The Pittsburgh Penguins got some good news this weekend.
With Thursday’s lopsided defeat at the hands of the New Jersey Devils, the Penguins had dropped three consecutive games in regulation. As a result, Pittsburgh slid to the third position in the Metropolitan Division.
On the surface, this string of losses made it feel like the Penguins had regressed. However, if you put things into perspective, you realize that in an 82-game season, there are going to be ups and downs.
Fortunately for the Pens, the down was quickly replaced by an up, as back-to-back victories over the weekend, put Pittsburgh back into the Metro’s second position.
The good and the bad of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
After the highs and lows of the last week and a half, the Penguins own a record of 33-14-8. Like all teams, they’ll take the good with the bad and hope to reach their peak performance when the playoffs arrive this spring.
With that in mind, here are some good and bad aspects of the 2021-2022 Penguins as they look to replace those three consecutive losses with a third consecutive win.
The Bad: A Struggling Penalty Kill
At one time this season, the Pens boasted the top penalty killing unit in the NHL. Unfortunately, that unit was recently passed by the Carolina Hurricanes, and it has now fallen a bit further.
It still has the potential to remain a strength for the Penguins this season, as the team remains in the top-three league-wide when down a man, but there is cause for concern. A year ago, Pittsburgh found itself in 27th place while shorthanded, killing only 77.4% of opponent advantages.
Whether this drop-off is a slump or a full-fledged regression to last year’s PK levels will be huge for this team. Keep an especially close eye on forward Teddy Blueger as he works to return from an injury to resume his penalty killing duties.
The Good: Evgeni Malkin Looks Great
The only real bright spot in the Penguins’ ugly loss to the Devils last week was Evgeni Malkin, as he has been great in both wins and losses for Pittsburgh since returned from an injury. His skating, puck handling, and offensive efficiency are all signs that point to a healthy and confident Malkin.
Geno has recorded 21 points (nine goals and 12 assists) in his 19 games played this season. That includes at least one point in 15 of his last 16 contests. The alternate captain of the Penguins has been especially impactful on the power play, where he has registered 12 of his points. His six power play goals are tied for third on the team.
Knowing that number 71 is returning to form is a big reason to feel optimistic if you’re a Penguins fan
The Bad: The Defense is Struggling
Much like the penalty kill, the overall defensive performance in Pittsburgh last season played a significant role in keeping the Pens from finding success. This year, it has been among the best defenses in the NHL, but it hasn’t looked that way recently.
Goaltender Tristan Jarry was selected to this year’s All-Star Game, as he and his bounce-back performance has helped turn the tide for Pittsburgh’s D. However, Jarry was pulled for the first time all season last Thursday, and he has allowed four or more goals in five of his last eight outings.
That, of course, falls on the entire defense and not just Jarry. The volume of shots conceded by the Pens’ blueliners hasn’t changed much, but the quality of opportunities allowed has changed for the worse. Pittsburgh can get back on track, and they started to do so over the weekend, but right now, things are still a little loose.
The Good: The Power Play is on Fire
As I stated previously, Malkin has been great for the Penguins’ power play, which happens to be one of the most efficient units in the NHL since the calendar flipped to 2022. On the season, this team is 12th in the league with the man-advantage, scoring 22.0% of the time.
Over the club’s last month and a half, it has recorded at least one power play goal in 14 of its 18 contests. In that span, the unit has cashed in a total of 20 times, highlighted by a three-goal performance against the Washington Capitals.
This is not only encouraging because of the way the power play has struggled at times this season, but also because we haven’t really seen the Penguins with both special teams units clicking. If the PK comes around, and the power play stays hot, Pittsburgh will have a key advantage in most, if not all, of its games.
The NHL’s regular season is one that resembles a rollercoaster, even for the best teams. Yes, the Penguins were slumping, but things are on the rise once again in the ‘Burgh.