North of the border has not been kind to the Pittsburgh Penguins this season as all three of their losses have come on Canadian road trips, including back-to-back defeats this week in Edmonton and Calgary. They had a couple of slow starts, a terrible second period meltdown, and have gone just 1-2-0 since we last checked in with our trending players.
The good news this week: Sidney Crosby had a huge game to help spark a comeback in Columbus, while new free agent addition Jan Rutta continues to be a welcome addition.
The bad news this week: Injuries have sidelined Jake Guentzel and Jason Zucker, while the top defense pairing has been fighting it.
We check in with all of that and more in this week’s Trending Penguins Players.
Who Is Hot
Sidney Crosby. He recorded his third three-point game of the season on Saturday night in Columbus and already has 11 points in the Penguins’ first seven games. That is a 128-point pace. The man is a hockey machine that is not slowing down anytime soon and can still take over a game. He has always had a great chemistry with Guentzel on the top line, but it is also hard not to love the vibe he has with Rickard Rakell as well. When Guentzel returns to the lineup that line has the potential to be brilliant.
Danton Heinen. Bringing Heinen back for cheap was one of the stronger moves made by general manager Ron Hextall in what was already a very strong offseason. He is not going to be a game-changer or a major difference-maker, but the production he is going to give you, as well as his ability to play up and down the lineup, is a great value for his low price tag. He had two goals on Saturday and already has six points in the Penguins’ first seven games.
Jan Rutta. This continues to be the biggest surprise of the season for me. Rutta has provided more offense than expected (I do not expect that to continue all year) and been rock solid defensively. He was one of the few defenders/players that did not get burnt in Edmonton and Calgary on a regular basis and I have just liked his play so far in a bottom-pairing role. If he keeps giving the Penguins this level of play, I am going to be completely fine with that contract moving forward after initially not being a fan.
Who Is Not
The Kris Letang-Brian Dumouin pairing. These guys had a really rough week, with Dumoulin in particular struggling. In the three games this week they were down around a 40 percent share in shot attempts, scoring chances, high-danger scoring chances, and expected goals, while also being outscored by a 1-4 margin when they were on the ice during 5-on-5 play. Dumoulin is the big concern for me here because he started to show signs of slowing down a year ago and this is not the sort of start I was hoping for from him in terms of bouncing back. Not going to panic yet with these two because they have been so good and so productive for so long, but you do have to start to wonder about Dumoulin’s ability to still play those minutes.
Injuries. Specifically, injuries to Guentzel and Zucker. That is the one big thing that has held these two back at times (especially Zucker) and they both missed games this week. Not anybody’s fault, but after the run of injuries the Penguins had a year ago it stinks to see it happening already with two key members of the top-six. Especially when both of them have played so well so far this season.
Special teams. Neither unit has been particularly strong as of late, while the power play has cooled off considerably after a fast start. The power play was only 2-for-13 over the three games this past week, while the penalty kill unit was only 5-for-7. The PK unit has been near the bottom of the league all season, a big step backwards from where it has been in recent years. I can deal with an inconsistent power play. But a bottom-five penalty kill is not going to work.