March has typically been a month the Penguins have hit full gear and rocketed up the standings as the playoffs get closer. With the extended 2021-22 season, however, March hasn’t been quite as important since there are still four full weeks of season to go — unlike most years when there is less than 10 days.
Pittsburgh’s isn’t quite peaking yet, though an 8-4-2 month (.643 points%) against significant competition is nothing to blink at either. The Pens outscored their competition 52-36 on aggregate for the month, which is naturally skewed by the once in 20 years thumping of 11-2 that they gave Detroit.
Here’s a look back at prior months as we close the book on March.
NHL Player of the Month: Sidney Crosby
Sidney Crosby has hit his stride in a major way. The captain’s 21 points (9G+12A) in March led the Pens by a country mile. Bryan Rust and Evgeni Malkin tied for second back at 14 points a piece. Crosby was a machine in March — he had more three-point games this month (2) than zero-point games (just one, the 5-1 loss to NYR on 3/25). Crosby recorded multiple points games in 50% of the contests of the month (7/14), .
Overall since Thanksgiving, Crosby has 69 points in the last 50 games, good for third in the NHL (behind Jonathan Huberdeau and Auston Matthews). Crosby is 17 seasons into his career, and all the superlatives you can think of just aren’t enough. He’s still right there as one of the very best players in the league.
Honorable mentions: Evgeni Malkin, Brian Boyle, Tristan Jarry
—Malkin had 51 shots in 13 games of March (almost four per game), scoring eight goals along the way. That is a wonderful sign to see him so active (for comparison Geno only had 2.2 shots/game in 2020-21). Boyle notched six points (3G+3A) in 13 games, only the top five power play guys plus Jeff Carter had more March points. Jarry continues to be a workhorse, starting 10 of the 14 games in the month and posting a 7-3-0 record and .923 save%, among the league leaders in March.
Player to watch: Rickard Rakell
This was setup perfectly to be Jason Zucker, but...sigh. Rakell has integrated with the Pens seamlessly with five points (3G+2A) in six games, despite dealing with a red-eye flight and back-to-back games with no practice to be found to start his stint with Pittsburgh. With Zucker presumably back out of the picture again, the need for Rakell to continue to make an impact is high. Fortunately, all signs are pointing to the talented Swede being able to meet the challenge ahead.
AHL Player of the Month: Drew O’Connor
Working mostly as a center in Wilkes, O’Connor put up 12 points (4G+8A) in 14 games in the month of March. He’s at 23 points in 23 games at the AHL level. He’s had dominant games of five and eight shots and moved the needle in a big way. With four NHL caliber centers signed next season for Pittsburgh, it’s interesting the organization has been working him in the middle of the ice, but that should add even more flexibility and show more versatility for him next season. O’Connor has signed a one-way contract for 2022-23, and is a pretty good candidate to be ready to graduate to the NHL level before too much longer at this rate.
Player to watch: Sam Poulin
—The former first round pick has been picking up steam as his rookie season has gone on, which is encouraging to see. He lit the lamp with seven goals in the month of March (over half of his 13 on the season), including his first pro hat trick against Lehigh Valley. Having recently turned 21-years old and now getting a good bit of AHL time under his belt, the next 12 months are going to be very critical for Poulin’s career path development-wise. More strong months like March would be encouraging.
Prospect of the Month: The Pens’ 2022 first round pick
Pittsburgh doesn’t have a lot of unsigned players doing big things right now, and their prospect pool isn’t very strong as it is. However, that will be getting a boost soon. GM Ron Hextall got past the deadline by getting a forward upgrade (Rakell) and not giving up his first round pick, which Brian Burke mentioned on TSN was Anaheim’s initial asking price. Pittsburgh’s prospect pool stands to be improved by adding young talent. Even though the team is hoping the pick will be as late as possible, they will be drafting a potential NHL contributor for the future in upcoming months, and frankly, that’s the best thing going in the organization in this department right now.