The Pittsburgh Penguins are officially back in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the 16th year in a row thanks to their 6-3 win over the New York Islanders on Thursday night.
Clinching a playoff spot had become inevitable given the way the Eastern Conference standings have looked since the middle of December, but it was still a big win on Thursday because the Penguins just needed some positive results after a tough stretch over the past couple of weeks.
Bryan Rust and Evan Rodrigues were back in the lineup, and the top players played a big role in helping the Penguins officially punch their postseason tickets.
We take a look at all of that and more in this week’s Trending Penguins Players.
Who Is Hot
Sidney Crosby. The captain has been the one constant all season for the Penguins, and this past week has been no exception. He has three straight multi-point games for the Penguins and helped single-handedly will them to a victory last Sunday against the Nashville Predators. He topped the 80-point mark for the season and has been one of the best offensive players in the league this season. It took him about seven games to really start rolling this season after his offseason surgery, and once he started rolling there has been no stopping him.
Jake Guentzel. What a great player. With back-to-back two-goal games this week he is now at 37 goals for the season and has a real shot to hit the 40-goal mark for the second time in his career even though he has missed six games this season. His current pace would be good enough for 44 goals over 82 games, while he is still on track to hit the 40-mark in 76 games. He has averaged a 40-goal pace per 82 games since the start of the 2018-19 season.
Casey DeSmith. He has played some of his best hockey of the season as of late, and that was especially true on Tuesday night even though he gave up four goals. It might not seem like a great outing, but he had to make a lot of 10-bell saves, just as he did against Nashville on Sunday. There is not a goalie controversy at the moment, but it is nice to see him play better to not only give Tristan Jarry some time off to stay fresh before the start of the playoffs, but also to give you some confidence that he can play if needed.
Rickard Rakell. He has been amazing next to Crosby on the top line and been everything the Penguins could have wanted him to be as a trade deadline acquisition. The skill level is obvious and he has been extremely productive, averaging around a point per game since the move. The original idea was to play him next to Malkin, but he seems to have something special going on with Crosby and Guentzel.
Who Is Not
Evgeni Malkin. He has not been playing his best lately, and he took himself out of action for four games because of a really stupid play against Nashville. I am not concerned about his recent scoring slump because he will get that going, But he definitely needs to be smarter and control his emotions better. Teams will be doing everything they can to get under his skin in the playoffs and they can not afford to have him out of the lineup again for an extended period of time.
The Power Play. Not a good week for the power play at all. They were only 9 percent for the week, allowed a shorthanded goal, and had an absolutely dreadful showing in overtime against the Islanders on Tuesday night. That might have been the worst 4-on-3 overtime power play you will ever see. Ever. It was that bad. It was so bad I almost wish they would have lost the game on an empty net own goal on the delayed penalty so I would have been able to avoid watching that power play.
Brian Dumoulin. He is just not the player he used to be, and he is really struggling lately. Every play with the puck in his own zone is an adventure and he is starting to become way more noticeable than he has ever been. That is a bad thing. When Dumoulin was at his best he was the player that quietly made an impact without anybody ever paying much attention to it. He made the quiet, subtle, simple plays that every team needs without ever really getting caught out of position or beat one-on-one or turning the puck over. Now all of that is starting to happen with great regularity. He needs some games off to be fresh for the Stanley Cup Playoffs and he should probably on the trade block after the season.
Marcus Pettersson. He has been the odd-man out on defense at times, and when he has played he has not really impressed lately. Having more than one of your top-six defenders showing up in the “who is not” section this close to the playoffs is not really what you want to see.