The Penguins won two games this week, gutting out a come from behind win in Boston and then holding on for a shutout victory over Ottawa. There’s more good news on the horizon today, in the form of a roster transaction that sent Michael Chaput and Valtteri Puustinen back to Wilkes-Barre.
This move is good news for the team, with the expected return of Evgeni Malkin on Sunday from the COVID list. Forward Drew O’Connor is also now eligible to return from the long term injured reserve.
In Pittsburgh’s last seven games, dating back to January 24th, scoring has been a masked problem. On one hand, the offense has been enough for a 3-1-3 record and contributed a nice, round average of 3.0 goals per game.
However outside of the top players (Sidney Crosby, Bryan Rust, Jake Guentzel, Kris Letang, and Malkin himself), in the last seven games the production from the rest of the team has been minimal. Those five players have combined to score 16 of the team’s 21 goals in this stretch.
The wins this week were largely fueled by the secondary scoring contributions of Danton Heinen’s two goals in Boston, and Jeff Carter’s crucial goal against Ottawa. That is the type they will need more of, and will be aided by dropping Malkin back in the lineup to boost depth and add more skill to the lineup outside of the Guentzel-Crosby-Rust line that has scored more than half of the team’s 11 even strength goals in this stretch.
How Malkin will be slotted in and utilized to help forwards struggling to contribute, namely Kasperi Kapanen and Evan Rodrigues, will be an important next step for the team as they continue their February work.
While the Pens still have two key injuries to their forward group, and will for quite some time with Jason Zucker and Teddy Blueger on the mend for weeks and probably months to go, this will be a great opportunity for the team to start building toward the playoffs and figuring out what combinations can work for them outside of the always successful and productive Crosby line.
That begins with Malkin’s return, and that return will be a welcomed one on Sunday in New Jersey.