Led by Malkin, Penguins look to continue first-half success
By: Wyatt Silverman
The Pittsburgh Penguins closed out the season’s first half with a 2–1 overtime victory over the Montreal Canadiens. With their 25–10–6 record, giving them 56 points, the Pens sit second in the Metropolitan
Considering the dire appearance of the team’s injury report, their success is impressive. Mike Johnston has done an excellent job of stabilizing the team. Amongst the players, the biggest single contributor has been Hart Trophy candidate Evgeni Malkin. Leading the squad with 47 points and 19 goals, Malkin has dominated play despite a cobbled-together collection of linemates. Despite spending time with bottom–6 players like Bryan Rust, Andrew Ebbett, Nick Spaling, and Jayson Megna, Geno has done a great job. Overall, Malkin has played with 13 different wingers this season. Despite the dominant play of #71, Sidney Crosby is close behind in the team’s scoring race. With 44 points, including 32 assists, the captain has been effective. However, he has fallen into several goal-scoring slumps throughout the season. 3 goals in his last 10 games doesn’t look all that impressive, but Crosby has had bad “puck luck” in spite of generating numerous scoring chances recently. Fortunately, there are signs of life, including the game winning marker in OT against the Habs on Saturday night.
The Penguins are beginning to get healthier, but they’re still missing 4 players who have contributed major minutes. In fact, 2 of the team’s top 5 goal scorers (Hornqvist, Comeau) are on IR. Also on the list is defenseman Olli Määttä, who remains out while rehabilitating his surgically-repaired shoulder. Last but not least is fan favorite Pascal Dupuis who is expected to miss, at a minimum, the regular season with a blood clotting issue.
To shore up the offense, Jim Rutherford made one of the biggest trades of the NHL season thus far. By acquiring David Perron from the Edmonton Oilers, Rutherford has given the Penguins another talented playmaker. The 26 year old left winger is known for his soft hands, willingness to hit, and previous goal-scoring success. Last year, Perron had 28 goals and 29 assists. Considering the marked upgrade in line-mates, his numbers should improve from that benchmark. Power play coach Rick Tocchet is hoping that the new blood will help the team’s flagging performance on the man advantage. The Penguins have fallen to 7th place in the league, sitting at a 21.6% conversion rate. Injuries have not helped the unit’s talent or continuity, but considering the remaining personnel, the results have been disappointing. On the other hand, the Penguins have pulled themselves into 2nd place on the penalty kill leaderboard, snuffing out 88.2% of opposing power plays. Defensive coach Gary Agnew has got to be happy with the unit’s performance.
Among the penalty killers, I would like to specifically single out Craig Adams. Unfortunately, it’s not for anything positive. I have been pretty anti-Adams for a few seasons now, but in the last few weeks, he’s really gone off the deep end. About 2 weeks ago, Adams got in a fistfight in practice with Malkin, and just a few days ago, was drilling players into the boards in a low-intensity morning skate. If he were a good player, I wouldn’t have a problem with his behavior. Since he is completely useless on ice, he should be cut as soon as possible from the team. For all the praise I give Mike Johnston, I can’t condone Craig Adams’ continued place in the lineup card.
Looking at the next week of hockey, the Penguins have an interesting trio of games. Starting with a Tuesday night matchup against the last-place Minnesota Wild (18–17–5), the team will look to take a divisional lead over the Islanders (28–13–1), who they will play on Friday evening. The Isles have been a real threat this year, having solved their long-time goaltending issues with the acquisition of Jaroslav Halak. This is probably the highlight of the week, considering that the Penguins would like to even up the season series (1–2). Closing things out, the Penguins will return home to play the New York Rangers on Sunday night. The Blueshirts are close behind in the divisional standings, down 4 points, but with 2 games in hand. They’ve been on quite a hot streak, going 9–1 in their last 10 games. Paced by Rick Nash and his league-leading 26 goals, the Rangers are fighting hard to keep pace in the Metropolitan Division.
On the whole, the Penguins are in good position as they cross the season’s midpoint. With dominant play from Malkin, a league-leading 6 shutouts from Marc-Andre Fleury, and balanced scoring across the lineup, the team needs to keep going and hope for good health as the season continues. Things look solid, but there’s a long way to go.