The Pittsburgh Penguins have to be feeling pretty good about themselves today.
Sure, their 10-2 victory in San Jose Saturday did not qualify as a 60-minute exercise in excellent execution, but they’re not likely to nitpick after an eight-goal victory.
Never mind that the Sharks looked a lot like expansion teams from the days when clubs new to the NHL were forced to construct a roster from the flotsam and jetsam discarded by organizations that had beaten them into the league.
Regardless, the Penguins can expect to get more severe tests — and thus, a better gauge on the state of their game — when they visit Anaheim Tuesday and Los Angeles Thursday to wrap up their annual swing through California.
(It certainly will be interesting to see how they respond to again sharing a slab of ice with the Ducks, who beat them with a shorthanded goal in the waning seconds of regulation last Monday. The psychological bruises inflicted by that defeat seem unlikely to heal in little more than a week.)
If, perchance, the Penguins are viewing what transpired at SAP Center Saturday night as incontrovertible evidence that all of the flaws in their game were purged during the four-day break between the loss to Anaheim and the victory in San Jose, they might benefit from taking a quick glance at the Eastern Conference standings.
Well, not all that quick, because they’ll have to scan all the way to the bottom to find themselves. For while the victory Saturday night improved their record to 4-6 — how unlikely would it have been a month ago to see 4-6 being an improvement for this group? — all that did was earn them a share of last place in the East.
They share the bottom spot with Ottawa, whose defense corps has been gutted by injuries and which already owns a 5-2 victory at PPG Paints Arena.
Sure, the Penguins and Senators are only four points away from joining the cluster of teams tied for what would be the eighth and final playoff berth in the conference, but they’ve already lost visual contact with East-leading Boston, which has run up an 11-point bulge over them.
Scoring 10 times in one game, especially this early in the season, had a predictable impact on the Penguins’ offensive stats. They suddenly are averaging 3.60 goals per game, good for eighth place in the NHL rankings, and scoring a pair of man-advantage goals for the second game in a row has rocketed them all the way to the middle of the pack in the league, with a success rate of 19.4 percent.
Pedestrian as that latter stat appears — mostly because it is — it’s a dramatic upgrade from the 10 percent conversion rate the Pittsburgh Penguins took into the Anaheim game last Monday.
Much as they needed a couple of points, the most important thing the Penguins get from the Sharks game might be the infusion of confidence some players took out of it.
Top-line left winger Jake Guentzel, for example, scored twice, matching his output from the previous nine games. Two fourth-liners, Matt Nieto and Vinnie Hinostroza, contributed goals, the first to come from that unit this season. Bryan Rust and Reilly Smith, like Guentzel, chipped in with four points each.
Yeah, they all did it against an opponent that should be a candidate for relegation to the ECHL, but that doesn’t detract from the boost individuals can get from having a big night. And it shouldn’t.
Still, the hard truth is that all the Penguins accomplished Saturday was done against what could prove to be a historically bad team. Chances are the only time the Penguins will see a team anywhere near as bad as the Sharks will be when San Jose comes to PPG Paints Arena March 14, by which time it’s entirely possible that San Jose will have won a few games.
Not likely, but possible.
But that’s not the Pittsburgh Penguins’ problem. They have some of their own, like how they are giving up a lackluster 3.10 goals per game and have a penalty-kill that has allowed four goals in the past three games.
They need to get better — a lot better, a lot more often — if they are to become the force they believe they can.
And while there’s nothing with enjoying what they did in San Jose, reading too much into beating a bad team that was having a bad night would be more costly than any of the defeats the Penguins have suffered this season.