Every Friday this season we will check in with the Pittsburgh Penguins’ weekly stock report to take a look at who (or what) on the team is trending upward and who (or what) is not.
Even though there is only one game in the books this week, we can still start off with a look at some positive and negative developments.
Bryan Rust. For most of the 2022-23 season I thought Rust was one of the more disappointing players on the Penguins’ roster. Not only in terms of overall production, but he also had some uncharacteristic mistakes in some big moments that helped turn into losses.
Part of his problem was the fact his shooting luck completely dried up. That started to reverse itself late in the season as he scored four goals in the Penguins’ final seven regular season games to help him at least reach the 20-goal mark.
Some of that improved luck started to carry over on Tuesday night when he was able to get his stick on a bad angle shot and deflect it into the net for the Penguins’ first goal of the season. Beyond that goal I thought Rust was one of the more consistently dangerous Penguins offensively. He finished the game with seven total shot attempts, five shots on goal and what I thought were some strong scoring chances. He seemed more noticeable offensively than he did at certain times a year ago, and that is at least an encouraging start to the season for him individually. Of all the veteran players the Penguins re-signed going into the 2022-23 season, Rust was the one I had the most concerns with and the one I was least sold on long-term. Given his contract and the Penguins’ salary cap situation they need Rust to still be a top-line producer. It is only one game, but I thought Tuesday was a strong start for him offensively.
Tristan Jarry. I know Tuesday’s game ended the exact same way too many games ended a year ago with a blown two-goal lead, but I am not going to put that on Jarry. If anything, I thought he gave the Penguins’ a chance to win.
The Penguins had too many defensive breakdowns in front of him, and given the number of chances he had to face I thought he played a strong game. He finished with a strong .914 save percentage and given the number of shots and chances the Blackhawks were able to generate they easily could — and probably should — have scored more than the three goals they did score against him,
He faced nearly five expected goals against and more than 11 high-danger shots in the game. Both of those numbers were among the highest any goalie faced in their season-opening game. He also made some really big saves on some prime Grade-A chances. I can not fault him for the loss or the blown lead.
Jarry is going to be one of the Penguins’ biggest X-factor players this season and they need him to play like an at least above average starter. He is perfectly capable of that when he is fully healthy, and I thought he showed that for much of Tuesday’s game.
Power Play. A very common theme from the 2022-23 season, and that might be the most disappointing development from the season opener. The hope was that the addition of Erik Karlsson could help fix that unit in a big way, and it ultimately still very much might. It just has not exactly happened yet.
After an uninspiring preseason performance and a sloppy 0-for-2 performance against Chicago the unit is not off to the greatest start.
Even though the Penguins were able to hold onto the puck during their two attempts, they still spent too much time passing the puck around the perimeter, did not have enough of a shoot-first mentality, and did not generate many prime scoring chances. They also came up empty at a huge moment when they had a chance to really put Chicago away. Following the Penguins’ second goal (a Sidney Crosby goal), they were awarded a power play for a failed offsides challenge by the Blackhawks. A goal there would have given the Penguins a 3-0 lead and probably taken a young Chicago team out of the game. Instead, the Penguins failed to generate much of anything and it probably took momentum away from them. They ended up being outscored 4-0 the rest of the game.
Bad penalties and discipline. This specifically was a problem for the bottom-six as Lars Eller, Matt Nieto and Jeff Carter all took penalties, including a couple in the offensive zone and an obvious holding the stick call on Carter.
The bottom-six was a huge problem on the 2022-23 team for a lot of reasons.
They did not generate offense, they did not defend particularly well and they seemed to be more of a drag on the team on most nights than anything helpful. Given the construction of this year’s bottom-six on paper it is still probably not going to generate a ton of offense, or much it all. That means they can not give up goals or put the Penguins at a disadvantage by taking undisciplined penalties. Or any penalty of any kind.
The Penguins took two penalties in the third period in back-to-back situations, and even though Chicago did not score on those specific power plays, it started to generate a lot of pressure and swing the game in its favor.
With Alex Ovechkin looming on Friday night the Penguins have to make sure they improve that discipline and not give the Washington Capitals big power plays in big moments. The best way to stop that power play is to not give it any chances.