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Goaltending, power play, and Jeff Carter are big question marks as regular season enters stretch run

These are three of the things to watch for over the next five games.

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Penguins have six regular season games remaining before the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and it would be a good time to start getting some things right.

It is not exactly a secret that the Penguins are somewhat backing into the playoffs with with a 4-7-2 record over the past couple of weeks, and they are still struggling to get a full roster on the ice because of injuries and a suspension.

So what is at the top of the question mark last right now? It would have to be the goalie position where Tristan Jarry is sidelined on a “week-to-week” basis, leaving that spot in the hands of Casey DeSmith and Louis Domingue.

“Week to week” is a pretty open ended time frame, and it certainly leaves open the possibility that Jarry could not be back for the start of the playoffs. That would not be ideal. In fact, it would probably be very, very bad. Jarry is not the Penguins’ best player, but he is one of their most important given the position and the fact they do not really have anything behind him that inspires you with a ton of confidence. He was always going to be one of the biggest X-factors this season, and for much of it he has been one of the biggest surprises on the roster. Maybe even the league. After that dreadful playoff performance a year ago the Penguins stuck with him, believed in him, gave him a chance to rebound, and he rewarded them with an All-Star performance.

Now he is out for the foreseeable future.

There are a couple of ways to look at it.

The optimistic angle is that he gets some time off before the playoffs and can come back fresh and rested. His play had started to regress a bit over the past couple of weeks and his workload could have been getting to him a bit. Having some time off this time of year is not the worst thing in the world, especially when you are already locked into the playoffs.

The pessimistic angle is not only would you like to see him play through some of these recent struggles and get right going into the playoffs, but also the concern that he is not ready for the playoffs which would leave DeSmith as the starter.

While he has played better in recent weeks the overall numbers are still what they are: A .907 save percentage and at least three goals against in 12 of his 22 appearances (and 17 of his past 28 dating back to the end of the 2020-21 season) is not exactly a recipe for success against Igor Shesterkin and the New York Rangers.

The other area that needs some work is the power play.

It has had some opportunities to swing some games in the Penguins’ favor over the past couple of weeks and failed to come through (including Saturday’s game in Boston) and is just 1-for-20 since the start of April. Not great! This has been an inconsistent group all season, and it has especially struggled the past few games without Evgeni Malkin. It is stating the obvious, but Malkin really does make a significant different on the top unit. When he, Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel, and Kris Letang are all on the ice for the power play the Penguins average 116 shot attempts per 60 minutes, 12 goals per 60 minutes, 10.3 expected goals, and 78.4 scoring chances.

When you take only Malkin away from that group and just leave the trio of Crosby, Guentzel, and Letang, those numbers drop down to 103 shot attempts, 10 goals, eight expected goals, and only 59 scoring chances.

Malkin’s return will not only boost that unit, but should also provide a significant boost for the second line which is currently being dragged down by a slumping Jeff Carter. That is something that is becoming a major concern.

I like Carter, and I like what he has done with the Penguins, but right now he is not doing anything to center any effective line right now. The Carter, Bryan Rust, and Jason Zucker line was abysmal on Saturday (attempting just one shot attempt, allowing 12, and a goal in a little more than 10 minutes of ice time) and it has been a common theme for Carter’s lines lately. It is starting to reach the point where, when Malkin is healthy, that Blueger and Carter should probably be swapped on the third and fourth lines.

Blueger, Evan Rodrigues, Kasperi Kapanen would be my play for the third line, allowing Carter-McGinn-Boyle to be the makeshift fourth line.

Not ideal, but it might be the best option right now.