TORONTO — The large, dark-cloaked sickle-wielding figure that has been lurking outside the Pittsburgh Penguins locker room was no longer present late Wednesday night.
The Penguins pulled together their patchy game to vanquish their old rival, the Washington Capitals, at Capital One Arena. Perhaps the specter wandered to the other side of the arena, as Washington has lost five of six. The Penguins’ complete win earned the boys a day off on Thursday and this writer a long drive from Washington D.C. to Toronto through rush hour traffic in two major metropolitan cities.
The win also snapped the Penguins’ seven-game winless streak. More importantly, it bought GM Ron Hextall some breathing room and a little more time. The win will not entirely quell the unrest which loudly grew within the Penguins fanbase and probably at various levels of the organization, but the spiral is over.
One win does not cure all that ails the Penguins, but it removed a sizeable amount of the self-doubt that had become a companion. But they can’t lose to both the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens, or all of the worries will double.
5 Pittsburgh Penguins One-Timers
1. Brian Dumoulin
Remember last week when I wrote not to fixate on Dumoulin? Well, you may have been right, but for the wrong reasons, and I was wrong for the right reasons.
Dumoulin isn’t necessarily moving more slowly. He’s not exactly a pilon, but a film study for Dave Molinari’s Penguins PK story showed some inexplicable mistakes.
Dumoulin is getting into the proper starting position, but on several goals did not rotate with the play. He is not getting between the puck and an open man. Those intuitive mistake-covering moves defined Dumoulin, but now the lack of them is exposing him.
It happened against Seattle, and it happened again on the Capital’s lone goal on Wednesday. In both cases, Dumoulin did not easily move laterally to nullify an open player, which then resulted in a goal. He should have had both.
The Penguins’ turnovers over the past few weeks have not helped but Dumoulin not taking away open options with simple movements is an issue.
2. Kapanen Issues
Dave Molinari wrote that Kasperi Kapanen should be waived. I cannot argue. Kapanen’s regression has been as bewildering as it is complete. He had a wide-open net early in the game last Saturday against Seattle. He missed. And was never heard from again.
Kapanen has three goals in his last 50 regular season games dating back to Jan. 25, 2022. I know some are piling on the decision to re-sign him. At the time, I wrote that I didn’t understand the move. But, so what? It’s easy to look back and criticize the move. That and $5 will get you a cup of coffee.
You’ll need $6 with a tip.
The pertinent question is–what can the Penguins do now?
The Penguins can buy out Kapanen next summer and take $1 million cap hits in consecutive seasons. They can also treat him like a player who has three goals in 50 games and force him to earn his way back. Even if the Penguins send him through waivers, it seems unlikely anyone will claim him.
He might be the most surprising disappearing act since Alex Semin vanished for the Carolina Hurricanes in 2014-15 and scored 19 points in 57 games. With only a little irony, signing Semin was a Jim Rutherford move, just as was acquiring Kapanen in Pittsburgh.
Carolina swallowed hard and bought out Semin’s five-year deal with three years remaining.
The Penguins’ third line was their best on Wednesday. The Jeff Carter line with Danton Heinen and Brock McGinn had more high-danger scoring chances (4) than the other Penguins lines combined (3).
3. The Goalies
Here’s the thing, neither Tristan Jarry nor Casey DeSmith has lost it. Neither has aged out or forgotten how to play the position. From here, it looked like Tristan Jarry was feeling the pressure of the Penguins’ slumping play and tried to carry it on his shoulders.
Some players have tried to do too much, and the bet here is that Jarry is among them.
“Obviously, you don’t want to let any goals, and that’s your goal every game,” Jarry said on Nov. 5. “But when you’ve lost a couple in a row, it’s a little bit harder. Those thoughts creep into your head, and obviously, you want to try and fight them as much as possible — Just trying to get on the winning side of things.”
Pitchers on bad baseball teams feel they must throw a shutout. Goalies on struggling teams feel the additional weight of each goal scored. And in both cases, it creates downward pressure on performance.
With better defensive play and a few wins. Wanna bet Jarry and DeSmith look good again?
DeSmith got ample protection against the Capitals and looked very good. Coincidence, I think not.
4. Jason Zucker, Marcus Pettersson
Ok, raise your hand if you felt the Pittsburgh Penguins had to part with one or both over the summer. Yep. Most of our hands would be raised, but has there been a better forward or a better defenseman?
Pettersson was strong as a top-pair defenseman on Wednesday. Zucker had another standout game.
It’s kind of nice when a player serves a big plate of humble pie to everyone. Grab a fork, I can’t eat this by myself.
5. Hello P.O
Joseph was playing well against Washington before he was injured. If the TV replays caught anything, you’re ahead of the assembled media at the Capital One Arena. It’s an unfortunate break for Joseph, as he’s been steadily improving.
He put his new suit on Instagram. You may notice his inspiration. Don’t underestimate the power of role models.
P.O has a new suit jacket. Poignant lining. pic.twitter.com/nIYR55tpkp
— Dan Kingerski 🇺🇦 (@TheDanKingerski) November 11, 2022