The Pittsburgh Penguins’ five-game winning streak came to a disappointing end on Thursday night with an ugly 5-2 loss to a shorthanded New Jersey Devils team. That does not take away from the fact the Penguins are starting to show signs of getting back on track as some of their biggest stars really start to shine.
Let’s take a look at the past week of performances in the weekly Penguins stock report.
Erik Karlsson. The Penguins have turned Karlsson loose in recent weeks and it has been an absolute joy to watch. He recorded five points over the three games this past week and has a seven-game point streak going that has featured five multi-point games. For the season he is averaging more than a point-per-game and has been a part of one of the league’s best defensive pairings alongside Marcus Pettersson.
Sidney Crosby. That performance in Columbus was one for the ages as he helped lift the Penguins to a fifth-straight win with a hat trick, including an absolutely ridiculous deflection goal for the game-winner and then an empty-net goal to put the game away. Along with the hat trick, he had six total points over the past week and is having another absolutely incredible season, refusing to slow down even at age 36. He is on pace for close to 110 points over 82 games this season, which is an incredible performance. He, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Karlsson are all absolutely still good enough to be the foundation of a Stanley Cup winning team even at this stage of their careers.
Penalty kill. The Penguins penalty kill was a perfect 7-for-7 this week and has climbed all the way to ninth-best in the NHL in terms of success rate. This unit was especially strong in Columbus on Tuesday night and had some clutch moments to help extend the winning streak. It has been the one special teams unit that has been consistently good this season. The one big change here this season has been defenseman Kris Letang taking a significantly bigger role here as Karlsson takes over the top power play assignments.
Penguins against the Devils. The Devils simply have the Penguins’ number lately. Thursday’s game was the sixth straight loss against New Jersey for the Penguins, with almost none of them being particularly close. They have been outscored 23-7 during that streak. What makes Thursday’s defeat so frustrating is that the Devils were playing that game without three of their best forwards — Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier and Timo Meier — while they have had terrible goaltending all year. With a weekend back-to-back against Carolina and Vegas looming that would have been a good two points to get. But the Penguins really struggle with the Devils’ speed, even when they are shorthanded.
Rickard Rakell. This is starting to get a little baffling. Rakell is now 15 games into the season and has not only yet to score a goal, he has just four assists and has mostly been completely unnoticeable. He is still getting a decent amount of shots on goal, but nothing is going in the net for him and he is not even generating points despite playing next to the Evgeni Malkin and Reilly Smith duo. Rakell has been a great addition, and he had a great 2022-23 season to kick off his new contract extension with the team, but he is really fighting it so far this season. I still believe he will break out of this and get back on track, but it is not the start anybody expected from him.
Power play. This unit simply can not find any consistency, and Thursday’s game against New Jersey was another example of that unit just simply stealing momentum away from the Penguins. With a chance to take an early 2-0 lead in the first period, the power play not only failed to score in a disjointed mess of a power play, but they also gave up a shorthanded goal to tie the game after multiple Devils scoring chances. The Penguins never seemed to get back to their game after that and were pretty much dominated from that point on. The power play was just 1-for-7 for the week and remains ranked 24th for the season at just 16.7 percent. As great as Karlsson has been overall, and as great as he has been on the power play for his career, not even he has been able to help fix this unit and help it find its consistency. There is too much talent here for this group to be this bad this often.