The week did not get off to a great start for the Pittsburgh Penguins as their five-game winning streak was snapped with back-to-back losses against the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers that saw them surrender 15 goals in the two games. There was some sloppiness, a lot of bad luck, and some frustration in those games, but that is going to happen at some point over a long season.
The key is going to be how they respond to those two games, and they sent a pretty significant message on Thursday night with an impressive 5-2 win over the Rangers to get back in the win column.
It was another big game for the Penguins’ depth players as a new fan favorite might be starting to emerge.
We take a look at all of that and more in this week’s edition of Trending Penguins Players.
Who Is Hot
Radim Zohorna. This is by far my favorite story of the season. It was only a few weeks ago that I had no idea this human being even existed, and then when I started to hear about him in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton the only thing I knew was that he is an absolutely massive person at 6-6, 220 pounds and having a very productive years.
Now he is making plays in the NHL.
After his two point effort on Thursday (goal, assist) he now has four points in his first four NHL games and is making a very strong argument for sticking around even when players start to get healthy. It is not just the fact that he has four points that stands out. He has been IMPRESSIVE. They are skill plays. His assist on Tuesday night was a fantastic play, even if it came in garbage time. His goal on Thursday? Pure speed and power. His assist on Evan Rodrigues’ power play goal? Patient and skilled. Then he nearly scored again when he made a slick play in the neutral zone to skate right by a Norris Trophy contender in Adam Fox to create a breakaway and draw a penalty.
This is all wild stuff.
In four games this season the Penguins have a 26-10 shot attempt advantage when Zohorna is on the ice during 5-on-5 play while also owning a 15-6 shots on goal advantage, a 13-2 scoring chance advantage, and a 4-0 goals advantage.
This is not something anybody expected. Small sample size or not, you have to absolutely love it.
Evan Rodrigues. Am including him here because he played great on Thursday and he has been far more productive this season than I expected him to be. He may be miscast in a top-six role when everybody is healthy, but he has earned a spot.
Jared McCann. He had two more goals this week to give him 10 in 27 games. That is a 30-goal pace over 82 games. Even if you include his massive goal scoring drought at the end of the 2019-20 season he still has 35 goals in 125 games with the Penguins, which would be a 20-25 goal pace. Given his versatility to play both center and wing you take that.
Mark Jankowski. Look, we have all been down on him this season and for good reason. His roster spot is hanging by a thread. When everybody gets healthy and after the trade deadline he will probably not be on the roster. But he had a productive week with two goals and three assists and that is just fine.
Kris Letang. Do not look now but after a slow start to the season Kris Letang is now in the top-five among all defensemen in scoring this season (32 points) and playing great hockey. He also moved into the top-50 all-time among defensemen in NHL history. Pretty sensational career here.
Who Is Not
The Penalty Kill. Yeah this was a bad week for that group. They allowed five power play goals in the three games and remain near the bottom of the league for the season. The power play has started to turn things around and get back on track a little, but this is the unit that concerns me. It is a lot easier to win in the playoffs with a bad power play than it is with a bad penalty kill. This is a group that needs to get it together.
Marcus Pettersson. Just have not liked Pettersson’s game much this season, and especially lately. With that contract he is somebody I would be looking to move at the deadline (or in the offseason). Just seems like he has somebody you have to shelter at the moment.
Puck luck. Specifically speaking that game on Tuesday against the Rangers. You are not going to allow three goals off of your own players every night. Did that luck even out on Thursday when the Rangers missed a wide open net following a Tristan Jarry misplay of the puck? Maybe. That does not change the fact Tuesday was stupid in this regard.