Penguins Continue Hot Streak
By: Wyatt Silverman
In the 10 games since the last Penguins Update, the boys in black and gold have compiled a 7-2-1 record, and have won two in a row. The Pens currently lead the Metropolitan Division, by virtue of a game in hand over the Islanders.
This has been a generally strong stretch of games for the Penguins, with the biggest issue a home-and-home against the Isles, in which Pittsburgh lost both games. The first, a shootout loss wasn’t ideal, but was certainly better than the next game, a 4-1 Isles win. The Islanders team speed appeared to lend them an advantage over the Pens, and it will be interesting to see if that becomes a recurring weakness. Coach Mike Johnston claimed that he would treat those two games as a prelude to a potential playoff series, so the results are somewhat of a concern.
Otherwise, with victories over Montreal and Boston, the Penguins confirmed their place atop the Eastern Conference pecking order. At least for the regular season.
Also of note: GM Jim Rutherford made his return to Carolina, and the Pens obliged him with a victory over their boss’s old squad.
As far as individual players go, there have been a lot of positive performances on ice, held back by a wide range of injuries.
Sidney Crosby has retained his grasp on the scoring title, with 33 points in 24 games. Malkin is close behind with 30 points, and his 12 goals outshine Crosby’s 9. Geno also leads the league in power play goals. New acquisition Patric Hornqvist, who has spent substantial time on both of their wings, has 11 goals and 25 points.
Despite these successes, the Pens have faced a lot of injury and illness. In particular, Pascal Dupuis had a potentially life-threatening blood clot in his lung, and will be out the rest of the season. Fortunately for Duper, he was in the vicinity of excellent doctors and received prompt treatment. This was his second clot incident, after he experienced one during his ACL rehab this offseason. Best of luck to Dupuis in his recovery.
On top of that, Kris Letang has missed a few games with an undisclosed lower-body injury, Chris Kunitz will be out of the lineup for 2 or more weeks with a minor foot fracture, and Beau Bennett is down yet again, this time with a knee injury.
In other news, the Penguins’ power play has dropped off substantially in the last few weeks. They remain #1 in the league, but certainly are not performing up to the standard they had maintained earlier in the year. A major factor has been a decrease in the number of power plays. The Pens have not been possessing the puck as much lately, which limits the opportunities for other teams to even take a penalty against them. They are currently scoring at a 30.8% clip. The Penalty Kill has also been excellent, with an 85.6% success rate, good for 5th in the league. Combined, the Penguins special teams are the best.
Looking at the upcoming schedule, Pittsburgh has a pretty easy slate over the next week. With Vancouver, Ottawa, the Rangers, and Calgary coming up, it doesn’t look especially difficult. The Canucks will be an intriguing matchup, especially when the coaching drama is accounted for. Vancouver’s coach, Willie Desjardins was reportedly the Penguins top choice to replace Bylsma, but he turned down their job offer to take over for Alain Vigneault. They lead the Western Conference with 35 points. Ottawa has been a middle of the pack team this year. Although the Rangers have given the Penguins some trouble so far, they are 5-3-2 in their last 10, which isn’t exactly fearsome. Calgary, however, has played dramatically above expectations this season. Expected to be a bottom dweller, they sit 3rd in the Pacific, and only 1 point out of first. Coach Bob Hartley has done an excellent job with his team, lead by a breakout performance from defenseman Mark Giordano. However, they may just be playing above their level.
The Penguins will ideally go 4-0 over this stretch, but a 3-1 record seems more likely. I project Evgeni Malkin to continue his scoring burst, but there will be some very unusual line combinations to account for the absence of Kunitz. Overall, the Pens are in excellent shape, and are widely considered the best team in the league right now.