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Random thoughts on the Pittsburgh Penguins at Thanksgiving

The power play, goaltending and more.

New York Rangers v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images

There is a school of thought, and some pretty convincing data, that suggests teams that are more than four points out of a playoff spot by American Thanksgiving have an extraordinarily low chance of making the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The good news for the 2023-24 Pittsburgh Penguins is that they are within that four-point window.

The bad news is they are still three points back, in 11th place in the Eastern Conference and only have a .500 record through 18 games.

It could be worse.

It should definitely be better.

Given all of that, here are some random thoughts on where the Penguins are at one of the schedule’s milestone dates.

1. Power play problem is on the players

I know I just wrote about the power play on Tuesday, but Wednesday’s 1-0 loss to the New York Rangers was a new low for that unit. They went 0-for-5, managed just five shots on goal, and did not really come close to scoring. They are one of the worst power play units in the league in terms of success rate, a stunning development for a team that has four future Hall of Famers and a couple of other All-Star level players that it can put on the ice.

But given the way it has gone for over a year now, maybe it should not be that stunning.

We can talk about X’s and O’s, we can talk about player usage and we can talk about not having a net-front presence until we are blue in the face, but at some point the big-names have to figure out a way to make it work.

The failures are on them, and for as great as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are (and Erik Karlsson and Jake Guentzel) and still are, they have to own the failures of this unit and it has to knock their season grades down a peg. This is a big part of the Penguins’ recipe for success this season, and it is not good enough. It is not even close to good enough. And it is costing them games.

They have seven power play goals through 18 games.

That is the second-lowest total through 18 games in franchise history, narrowly beating out the six power play goals they scored through this point in the 2021-22 season.

2. The goaltending has been mostly fine

There have been games where Tristan Jarry has not been good, but for the most part he has given them a chance on most nights.

In fact, all of the goaltending has.

After Wednesday’s game Jarry has a .916 save percentage for the season, a mark that is pretty decently above the league average.

As a team, the Penguins have the sixth highest save percentage in the league during 5-on-5 play.

They have the fifth highest save percentage during all situations.

If you had told me in September that the Penguins would be getting that level of goaltending through 18 games I would have assumed they would have one of the best records in the league.

I guess there are two ways to look at this.

The fact they are getting that quality of goaltending and still not winning consistently is concerning, because what is going to happen if the goaltending regresses at some point this season?

Or....

If the power play gets its act together, maybe this team really could have a high ceiling given the success of the goaltending.

Guess we will find out very soon.

3. Scoring depth will really be put to the test here

The Penguins have a very top-heavy roster and a very weak farm system. That means any injury is going to really put the already-thin scoring depth to the test.

When you have two injuries at the same time, as the Penguins do right now with Bryan Rust and Rickard Rakell both being sidelined, that is going to be a real problem.

I know Rakell has not scored a goal yet this season (which is shocking) but he is still, in theory, a legitimate top-six forward with a strong track record and the potential to make an impact.

Rust has been one of their most productive forwards.

Being without one would be a problem.

Being without both is potentially crushing.

Wednesday’s lineup moved Drew O’Connor up to the top line and put Alex Nylander on the second line. There is a trickle down effect there that just simply shortens the lineup. One of the things that I thought really started to bring the team together during their winning streak was the emergence of the new third line with Lars Eller, Radim Zohorna and O’Connor. Having to split that up hurts, especially when it requires O’Connor and Nylander to play top-six roles. Offense might be a problem here for a bit.

Which means the power play is going to have even more pressure on it to perform.

4. Do not even suggest it

It has not been rumored or reported, but you might be thinking it. Desperate times call for desperate measures and all of that.

The injuries to the top-six, the lack of scoring depth in the system and the problems on the power play still do not make the Penguins an option for Patrick Kane. Just ... no. He was washed a year ago, can not defend, can not play at 5-on-5 anymore, and the track record of people coming back from that hip surgery is bleak. Do not waste your time. Do not waste the salary cap space. Any salary cap space the Penguins still have can be used in so many better and productive ways.