The week did not get off to a great start for the Pittsburgh Penguins with ugly losses against the St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars. But they managed to secure a huge win on Thursday night by not only handing a Stanley Cup contender in the Colorado Avalanche their first loss of the season, they shut them out and significantly outplayed them.
It also continued the development of one very signifiant thing from this week.
The possible emergence of a productive and useful third line.
The new third line. The Penguins might have stumbled on something with the new-look third line of Lars Eller, Drew O’Connor and Radim Zohorna. At least for now. That trio has played together for three games now, and simply swapping out Jansen Harkins for Zohorna seems to have been a game-changer for that line and potentially the team as a whole.
In their three games together the Penguins have had a commanding edge in shot attempt share, scoring chance share and expected goal share with that line on the ice, while also owning a 2-0 goals advantage. The fact they have already combined for two goals in three games is significant given how the bottom-six had not done anything in the games prior to that.
What makes their production and performance even better is that they have been controlling the pace of play despite getting heavy defensive zone starts.
Reilly Smith. He continues to be a great addition to the second line and has formed an instant connectio and chemistry with Evgeni Malkin. With his two goals on Thursday he is already up to four goals in seven games, and even more than the production is simply the fact he always seems to be creating something offensively. Even with Rickard Rakell struggling to generate offense himself on the stat sheet that line has been their best line the entire season.
Tristan Jarry. The Penguins needed him to deliver a big game this week, and he did exactly that on Thursday night with what is already his second shutout of the season. Going into this week he had played two really good games, and two below average games. Given the contract they signed him to this offseason and how much goaltending has impact recent seasons it is imperative for Jarry to have a big year. He has been an All-Star level player at times when he has been healthy, and if he can get back to that this season that will be a game-changer for the Penguins.
Bryan Rust. I just love the way he is playing so far this season. There were times last year where I felt like his contract might turn out to be an albatross sooner-rather-than-later, simply because he just struck me as the type of player that would not age gracefully into his 30s. Like, if the Penguins were signing him from outside of the organization to that deal would it have been greeted favorably? It just seemed like the type of contract that would backfire in free agency. But even if that does turn out to be the case a few years down the line there still should be some productive hockey from him, and so far this season he looks like the Bryan Rust we have grown accustomed to seeing.
The Power Play. Still with the power play. They went 0-for-2 again on Thursday against Colorado and are now just 11.1 percent on the season, failing to score on the man-advantage in six of their first seven games. Their two chances on Thursday did not change much when it comes to the outcome, but Tuesday’s game against Dallas was another game where they failed to capitalize in some big moments and were unable to build on an early lead. They need this unit to excel. So far it is not.
Rickard Rakell. It has hard to be too critical because his line is still generating most of the offense, but he has just one assist and zero goals in the first seven games. But while that line is generating a lot during 5-on-5 play, Rakell is somebody that needs to make a big impact on the power play. He was one of their most effective players on the man advantage a year ago and if he could get rolling there and start generate some offense to complement what his line is doing at even-strength that would be a significant help. I do like the fact that he is still generating chances (his 2.12 expected goals in all situations are fourth most on the team), but it would be nice if some of those chances starting turning into goals. Especially on the power play.