Overall it has been a pretty successful week for the Pittsburgh Penguins. With Thursday’s wild win on the road against the Boston Bruins, the Penguins went 3-1-0 in their four games this week and are 8-2-1 in their past 11 games. That stretch has helped them climb back into serious playoff contention in the Eastern Conference with a couple of huge games coming up against the Buffalo Sabres and Philadelphia Flyers to hopefully continue that push.
Even with Tuesday’s frustrating defeat to the Washington Capitals, which featured a brutal and pretty unacceptable first period given the importance of the game, there is still a lot to like about the direction the Penguins are currently going in. Especially with the way they were able to secure two points in Boston with a regulation win (something they are almost never able to do ) when it looked like they might let a 5-2 lead slip away.
The biggest driving force in their recent success, of course, is captain Sidney Crosby. He leads this week’s Penguins Weekly Stock Report as one of the players whose stock is consistently up.
Sidney Crosby. It remains incredible what Crosby is doing this season. Even at age 36 he is still playing like one of the best players in hockey and is putting the team on his back and carrying it right now. He was sensational in Boston on Thursday night, scoring a game-winning goal, adding two assists and making one of the most high-effort plays in the game to beat out a potential icing call in the closing seconds to help preserve the Penguins’ lead. Over the past week he has six total points in the four games and is a constant force in all three zones of the ice.
Drew O’Connor and Lars Eller. O’Connor is especially starting to put things together in recent weeks, scoring three goals with five total points over the Penguins’ past six games. That includes Thursday’s game where he scored a goal and added an assist. He and Eller have formed a nice chemistry this season and have created at least the foundation of a strong bottom-six line. Eller also has three goals over the past four games, while the Penguins have outscored opponents by an 8-5 margin during 5-on-5 play with that duo on the ice together. They might be best served as a fourth line in an ideal situation, but they are a solid option as a third-line for the Penguins right now.
Jake Guentzel. He continues to play his way to a massive contract this summer, whether it is with Pittsburgh or somebody else. He has two goals and five total points over the past week, while also generating a team-high 23 shots on goal. He is leading the Penguins in scoring for the season — even with Crosby being fully healthy and playing at an exceptional level — and has a very real chance at what could be his third career 40-goal season.
Goaltending. Goaltending has been one of the biggest bright spots for the Penguins this season and one of its biggest positive surprises. It has also probably been a little unsustainable and there has always been the chance for a likely regression to the mean at some point. That point might have arrived this week as Tristan Jarry and Alex Nedeljkovic both had rough starts. Jarry was benched after giving up three goals in the first period of Tuesday’s 4-3 loss to the Washington Capitals, while Nedeljkovic had a terrible game in Boston that saw him allow five goals, including a couple of bad goals during Boston’s late comeback that you would probably like to see him stop. The Penguins do not need them to be as dominant as they were for most of the first half of the season, but their regression can not be significant if they are going to have a chance to make the playoffs and do something in the second half.
Ryan Graves. Credit to Graves for scoring a big goal on Thursday night in Boston, but he has not been having a great season, and that has especially been true over the past couple of weeks. His season reached a low-point on Tuesday night when he was on the ice for three goals against and played a central role in all of them going in the net. That continued disappointing performance resulted in him being demoted down to the third defense pairing for Thursday night. The next logical step down is the press box. He was the most controversial of Kyle Dubas’ offseason additions, and so far the early returns have not been very promising at all.
Reilly Smith. Speaking of Dubas’ offseason additions, Smith has gone through his own share of struggles lately. After a promising start that saw him score six goals and 11 total points in his first 10 games, Smith has managed just two goals and only nine total points in the 27 games that have followed. He has not scored a goal now in seven consecutive games, and even worse has not really been noticeable in any meaningful way. He seemed like a perfect replacement for Jason Zucker in terms of style, production and salary, but his season has mostly been a disappointment outside of those first 10 games.