The Pittsburgh Penguins were brilliant in their first two games of the season. They were not so great and drew the ire of their coach in Game 3 against the Montreal Canadiens on Monday night. Such things will happen over the course of 82 games. There will be a few clunkers, but whose hot start is sustainable, and should the Penguins have any worries?
Always worry. It’s good business. And the Penguins have a couple of soft spots.
Pittsburgh Penguins Hot Starts:
Sustainable: Evgeni Malkin, Jason Zucker
During his media chat after Monday night’s game, Malkin paused to knock on the wooden bench. His knee is feeling good. He is looking good. Actually, he is looking better than good. Malkin is forceful, driving the play and the line with Bryan Rust and Jason Zucker looks like one of the best lines in the league.
The zippy wings are getting loose pucks, backchecking, and creating intense pressure on opponents. There is nothing “hot” about the start. Each player on the line is playing to his capability.
This also means Jason Zucker’s start is sustainable. He hasn’t yet shown the Penguins the 30-goal scorer they hoped they were getting from Minnesota. This is his big chance, and maybe the final one.
Malkin has four points (3-1-4) in three games and 17 shots on goal.
Zucker has three points (1-2-3) and nine shots. The line is everything the Penguins could have hoped for with the healthy returns of Malkin and Zucker.
The 69% Corsi and 100% goals-for rates won’t continue (though the Corsi could stay in the 60% range), but neither player is playing above his ability.
All stats from NaturalStatTrick.com.
Unsustainable: Danton Heinen
No disrespect to Heinen, but he won’t score 82 points. Heinen is converting chances and looks like an All-Star out of the gate.
Our Montreal colleagues got their first good look at Heinen on Monday night, and Marco D’Amico sprinted down press row to exclaim, “worth every penny!”
Heinen is an extraordinary value at $1 million, and he will again outscore and outplay his contract. He may even get 20 goals this year. But he won’t score a point per game.
However, enjoy Heinen’s play. He’s playing some of his best hockey and asserting himself more than he did last season. For a player who can be quiet or blend into the background, he was noticeably good against Montreal.
Sustainable: Casey DeSmith
DeSmith made a lot of saves look easy on Monday night. He finished with a .923 save percentage. Since getting right in the middle of last season, DeSmith has again been a capable NHL puckstopper.
Last season, after the All-Star Game, DeSmith posted a .927 save percentage in 16 appearances.
He was brilliant in the final preseason tuneup in Detroit. He was excellent on Monday night in the 3-2 OT loss to Montreal. Ghastly defensive breakdowns allowed Cole Caufield to be uncovered and unseen for the game-tying goal in the final minutes. Nick Suzuki was allowed free reign to shoot and to follow his rebound for the first goal.
There’s no reason DeSmith won’t again be a strong backup on a bargain contract.
The fourth liner has been invisible. He has just one shot in three games. He makes $2.75 million, and that’s a lot of money for a bottom-line guy on a team with less than $100,000 of cap space.
McGinn has much more to give, but the Penguins’ top nine are pretty well set. He’s a fourth-liner on this team, soaking up a lot of resources. He’ll have to find a way to produce more.
Nature vs. nurture. Can great PK players be taught, or are they born?
Jeff Carter and Kasperi Kapanen getting PK time is less than ideal. Carter has been on the ice for two 5v4 power-play goals and the 4v3 Montreal game-winner in just 4:01 of ice time.
Opponents have eight shots on goal (5v4) in those four minutes.
Kapanen hasn’t been bad. He’s been on the ice for just one of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ allowed power-play goals in more than seven minutes shorthanded.
As third liners, the dirty jobs are theirs to perform. Perhaps it will teach Kapanen more responsibility and bring more engagement. However, for Carter, it seems a lot to ask of a 37-year-old center (who will turn 38 on Jan. 1), who isn’t a hardnosed defensive center and who admitted last season’s full 82-game schedule wore on him.
Side note: Josh Archibald has played five minutes shorthanded, and opponents only have three shots on goal. However, Archibald was on the ice for the Montreal winner, too.