The Pittsburgh Penguins just played what might have been the toughest part of their 2021-22 schedule, playing nine consecutive games against the New York Rangers, Columbus, Tampa Bay, Carolina, Florida, Carolina, Vegas, Nashville, and St. Louis. That is eight playoff teams, one pretty good non-playoff team that is playing pretty well (Columbus), and six games against top-10 teams in the league standings.
Maybe you thought it was a measuring stick stretch to see how they compare with and compete with the best teams in the league. Maybe just a tough stretch of games. Maybe a preview for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Maybe you did not think anything of it. Either way they went 6-2-1 during that stretch and for the most part looked really good. They controlled 52 percent of the total shot attempts during 5-on-5 play, they controlled 54 percent of the expected goals, they controlled 55 percent of the total scoring chances. and they controlled 55 percent of the high-danger scoring chances. Those are good numbers against any group of teams over any stretch of nine games in any season. But against that group of teams? Pretty impressive.
You would like to see some more finishing and a few more goals, but overall there is some really strong play here.
We take a look at all of that and more in this week’s Trending Penguins Players.
Who Is Hot
Mike Matheson. What a season this guy is having. Just an unbelievable turnaround with good offense, better than anybody expected defensive play, and just a solid all around contribution. He scored two goals and had three total points this past week and some big-time defensive plays. He also played great next to Kris Letang. Do not let that one mishap in the third period against Nashville overshadow all of the good things.
Depth scoring. Yes, there has been some of that. The Penguins have received goals from 11 different players over the past four games, including four from their defense. This has been a huge concern and talking point lately, but I still think the secondary players are playing better than their production might indicate on the scoreboard and that it is only a matter of time until their offense starts to return. It already has a little bit over the past week. Over the past four games the Penguins outscored teams by a 5-2 margin when neither Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin was on the ice and had a staggering 58 percent share of the expected goals.
The Penalty Kill. This group struggled for a while, especially in the absence of Teddy Blueger, but they seem to be getting back on track lately and are at 90 percent since the start of March. That 3-on-5 early in the first period against the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night was a game-changing moment early on and set the tone for the Penguins to start dominating.
Jeff Carter. He recorded three points over the past week, has been a plus-five, and seemed to generate more scoring chances than he has been lately. He is one of the secondary players whose play has not quite matched their production lately and it is only a matter of time until he starts scoring a few more goals.
Who Is Not
Evgeni Malkin. This is tough because I do not think Malkin is playing poorly. In fact, I like the way he is playing. It is in control, his line is creating some chances, and I think he just needs another winger to really help out. But you do not see Malkin go five consecutive games without a point very often.
The Power Play. After a bit of a surge this unit is struggling again. They have gone cold over the past few games and really struggled against the St. Louis Blues on Thursday. Zone entries, generating shots, maintaining possession, and finishing have been a struggle for the top unit lately and it has resembled what we saw earlier in the year. Hopefully just a little blip that gets corrected very soon.
Kasperi Kapanen. Really hate to keep piling on him here, and he was pretty good on Thursday against the Blues, but he still needs to do more. Attack the net, generate more shots, do something. He has not scored a goal in his last 20 games, has one goal in his past 27 games, and only two goals in his past 32 games.