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Trending Ups and Downs: The joys of a long winning streak

The Penguins have a lot to be happy about these days

Dallas Stars v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

In the last week, the Penguins have played four games and lined them all up and knocked them all down with four more wins. That pushes them up to seven in a row and towards the top of the standings. As could be expected, there is a lot more going right than wrong for the Pittsburgh hockey team at the moment. Let’s look into some of the trends in the last week.

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Tristan Jarry - the starting goalie is playing at a Vezina level lately. Jarry is 10-0-1 with a .941 save% in his last 11. He’s been nearly as good in the last week statistically, going 3-0-0 with a .935 save%. Casting the stats aside, his form and actual level of play has never been higher than it was in wins over Dallas and Florida this week. Jarry is in the groove right now, and the Pens are riding it all the way up.

The power play - Over the last week, the Pittsburgh power play is 6-for-14 (42.9%). What once looked so stagnant and depressing has been rejuvenated with new energy, movement and success. The confidence is growing and the players are making more plays. Best of all, it’s been a fairly simple formula lately about one of Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel or Evgeni Malkin getting to the front of the net and then someone else getting the puck to them. When it’s not been stinging Malkin anyways, the results have been very impressive.

The penalty kill - Not to be out-done, the other special teams unit continues to play well. They had an 11/12 success rate in the last week (91.7%) and Kris Letang’s SHG against Florida means that unit actually scored as many goals as they conceded in the past week. It’s been a job very well done for this group for a lot longer than a week now, but it’s continuing to shine has been another reason the winning streak has ticked along.

The first line - In the last four games the trio of Jake Guentzel, Sidney Crosby and Rickard Rakell combined for seven goals and 14 points. All three are in the midst of putting together very special seasons for themselves and while united, the team has done nothing but win.

Kris Letang - Letang returned from a stroke this week, how can ya not acknowledge and celebrate that at every turn? Not only did he come back, but he averaged 25:11 of ice timein his first three games back. The guy is a machine. Letang put on a clinic against Florida with his skating, scoring the rare defenseman SH goal and looking about as strong as he has in recent memory — just like nothing ever happened.

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Injury luck - After not having very much adversity in the injury category this season (Letang’s medical condition aside), the Penguins took some of that this week. Jason Zucker goes down after putting up 20 points in 27 games to start the season and finally showing what he was brought to Pittsburgh for. And it was a contact injury getting struck by the puck, doesn’t get more fluky than that. Jeff Petry was finding his groove on a new team and will miss at least a month with an injury. These are big losses for the team to handle, and troublingly some of names needed to back-fill these spots are not doing so hot.

Danton Heinen - Heinen was a healthy scratch for two games this week, but quiet in the others. The Pens need him to tap into the hot streaks that got his career back on track last year. When he’s off his game, he’s not helping out much. And he’s done little to help out that much lately.

Kasperi Kapanen - what happened to the hot streak? Kapanen only played 8:41 last night against Florida. Kapanen has not scored a goal in the last five games since his flourish of a hat trick on December 3rd. As a bigger warning sign, he’s mostly disappeared with only four total shots on goal this week over four games. Kapanen was red hot at one point but now too quickly his hot streak has dulled back to the same old frustrations that have plagued much of his career. The Pens have almost no choice but to dress him, but as seen against the Panthers, that doesn’t mean Mike Sullivan has to play him very much, putting him back in the vicious cycle of failing to make much happen in limited minutes only to see his minutes get limited further by a lack of standing out.

Brian Dumoulin - Jan Rutta pair - per Natural Stat Trick, the Penguins gave up 38 total 5v5 high danger scoring chances in the last four games. Brian Dumoulin was on the ice for half of them (19), and his frequent partner Jan Rutta was right there with him (18). Neither play close to 50% of the total time, leading to a big discrepancy in terms of failing to suppress chances. These two often get trapped in their zone and put increasing stress and pressure on the goalie and total team defense. The results are to match, with both Dumoulin and Rutta on ice for a team-high 3 5v5 GA in the last four games. This is likely more of a Ron Hextall problem than a Mike Sullivan one, the Penguins have little other choice than to ride with the Dumoulin-Rutta pair and hope it doesn’t sink them. The Petry injury doesn’t help, but in the bigger picture acknowleding that Dumoulin isn’t getting the same defensive results he used to provide and moving to add a proper partner for Letang is possibly/probably the biggest roster challenge the Penguins face as of now.