The first month of the 2023-24 season did not always go exactly as planned or hoped for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
They were beaten by teams they were expected to beat, they lost leads, they did not always play well, and at one point they even had the worst overall record in the Eastern Conference by points percentage.
But they have very slowly started to piece some things together, and on Thursday night they capped off a perfect three-game West Coast road trip with a gutsy 4-3 overtime win against an excellent Los Angeles Kings team. It brings them back to the .500 mark for the season and builds some momentum for when they return home this weekend against the Buffalo Sabres.
So let’s take a look at this week’s stock report and who is trending up and who is trending down.
The Sidney Crosby line. This line has been consistently good this season offensively, but they have had some shortcomings defensively and not always been at their best. That all changed this past week, starting with that dominant 10-2 win in San Jose over the weekend. During the three-game road trip this line outscored opponents by a 5-1 margin during 5-on-5 play, and played a huge role in Thursday’s win against Los Angeles. Crosby opened the scoring with a goal in the first period, opened the third period with a slick goal by Jake Guentzel and then saw Rust win it with two goals in overtime — one that did not count and one that did. As this line goes, the Penguins will go. This week that line was at its absolute best.
Magnus Hellberg. I don’t know that he was necessarily great on Thursday, but he was good enough to help the Penguins steal two points against a Stanley Cup contender on a night where they did not play their best hockey. He was put into a tough position this week as the Penguins’ third-string goalie, coming off the bench in Anaheim to secure a shutout win and then doing just enough to give the Penguins a chance in Los Angeles. That is pretty much all you can ask from your third-string goalie.
Erik Karlsson. Overall I have liked his game this season, and I have no complaints with the way he has played. But there still seems like there is another level he can reach. He started to reach it this week, recording five assists and a plus-seven mark during the West Coast road trip.
The Lars Eller line. I keep going back to these three, but I think there is a very valid reason for it. They have been great together, and I do not think it is a coincidence that as soon as the Penguins found a solid third line that their success as a team turned around. They scored a goal in Anaheim, played a great shutdown role in the third period, and then Eller added a shorthanded goal on Thursday to help swing the game in the Penguins’ favor.
Tristan Jarry’s injury luck. It figures that on the night Jarry is playing his best game of the season (well, one of his best games), he ends up leaving the game with a fluke injury that will probably sideline him for an extended period of time. It is not anybody's fault because the play that knocked him out of the game was a total fluke, but it is still unfortunate luck. Inconsistent play has been an issue for Jarry over the past few years. Being able to stay on the ice has been as well. It just stinks because he was finally peicing together a few decent games.