Gameday 14: A Respite, or a Trap?

Before the Pittsburgh Penguins start what will be their most serious stretch of the 2023-24 regular season schedule to date on Thursday against the visiting New Jersey Devils, they will have to contend with a young Columbus Blue Jackets team.

Young, dumb and full of Cumblowus

After ending last season tied with the Chicago Blackhawks for the second-worst record in the NHL, the Blue Jackets are once again at the bottom of the Metropolitan Division standings and currently nursing a five-game losing streak. To their credit, they’ve played pretty tightly to their opponents, playing almost half of their games to one goal decisions, but they’ve managed just one win in those seven games (a 5-4 overtime win against the Minnesota Wild on October 21). With the Penguins currently on a four-game winning streak, looking as good as they have at any point in the last couple of years, and games in Columbus practically being home games for Pittsburgh, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the Penguins breezed through the Blue Jackets per usual again tonight. However, I also suppose that’s the perfect recipe for a trap game, so it’s best for Pittsburgh to simply stay sharp and not get ahead of themselves.

When general manager Kyle Dubas gave Tristan Jarry a five-year, $5.375M/year extension this past offseason, there was plenty of grumbling in the community that the deal was a bad one. Jarry can be an excellent goaltender at times, but almost as often he has been quite poor, and that inconsistency is nerve-wracking for everyone involved. Indeed, his first seven games this season were mostly negative, with a 2-5-0 record and a .893 winning percentage, but both of those wins were shutouts, one against the Colorado Avalanche.

But after laying the blame on himself for Pittsburgh’s last-minute 4-3 loss against the Anaheim Ducks on Halloween Eve, Vezina-caliber Jarry has emerged from his slumber. He is responsible for three of the Penguins’ four wins since then, with two shutouts and 6.33 goals saved above average (per Natural Stat Trick), second only to Vegas’ Adin Hill in this stretch. This is the Tristan Jarry Pittsburgh needs if they are going to regain some credibility and make a serious push for the Stanley Cup this season. Because the Penguins are pretty decent offensively, his margin for error isn’t that severe, but he can go ahead and continue shutting out their opponents if he wants to.

On a related topic, if you haven’t lit a prayer circle for Rickard Rakell to start producing some goals, you should probably go ahead and do that at some point. He and Jake Guentzel are still among the leaders in most goals not scored above expected, but Guentzel is still producing at over a point-per-game pace while Rakell just has one primary assist and two secondary assists to his name, the latter of which coming in Pittsburgh’s 10-2 blowout of the San Jose Sharks on November 4. Seeing how this was also the last topic in the Sabres Gameday on Saturday, I suppose this will be an ongoing segment until Rakell does start to get going offensively. I will will his goal-scoring into existence or die trying!