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Random Penguins thoughts: Depth scoring, top competition, and the trade deadline

The Pittsburgh Penguins are right in the middle of the toughest part of their schedule while the NHL trade deadline is just a couple of weeks away.

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Florida Panthers v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images

Just some random mid-week Pittsburgh Penguins thoughts kicking around in my head that may not be enough for a full post on their own.

The Penguins against top competition (updated)

The Pittsburgh Penguins ran into a buzzsaw in the first period on Tuesday night against the Florida Panthers, facing an early 2-0 deficit that ultimately proved to be their undoing in a 4-3 defeat against one of the NHL’s best teams. There were some concerns. Another slow start at home, as well as the fact the Sidney Crosby line was the only one really producing any offense. Tough game with some concerns still rising to the surface.

The Panthers game on Tuesday was the fifth game in a brutal nine-game stretch that will see them play some of the league’s best teams (plus a hotter-than-you-realize Columbus team) with a few back-to-backs thrown in just for good measure. It would be easy to use this stretch as some sort of a measuring stick to see how the Penguins compare to the best teams in the league and how they compete with them.

Even with Tuesday’s loss the Penguins are 3-1-1 to start that stretch, earning seven out of a possible 10 points, while also mostly controlling the pace of the games as a whole. They are on the positive side of every major 5-on-5 possession, shot, and scoring chance metric, while four of those five games have been parts of back-to-back situations (and in one of them, against Columbus, they were playing a rested team on the road).

It was a couple of weeks ago that I looked at the Penguins’ performance against likely playoff teams and how it compares to the rest of the league, and overall I think it is about what you should expect. Good teams beat up on the lesser teams and play somewhere around .500 against the other good teams.

So far this season the Penguins have played 17 games against teams that are currently in the top-10 in the league in points percentage. The elite teams. So far in those games they are 8-5-4, with two of those overtime losses being in shootouts. In other words, pretty even games. That record would be a 97-point pace over 82 games. If you are playing at that level against the elite of the elite, you are probably doing pretty well for yourself. (The Rangers, for example, are 9-10-0 against similar competition; Tampa Bay is 7-9-4; Toronto is 9-7-3; Boston is 4-9-3).

It is just important to keep perspective here. The only 60-minute game is where there is only one team on the ice. Good teams beat each other pretty frequently. I do not see Tuesday’s game against Florida as a step back or any kind of a concern in the big picture.

There is still some smaller picture concerns.

Depth scoring still an issue

As I wrote about on Monday, this has totally disappeared recently and it is a concerning development, and somewhat of a surprising development given how strong this aspect of the team has been since the start of the 2020-21 season. It has been arguably one of this team’s greatest strengths over the past two seasons.

Over the past 10 games they have scored just five goals during 5-on-5 play with neither Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin on the ice. They have allowed 10 goals in those situations.

In the 10 games prior to that they scored 12 and allowed only eight goals.

In the 10 games prior to that they scored 13 and allowed 14.

In the 10 games prior that they scored 10 goals and allowed only nine goals.

So the secondary scoring has basically been cut in half (or more) over the past 10 games (and maybe a little beyond).

That is a problem.

Given the underlying numbers and insanely low shooting percentages for players like Evan Rodrigues, Jeff Carter, Danton Heinen I still want to believe they can break out of this. NHL players do not typically shoot between 3-5 percent over an extended period of time. Those things fluctuate.

Still, the longer this goes on the more concerning it gets and needs to be addressed.

Speaking of....

The trade deadline is getting close

This week The Athletic’s Josh Yohe talked a little bit about who the Penguins like at the trade deadline and specifically focussed on two names that could be possible: Anaheim’s Rickard Rakell and Seattle’s Calle Jarnkrok.

Of the two, my preference is Rakell because I think he is a bit more of a finisher than Jarnkrok and that is exactly what the Penguins need right now.

Rakell is interesting because a few years ago he was a legitimate 30-goal threat for (and actual 30-goal scorer) for a strong three-year run.

This his shooting percentage tanked and his goal scoring dropped down to a 20-goal level. Still good; just not a game-changer. It has bounced back a little bit this season and with 16 goals in 49 games he is back on track for close to 30 goals again.

Honestly, I think he is about as realistic and ideal of a candidate as you can get.

It would require too much salary cap nonsense to get somebody like Filip Forsberg (if Nashville even traded him) or J.T. Miller, and that does not even get into the fact the Penguins do not have the prospect capital to match what other teams can offer those teams in a deal.

Rakell can probably be had for a first-round pick, and his salary is low enough that the Penguins could probably make it work.

Now, the question is if you think Rakell is worth a first-round pick, while also acknowledging the possibility that Ron Hextall is determined to keep the pick (he should not).

I think I would do it. Max Comtois is also intriguing, especially given his age and the fact he is signed for another season, but I think Rakell has a little more upside (and proven ability) for this season. Which is really what the Penguins should be after right now.