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Penguins Blog: What to Like, Not Like, & Sullivan Getting Closer?



Erik Karlsson, Pittsburgh Penguins, NHL Trade Rumors

Another third period meltdown, a resounding win, and lineup decisions that paid dividends even as potential alternatives appeared better. The Pittsburgh Penguins game moved forward this week with plenty to like but plenty of lingering questions.

With each change, it seems coach Mike Sullivan gets closer to dialing in the best version of the Penguins, but a few more decisions remain.

The largest question dogging the Penguins is, can they stack wins with more consistent play, appealing to their smarter angels who defend well instead of trading chances?

Even at the quarter mark of the season, the team is not yet a fully formed unit. Sullivan made a coaching decision to scratch Vinnie Hinostroza on Saturday in favor of Jansen Harkins.

Hinostroza played very well in the loss to Buffalo on Friday.

Harkins played very well in the win over Toronto on Saturday.

Both bring a speed game, and Harkins brought some thundering physicality while Hinostroza brought some zippy puck possession and tenacity.

The obvious reaction is — why can’t they be in the lineup at the same time? To do so would put them ahead of Jeff Carter. Sullivan anticipated that question and indirectly provided the answer when discussing Noel Acciari’s big night. Carter played on the fourth line with Acciari.

“They got some tough matchups in the third period. They got a lot of D-zone starts. They played against (Auston) Matthews’s line or (John) Tavares’s line a fair amount. And they got the job done, and they competed hard,” Sullivan said. “You know, they they get it. They don’t get a whole lot of offensive zone starts — they did at the end of the second period (and) they made the most of it. (Carter) wins two faceoffs in a row. And they get great net-front traffic, and (Erik Karlsson) ends up scoring on it.”

Those faceoff wins and defense, that’s what Sullivan sees in Jeff Carter, who got his first point of the season on that goal by winning the faceoff.

But boy oh boy, the prospect of Harkins’s and Hinostroza’s speed in the lineup must be tantalizing. Or it should be.

It seems the Penguins’ puzzle pieces are starting to fit together. That’s another thing to like.

The inconsistency changes that puzzle, and that’s what to hate.

Tristan Jarry

Jarry is not the most gregarious with the media. He’s the opposite of the backup goalie Alex Nedeljkovic, who likes to have a little fun with us keyboard jockeys. Jarry usually keeps his postgame answers to the simple and perfunctory.

He chided himself a couple of weeks ago for not performing to the level the team needed, and he was right. If he had submitted a couple of better games in the first nine when the team was 3-6-0, the record could have been flipped to 6-3-0 or 5-4-0.

But that’s the nature of the job.

Since then, Jarry has been generally fantastic. He lost against Carolina on Nov. 18 but was collecting 10-bell saves as Carolina’s high-pressure man-to-man system created a lot of Penguins mistakes. He was equally superb as the hard-luck loser to the New York Rangers 1-0 last Wednesday.

Jarry is 5-3-0 in his last eight games and has only one performance under a .900 save percentage (that disastrous loss to the New Jersey Devils in which the team was dreadfully bad).

That’s stacking a lot of good games in a row, and he’s a big reason the Penguins rallied to 10-10-0.

Like the team, Jarry has to build on getting back to .500. But there’s a lot to like about his trending game.

Alex Nylander

Alex Nylander got top power play time and has been playing with Evgeni Malkin for the past two games. He had a pair of good pokes near the net but didn’t really do enough with them in his first game. There was nothing to speak of in the second game.

At even strength, Nylander has three shots, one scoring chance, and one high-danger chance, according to

He’s been neither a liability nor an asset. Playing beside Evgeni Malkin and Reilly Smith should provide some opportunities. In training camp, Nylander said he loved playing beside Malkin, but the pair have not exhibited any chemistry, and Nylander’s touches have been few.

The player about whom president of hockey operations/GM Kyle Dubas said, “I would be shocked if, by the end of the year, he hasn’t established himself as a full-time NHL guy, and that’s my expectation of him,” is blending into the background.

For comparison, after a scattered game beside Sidney Crosby on Friday, Drew O’Connor was forceful on Saturday. O’Connor made an impact with and without the puck. Nylander will have to do something to earn his keep.

The clock on this opportunity is ticking, and it’s not Sullivan blocking him.

Erik Karlsson

So much to like. So much not to. It remains Mr. Karlsson’s wild ride.

In the first period, he was the Penguins’ albatross. By the third period, he scored the game-winning goal.

At 33 years old, it’s not like Karlsson is going to change his game, gamble less, or get better in the defensive zone. If there’s a problem, it’s that Karlsson multiplies the risk in the Penguins lineup that already has a high-risk tolerance.

Marcus Pettersson has adapted well and has stopped more than a few Grade A chances and goals.

Perhaps slightly fewer risky chances would help.