The Past two games on their western Canada road trip have not gone well for the Pittsburgh Penguins. They let a 3-1 lead slip away in Edmonton in what turned out to be their worst showing of the season so far, and then came back the following night with a dismal start in Calgary they were never able to really climb out of. Over an 82-game season you are going to have stretches like this. Despite this stretch happening right now at the beginning, there are still a lot of encouraging signs from the team as a whole.
Let’s start with the fact that the stars, still look like stars.
This was always going to be the big make-or-break thing for this team given how much the Penguins have continued to invest in their core. As they go, the team goes. And through the first seven games Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin still look like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Crosby already has 11 points in seven games, which is a cool 128-point pace in 82 games. Good stuff.
Malkin, meanwhile, looks like he is on a mission to prove to everybody that doubted his remaining skills and value that he still has some magic left. He is averaging a point per game, already has four goals, and has a very encouraging shoot-first mentality that has already seen him put 31 shots on goal in seven games. That is more than four shots on goal per game. The Penguins should want that guy shooting the puck. A lot. And he is. If he keeps generating shots at that rate (or even a similar rate) it will pay off in a big way.
My biggest concern with this team coming into the season was the scoring depth. The fourth line still seems like a big question mark to me, but I do like how balanced the scoring has been so far.
They have already received goals from 15 different players, including seven different players that have already scored multiple goals.
The top two lines have played about as expected. Crosby and Jake Guentzel (when he has been healthy) have been great, while Malkin and Bryan Rust have helped lead the second line. Along with them, I have really liked what I have seen from the third component of each line and the play of Rickard Rakell and Jason Zucker.
Zucker’s latest injury is a concern because, well, that has been the one constant thorn with him, but I do like his game when he is out there.
I also continue to be impressed by Rakell and am really starting to come around on that re-signing. He is an insanely skilled player and seems to be a great fit along with Crosby and Guentzel.
Even more encouraging is the fact they have already received nine goals from bottom-six forwards Danton Heinen, Jeff Carter, Brock McGinn, Josh Archibald, Ryan Poehling, and Kasperi Kapanen.
You need the stars to play like stars. You also need depth around them.
Underlying numbers: Strong
When it comes to the Penguins’ 5-on-5 play they have been one of the league’s most productive teams.
Their goal share during 5-on-5 play (21-12) is the second-best in the league behind only the Vegas Golden Knights, while they are among the top-eight in terms of expected goal share, scoring chance share, and high-danger scoring chance share.
They are mostly tilting the ice and pushing play.
Tristan Jarry: Very good
In general the goaltending overall has been very good. I think Casey DeSmith let in a couple you might like to see him stop in Calgary, but overall the goaltending has been very solid. Especially Jarry with a .923 save percentage in his first five appearances.
This is a huge year for Jarry on a team level and individual level because the Penguins need him to be great for their playoff chances, and he needs to be great for his contract talks.
This is about as good of a start as you could have hoped for from him.
There are still some concerns with this team (special teams have not been great; injuries are already starting with Guentzel and Zucker being out) but the balanced offense, strong possession numbers, and very capable goaltending are all extremely encouraging.