The Pittsburgh Penguins start a massive four-game home stand on Tuesday night that will feature games against a couple of Stanley Cup contenders and a rapidly improving Ottawa Senators team. Here are four random thoughts to kick around.
1. Could the power play breakout soon?
One of the biggest disappointments over the first five games has been the continued struggles of the power play to score goals. They have managed just two goals in those five games, both of which were scored by Sidney Crosby in their 4-0 shutout win over the Washington Capitals in the second game of the season.
Other than that: Nothing.
The biggest complaint on the power play, aside from the lack of goals, is that it can be sometimes be too passive and not aggressive enough when it comes to actually generating shots. And while I generally agree with that and think they can get too pass happy with the puck, the numbers indicate that they are shooting the puck. A lot.
Entering play on Tuesday the Penguins’ power play has the following rankings in terms of shot generation league-wide.
Shot attempts per 60 minutes: second
Shots on goal per 60 minutes: first
Expected goals per 60 minutes: first
Scoring chances per 60 minutes: first
High-danger scoring chances per 60 minutes: fourth
I have been critical of the power play for sucking momentum out of games and for failing to score goals in big opportunities. And while I generally think the power play lacks movement and is sometimes too passive, they are generally getting shots. That is the first step toward scoring goals. I feel like this is one of those times where the numbers might not be telling the whole story, but it is also hard to ignore what the numbers actually are. The hope has to be that if the shots and chances keep coming, the goals will eventually follow.
Given the makeup of the roster the power play has to be a significant driver of offense.
So far it has not been.
2. Tristan Jarry needs a bounce back game
I am not going to put too much of the slow start on Jarry because that is low-hanging fruit at this point.
I thought he was good enough to beat Chicago in the opener, he had a shutout in Washington, and then kind of got left out to dry in in Detroit and St. Louis.
Having said that, he is allowed to make a big save. And he did not really make any of those over the past two games and it has resulted in an underwhelming .892 save percentage through his first four starts. He has also allowed three more goals than expected given the expected goals he has faced. That is one of the worst marks in the league so far.
Basically he has played one pretty good game, one really good game, and two underwhelming games, even when taking into account what was happening in front of him. This is a situation coming into the week where you have a struggling team that is in big-time need of a win with a couple of great teams coming into town. This is where you need your $5 million per year goalie to be a stopper and step up to help steal a game to get the team going back in the right direction. He is capable of it. We see flashes of it every year. They need one of those flashes right now.
3. I am really intrigued by Radim Zohorna’s impact on the third line
It took Zohorna exactly one game to make more of an impact than any other forward in the bottom-six made over the first four games of the season.
Along with his goal (the first of the year for any bottom-six player on the team), he also generally seemed to help really create a lot offense and was simply noticeable. It is the type of performance he has generally shown when given a chance. It is actually kind of wild how impressive his underlying numbers have been in his brief NHL action. Especially with the Penguins.
It is obviously a lot of small sample size noise, but during the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons he played over 200 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey with the Penguins while they outscored their opponents by a 20-3 margin during that time, while also dominating the scoring chance numbers. I think it would be a stretch to attribute ALL of that to Zohorna, but he has a surprisingly skilled player for his size and should have never been left off the opening night roster after the preseason that he had. Especially in favor of Jansen Harkins.
The trio of Zohorna, Lars Eller and Drew O’Connor was the Penguins’ most successful line on Saturday and I want to see if they can repeat that this week. I at least like the potential of it because those are clearly their three-best options in the bottom-six.
4. Rickard Rakell is due
Rakell is the one player in the top-six that has been relatively quiet so far this season, failing to score a goal in the first five games of the season. I have loved his addition to the Penguins’ roster from the moment he arrived and he was the one truly positive thing that happened during the Ron Hextall and Brian Burke reign of error. Entering play on Tuesday he has yet to score a goal in five games, but I do feel like he should be getting close.
The shots are still there.
The scoring chances are still there.
And he is playing a role on what has been the Penguins’ best offensive line alongside Evgeni Malkin and Reilly Smith. As long as that line keeps generating goals I do not really care who actually scores them, but it would be nice to see him maybe be the guy that helps get the power play going.
He scored 11 power play goals a year ago and was consistently one of the most aggressive players in terms of generating shots on goal on the man advantage. They need more of that this season.