Three wins get you three notes of praise. The Pittsburgh Penguins cleansed their palet against the Montreal Canadiens, stifled the talented Toronto Maple Leafs, and outplayed the heavier Winnipeg Jets. The Penguins outscored their Canadian opponents 11-1 in the three-game road trip and have a few reasons to feel good.
Three wins and just one goal allowed should make for some good film room chatter, but the Penguins were not without fault and not without vulnerabilities.
Tristan Jarry affected the outcomes with big first-period saves in all three games. Jarry made saves his opposition did not make.
That certainly helps.
The Penguins also created a lot of traffic in front of the net against Winnipeg. That’s good, but it was only one game, so it doesn’t make our “trip” list.
3 Things Pittsburgh Penguins Did Right
Their forecheck adjusted to fit the opponent. The Penguins could not let the Toronto Maple Leafs gain any speed into the neutral zone. So, the Penguins played tight to the blue and white.
You’ll recall how aggressive the Penguins defensemen were at the offensive blue line vs. Toronto–the Penguins D-men held their ground and kept the gaps to a few feet. Toronto forwards didn’t have space to create or skate.
Against Winnipeg, the Penguins forecheck guided the play with positional nullifications. The Penguins took away the breakout lanes and confined Winnipeg’s breakout.
Said Sugar, take it slow, and it’ll work itself out fine.
The Penguins didn’t press, get tight, or be overly aggressive trying to get a goal. The Penguins allowed themselves to play low-scoring, methodical games without flinging open the games and taking big chances to score goals.
It’s a change in attitude and a significant departure the Penguins trusted their defensive game and goaltender. They kept working for goals against Toronto and Winnipeg, even as the other team was equally stingy.
Who are these Penguins?!
3. Top Line Cohesion
The Penguins top line with Jake Guentzel, Sidney Crosby, and Bryan Rust is a work in progress. After Guentzel’s October slump, Rust is working back from a lower-body injury. Crosby is trying to find his rhythm after missing camp due to wrist surgery and 10 more days due to COVID. The Penguins first line has not been very dangerous.
Against Toronto and especially against Winnipeg, the top line showed signs that things were coming together. Bryan Rust looked better. Crosby looked better. Guentzel looked great.
It was fitting Guentzel scored the empty netter vs. Winnipeg because he was the Penguins’ best skater.
3 Things Pittsburgh Penguins Need to Improve
1. Power Play
The Penguins can point to a couple of recent goals which lit the lamp in the moments after a power play expired. Perhaps if those counted as PPGs, the Penguins wouldn’t be 32nd in the league.
But they wouldn’t be much better, either.
The power play created momentum against Winnipeg in the second period, but the team is still giving away too many opportunities.
On Monday night, the puck movement had more urgency, and they attempted more shots, but it’s still not a good power play.
A second-point shooter like Evgeni Malkin or Jared McCann is one answer? Bigger net-front shadows? Something has to give because 11.1% isn’t very good. Just one shot in four minutes of power-play time is rough.
On paper, it is a solid line, but something isn’t quite working. Over the three games, the best shot ratio the line achieved was 40%. They lost the battles against Montreal, Toronto, and Winnipeg.
All advanced stats courtesy of NaturalStatTrick.com.
“Yeah, for some reason, my son was letting (friends) borrow the mini hockey net, so I wasn’t able to find it at all for a little while,” Zucker joked Monday night.
But Kapanen has been quiet since his hat trick on Nov. 6. He has one goal and three assists in the eight games since. He seems to be withdrawing. He’s playing a mile away from the net and scoring zone.
Carter has been OK but has just one goal and two points in the last seven games.
The Penguins need a bit more production–a lot more production–from the second line.
The line hasn’t been the factor it could be or was in October. They’ve been inconsistent. The line was perhaps the Penguins best against Montreal but was background noise against Toronto and Winnipeg.
Aston-Reese needs to break through with his first goal of the season. McGinn has one point in his last nine games, and Blueger has points in just two of the last nine (though one of those was the three-point game against Montreal).