Overall the past month the Pittsburgh Penguins are definitely playing better hockey and getting the 2023-24 season back on track. Even with Thursday’s overtime loss the Penguins are 9-3-2 over their past 15 games in the past calendar month and have one of the NHL’s best records during that time. That also includes improving 5-on-5 numbers that still place them among the league’s best.
Sidney Crosby is playing great, they are seeing some improved play from some of their depth players and they are inching their way back toward a potential Stanley Cup Playoff spot.
There are a lot of positive signs here. There are also still some areas and things that need some work. We take a look at all of that and more in this week’s Weekly Penguins Stock Report.
Drew O’Connor. It has taken some time, but O’Connor has gone from an energy guy that flies around trying hard to looking like an actual NHL player and playmaker. Over the Penguins’ past nine games he has six points (three goals, three assists) and is a plus-8 with 19 shots on goal. He has gotten some looks in the top-six and has not looked out of place. It has been a welcome surprise and development. His best role is still as a bottom-six forward, but it is nice to see that he is capable of playing up in the lineup if needed.
Marcus Pettersson. Pettersson has been one of the Penguins’ steadiest players all season defensively, and now he is starting to put up more points offensively. He scored his first goal of the season on Thursday night in the 4-3 overtime loss to the Vancouver Canucks and over his past 10 games has a goal, seven assists, eight total points and is a plus-six while playing over 23 minutes per game. He has been the exact opposite of Ryan Graves in the sense that every defense partner that he plays with ends up posting better numbers than they doo without him.
Sidney Crosby. Crosby is still humming along and playing MVP caliber hockey. He did his best to at least help the Penguins steal a point on Thursday night, scoring two goals in the comeback including the game-tying goal on a deflection with less than 30 seconds to play in regulation. He has six goals over his past 10 games and is up to 24 for the season, still averaging more than a point-per-game. Do not take this level of production, or this player, for granted. He is one of the best to ever do it and is still going strong even into his late 30s. This is not normal. This is special.
The power play. I know the power play has been a little better at times in recent weeks, but it is still far below what it needs to be doing and it still has far too many games like Thursday night where it has chance to be a difference-maker and simply is not. They had four power plays against the Canucks and not only did not score, they did not really come close to scoring. That was an especially big problem on two attempts in the third period as they tried to tie the game.
At some point the front office, coaching staff and/or players need to do something to change this. Doing the same thing, with the same players, in the same role is not the answer at this point. Change a coach, make a trade, change personnel, hurt some feelings and bruise some egos. Do something to try and fix this because it is still costing them games and points. Even a league average power play unit this season probably gives them an extra two or three wins this season. Maybe even four wins. That is not an exaggeration, either, when you take into account the shorthanded goals against and all of the key power play opportunities it has let slip away in games.
Reilly Smith. He had such a promising start here. But over the past 30 games he has just two goals, only nine total points and has largely been invisible during that stretch of games. Like every player he is going to have ups and downs and peaks and valleys with his production, especially with his goal-scoring. It is not just the lack of goal-scoring that is a problem. The assists have gone despite consistently playing in the top-six and he is averaging less than two shots on goal per game during that 30-game stretch. He simply is not producing or playing the way the Penguins need him to in a top-six role.
Penguins overtime play. The Penguins are simply not great in a lot of the areas you would expect a talented team to excel. The power play being one, obviously, with 3-on-3 play also being an issue at times. Thursday was the Penguins’ eighth game of the season to go to overtime, and they have managed just one goal in those eight overtime periods (Bryan Rust’s game-winning goal in overtime). While they have won two of their three games that have gone to a shootout, they are just 1-4 in the games that have actually been decided in overtime. It is not a huge deal because so few games are actually decided that way, and three-on-three play is not part of the playoffs, but if you keep letting points slip away in those situations it could help play a role in preventing you from getting to the playoffs. It is just simply an area where the Penguins do not excel and sometimes they miss out on a chance to pick up an extra point. That was again the case on Thursday night.