Standings points: 2 Style points: 0
Style points need not apply in a season like this. The Penguins victory over the Rangers was messy and for a while there looked like a defeat. However, two points are two points and if you can consistently take three out of four points against the teams lower in the division you keep your playoff hopes alive. The Penguins have a chance to take four this weekend after their come from behind victory over the Rangers.
I’m going to start with the good. The Malkin line had a pulse and they looked very good at times. Malkin had more touches with the puck inside the offensive zone and led the team in CF% at 67.74 (21CF 10CA). Bryan Rust was ride behind him in a nice bounce back game from being quiet most of the year. Zucker finished third on the team so the entire line was playing in the other end more than they weren’t which is a huge step up from where they were, in the basement of this same stat in multiple games.
Pierre-Olivier Joseph had a really good debut and that is even if you ignore the fact he picked up his first ever point with a primary assist on the game tying goal. He acclimated himself quite well and he and Ruhwedel were the top possession pairing in their sheltered role, which is totally fine. I saw Joseph defend the blue line successfully a few times and made some good aggressive plays as well. His decision making for someone in his first game was encouraging. He chose to go and try to do things rather than to try and not be noticed. I like that. Long way to go in assessing him as an NHL player, but encouraging start.
Jake Guentzel is going to be a shootout assassin. Everything about his natural skill speaks to being good at it and he has been. He is four for six in his career and both numbers are only going to climb now. I think he deserves that #1 spot in the shootout order. Obviously Guentzel has great hands, but my favorite thing is how cerebral he is in using them. In overtime Guentzel almost ended the game on a mini breakaway. He used his slick forehand-backhand-five hole move he is good at. The puck went through the goalie and slithered near the goal line, but did not go in. When he went in the shootout he used that to his advantage. He has a great one-two punch because he also has the ability to freeze the goalie thinking about five-hole by just extending his deke all the way to the glove side for a nice easy goal, too.
The goalie can’t extend to the left quick enough if for a split second they are worried about the puck going five hole. These two moves are going to make Guentzel a pain in the ass in the shootout because he makes both look so easy and has the awareness of how to execute them. He just has a knack for it.
Not to be outdone by Guentzel taking his familiar one spot in the shootout order Kris Letang did his thing too
It was nice to have Jack Johnson on the other team. To speak in the language of his defenders he was -2 on the evening. He also had a good look at his replacement firing a puck from the point resulting in Bryan Rust’s tip goal. Who was guarding Bryan Rust? Jack Johnson of course!
Tristan Jarry finished the game with a .912 save percentage after starting slow out of the gate again. This is the first time the Penguins got respectable goaltending this year. Heading into the game they were 31st in both 5v5 and all-situations save percentage. They are still 31st, but it is a little better now! Jarry should get the next start and be given the opportunity to build off of this start.
OK so not everything was great. The Penguins dug themselves yet another hole to get out of when they went down 3-1 in a blink of an eye. It is a glass half full or empty depending on how you want to look at it. They get in these deficits, but to this point dig out. Their first periods seem lackluster and then they clamp down and get things going. It can work until you run into a goalie playing well like Carter Hart. Then you’re just stuck. To Pittsburgh’s credit they clawed back and it is three victories in a row
The hot start by the third line has tempered off and I’m not even talking about putting up points. Mark Jankowski has a team low xGF% of 40.68 and Tanev is third worst at 45.46. The offense to start the season was really needed, but my realistic expectations aren’t goal related. It is to play to their strengths. A five game sample is not the end all be all. It is merely descriptive not predictive at this point. It is als something to monitor moving forward.
The power play is still a perplexing mess. They are 11th in the league with a success rate of 27.5% so on the surface things are good. When I watch the first unit I just don’t see any consistency in how they attack. The team had a power play goal last night, but it was Jared McCann on the second unit and it was an own goal. If you remember back to the goal Crosby scored when he batted the puck out of the air from Carter Hart, that was a power play goal, too. I don’t like doing this, but take those two away and we are talking about a 16% power play. My overall point is the top unit isn’t generating quality movement and high danger chances after being set up. This needs to change. They are 21st in high-danger shot attempt per 60 and 27th in scoring chances for per 60 on the power play. They have more talent than that.
Technically, this goes in the bad column for a bad turnover, but I enjoyed it. Plays like this are great I don’t care who scores them. Even better when you get tricked into thinking Peter Forsberg came out of retirement
It is time for Mike Sullivan to start experimenting with the line combinations. Will he? His in-game creativity is certainly a weakness. He continued to play Kapanen away from Crosby with Evan Rodrigues eating up top line minutes. He has half the top six still searching for a goal at even strength. Malkin, Guentzel, and Zucker all have a goose egg games into the season. We know Zucker can play with Crosby and Guentzel can play with Malkin. Be flexible and try to get these guys going. When the team is trailing midway through the third period he never loads up or manipulates the tv timeouts or whistles for creative combos. It is almost like he believes whatever the lines are to start the game have to stay that way until the buzzer. Sure, the Penguins got a fortuitous carom off the back boards for the Blueger goal to tie the game, but over time I’d rather increase the probability of tying things up by maximizing the talent on the roster. Just some options to think about if the Penguins are down in the third period and need a goal.
Here's some that could work all game and not just for trailing in the third
If you really don’t want to use Kapanen when down late in the game
If you want to get aggressive there’s always going all-in
Instead, we get the same lines the team account tweets out 30 minutes before the game for the most part. There has to be better situational awareness in the deployment.
Remember Jack Roslovic? Yeah, that isn’t a thing anymore
Where will Rutherford's attention shift to now. For better or worse he usually gets the players he is interested in.
Thanks for reading!