After winning five games in a row to get starting getting their season back on track the Pittsburgh Penguins have now lost three of their past four games to fall back to .500 on the season.
Now they enter the weekend with a tough back-to-back that starts with a road game at the Buffalo Sabres on Friday night, and then continues with a home game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night.
Let’s check in on the weekly stock report to see who is trending up and who is trending down.
The goaltending. Tristan Jarry has had his share of clunker games this season, and even in over the past couple of weeks. But he has also had his share of outstanding games, and for the season has mostly ended up on the positive side of things. In fact, all of the goaltending has. When you look at their overall numbers the Penguins have the sixth highest 5-on-5 save percentage in the NHL, the fifth highest all situations save percentage in the NHL, and for the most part have been better than expected.
Even over the past two weeks Jarry has posted a .927 save percentage, while backup Alex Nedeljkovic shut out the defending Stanley Cup champions in his one start during that stretch.
Goaltending was one of the biggest question marks and potential weaknesses for this team coming into the season, but it has turned out to be one of the bigger positive surprises.
It is still concerning that the goaltending has been so solid and the team is still sitting with a .500 record and on the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
The penalty kill. Part of this is goaltending, and part of this is just the unit doing a good job. But this is the one special teams unit that is not actively sinking the Penguins’ season. They have killed off 15 of their past 16 penalties over the past two weeks and have the eighth best mark in the NHL for the entire season. I like the fact Kris Letang is getting a more active role on this group, and overall they have done their part to keep the Penguins in games and give them a chance to win.
The power play. On the opposite side of the special teams, we have the consistently bad and underperforming power play unit that is simply unwatchable at this point. After Wednesday’s 0-for-5 performance against the New York Rangers, the Penguins are converting on just 13.5 percent of their power play opportunities this season and rank 25th in the NHL.
This is unacceptable, and it has to fall on the players.
I know it is popular to blame Todd Reirden for this, and maybe he has a role in it, but it still has to ultimately fall on the Hall of Fame players.
They can not get set up, They can not enter the zone, They can not get consistent, sustained pressure. They can not score.
Given the lack of scoring depth on the roster, especially with a couple of injuries now impacting the top-six, it is imperative that the power play becomes a force.
It has not done that, and it has shown no sign of being able to do that anytime soon.
Scoring depth and injuries. This was always going to be a top-heavy roster that was going to depend on the top-two lines and the power play to drive the offense,
The bottom-six was designed more to be a shutdown defensive unit, and the farm system is mostly devoid of young offensive talent. The Penguins needed (and will need) their top players to be healthy for the bulk of the season. That is not happening right now as both Bryan Rust and Rickard Rakell are sidelined for a bit.
Even though Rakell is not scoring this season he still has the track record and the potential to score, while Rust has been one of the team’s most effective and consistent players so far. Without them, it not only leaves some major holes in the top-six as Drew O’Connor and Alex Nylander slide into those spots, but it also leaves an already questionable bottom-six with some holes as O’Connor has to slide up the lineup.
The depth is not great and it is now being put to the test. Combined with a power play that is not scoring, it could make these next few games very, very low-scoring.