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Penguins in great shape heading into tougher part of schedule

October 14, 2019, 11:01 AM ET [1 Comments]
Ryan Wilson
Pittsburgh Penguins Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
The Penguins are in great shape heading into the harder part of their October schedule. After blowing out the Jets 7-2 they are in second place in the division with eight points. They have insurance heading forward. This all could have turned sideways really quick, but it hasn’t. They have some points banked and if they do go through a rough stretch it won't be as damning. That is huge. Digging out of a huge standings hole early in the year is tough to do. Doing what the Blues did is not normal and should not be treated as a new normal.

The team has gotten some depth scoring over the past few games and leading the way is Sam Lafferty and his five points. Lafferty scored twice in last night’s victory and now only Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, and Jake Guentzel have more points than him at the moment. Uncle Daniel must be proud. Lafferty has been playing with Adam Johnson and Joseph Blandisi and their results have been better than the other non-Crosby lines. They have broke even in shot attempts and have all contributed to the last few victories with offense. The Penguins really needed somebody from their depth to step up and it just so happened the players to do so were the ones they cut a few weeks ago. Regardless if it is sustainable or not these players have given the Penguins standings points when the team was desperate for them.

The “second” line has been a dumpster fire. I can’t remember if I’ve ever seen Patric Hornqvist wading in this territory

I was shocked when I saw that. The early returns on the Kahun-McCann-Hornqvist line are not inspiring. They have only generated 25% of the shots attempted and have a 31.90 xGF%. This is an issue moving forward. I don’t think you can lean on the kids to sustain their production even though it has been a bright spot.

The defense pairings have gone as predicted. The top pair has been really good. They are driving play and creating offense. Even Brian Dumoulin got in on the power play action last night when he one touched a nice pass over to Jake Guentzel for an easy finish. The middle pairing with Marcus Pettersson and Justin Schultz has been fine. They are trading attempts with the other team which can work.

The bottom pairing was always going to be an issue and it has been. Erik Gudbranson, Jack Johnson, and John Marino are getting caved in regardless of who is playing on that particular night. Marino has been drowning with his assignment. Out of the 158 defenseman who have played at least 50 minutes this season Marino ranks 158th in CF% at 33.80. You can blame QoT to a certain point, but being dead last when Gudbranson and Johnson are 11% better tells me he might not be ready for this assignment. The assignment is a brutally tough one and it is a reality due to how the roster has been built. This doesn’t mean Marino can’t help the team at some point. It means the current situation might not bring him success. The sample has only been three games so I am willing to let it grow some more, but these games coming up won’t be easy. The coach’s job is to put players in a position to succeed and if this trend continues Marino won’t have been put in a position to succeed. He doesn’t have to go through waivers and playing huge minutes in the AHL might be more beneficial than bottom pairing ones with two of the worst NHL defenseman over the last decade. This doesn’t close the door on Marino being a contributor eventually. Right now it is tough to argue he is being one.

Sidney Crosby has ten points in six games and is doing what we’ve all grown accustomed to watching him do over the years. We take it for granted a lot of times, but given how the roster is with four of the top nine forwards out that is a lot of pressure to handle. The other teams know the Penguins have a thinner lineup and use their best resources to try and slow Crosby down. It still hasn’t worked and in theory it should open up the other lines to have easier matchups. With Malkin out for weeks and Crosby playing at a high level that is usually a decent recipe to get some awards buzz at the end of the year.

Zach Aston-Reese deserves a mention. He quietly has four points on the season in six games. He is also doing well in other areas. He has a 58.59 CF% and 63.59 xGF%. He doesn’t skate as fast as the younger players I complimented above and thus less noticeable. He’s been solid when the team needs all hands on deck.

Tristan Jarry finally made his first start of the year and it was a successful one. There wasn’t a lot of pressure on him given the goal support, but he made 27 saves out of the 29 shots he faced and it was a job well done. Casey DeSmith’s play last year was a big reason the Penguins were able to navigate the season while Murray was slumping due to injury. Having a consistent backup will allow the Penguins to not overwork Murray. We’ll see if Jarry can keep it up.

The Penguins power play looked like garbage in the earlier games. It is now 6-23 (26.1%). If, and it is a big if, they can continue to produce on the power play it will relieve a lot of the pressure at 5v5. Solid goaltending and a decent power play can do a great job at making injury issues seem less devastating.

Next up for the Penguins is one of the up and coming teams in the NHL, the Colorado Avalanche. They are one of the youngest teams in the league and they are very talented. They are currently 4-0 and will have Washington this evening before making the trip to Pittsburgh.

Thanks for reading!
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