtime and gave the Capitals a free point in the standings. Over the past four games with this trio on the ice the Penguins have been outscored 2-4 and have been significantly out shot attempted, out shot, and out chanced. This is still one of the absolute best lines in hockey so am not going to worry too much about it. Sometimes you just slump. It happens.
Another injury. The Evan Rodrigues injury on Thursday looked rough, and that is a shame because he has been fantastic this season and become a key cog in the bottom-six forward group. This injury is also unfortunate because it is literally just some bad luck as he got hit in the foot by a slap shot from his own teammate. No word yet on how significant the injury is, but hopefully it is not one that will sideline him for a long period of time.