It is Friday and that means it is time to check in with our weekly stock up and stock down report for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Erik Karlsson. Even though the Penguins lost Wednesday’s road game against the Detroit Red Wings and did not look all that impressive as a team, it was still a big night because of what we saw from the team’s biggest offseason addition. With the Penguins trying to erase a three-goal deficit they turned Karlsson loose in the third period and he almost single-handedly brought the team all the way back.
It was honestly kind of breathtaking to watch as he scored a goal, assisted on another goal, had at least two or three other prime scoring chances and was simply all over the ice. He looked like a man on a mission and it was kind of awe-inspiring to see him go like that. It is still kind of weird to think about the fact he is a member of the Penguins, and while he has been pretty good so far this season that was the first time we have really seen him going at his fully operational level. Hopefully they turn him loose like that more often because it looked absolutely unstoppable. He still has it.
The second line. The trio of Evgeni Malkin, Reilly Smith and Rickard Rakell has been the Penguins’ best and most consistent line through the first four games, and it is extremely impressive how quickly they have developed chemistry and clicked offensively. Especially as it relates to Malkin and Smith. Rakell has not yet gotten going offensively, but that line has played 42:57 of 5-on-5 hockey this season and outscored its opponents by a 5-2 margin and controlled nearly 60 percent of the shot attempts, scoring chances and expected goals. Head coach Mike Sullivan has let them feast on offensive zone starts and good matchups and they are taking advantage of it and lighting up the scoreboard. The most consistent line on the team so far.
Bryan Rust. He continues to look like a different player so far this season and has at least one goal in three of the Penguins’ first four games. Getting him going again will be a key development this season. It will help the top line be even better if he gets back to a 25-30 goal pace, and they have a lot of money invested in him for a long time and it will be quite important to get a return on that contract. He has been great so far this season.
ESPN’s list. Not even sure at this point what it is about Evgeni Malkin that his game and performances gets so disrespected, but it is getting ridiculous. He may not be a top-10 player in the NHL anymore as he gets older, but he is without question and absolutely among the top-100 players in the NHL. He is among the top-50. Almost certainly among the top-30 or-25. The most insane thing about that list is that Malkin could not even get listed as an honorable mention behind two rookies (Columbus Blue Jackets rookie Adam Fantilli and Arizona Coyotes rookie Logan Cooley) that had played in four games between them at the time of the list. Just a baffling thing.
Bottom-six offense. I hate to keep making this a thing, and I hope it does not become a thing all season, but you can not ignore the numbers at this point. They are bad. In four games this group has not scored a single goal, while only Lars Eller has managed a point (when he was playing with members of the top-six after a penalty kill). The Penguins have scored 14 goals this season and all 14 of them have come from the top-six and Karlsson. They are not scoring goals and they are not doing anything to even come close to generating offense. Ask yourself how many times the third-or fourth-lines have even maintained offensive zone time or generated a Grade A scoring chance. It simply does not happen.
Jansen Harkins. More specific to the bottom-six, the Harkins experiment just never worked out and it resulted in the Penguins placing him on waivers on Thursday. It seems unlikely anybody will claim him. But he was just completely miscast in a third-line role and was definitely holding back that trio. The Lars Eller and Drew O’Connor duo is the one part of the bottom-six that I think has a chance to be pretty respectable this season, but they really need a third member of that line that can help create offense. That was never going to be Harkins. Maybe it is time to give Radim Zohorna a look in that spot.
The power play. Another recurring thing in the stock down section. The power play managed two goals against the Washington Capitals in the second game of the season, and has done nothing since. It was especially problematic on Wednesday when their first failed attempt seemed to serve as a momentum building for Detroit, while their next two power plays (with a chance to get back into the game) came up completely flat. I am still way more optimistic about this group figuring it out and being productive than I am with the bottom-six, but they need to get it going soon. The Penguins need to rely on this unit to carry a significant chunk of the offense this season given the state of the bottom-six offensively. There is more than enough talent and money invested in the power play that it should be able to do that. So far it looks like more of what we saw a year ago. That is simply not good enough. It not only does not score, it seems to take momentum away from the team.