At the moment, things are looking up for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Their last two wins have each been by three goals, although the first one was thanks to two late empty-netters. Thursday’s 4-1 win over the New York Islanders was satisfying in just about every way: three even-strength goals, plus an empty-netter; the only goal allowed was on the penalty-kill, and late in the game; the three lines you’d expect to provide offense for the Penguins did just that; and Tristan Jarry continued to play well as he saved 31 shots and, again, only allowed one goal, the first time this season the Penguins have limited their opponents to less than two goals. Between the active roster looking better rather than worse lately, and the injured players slowly getting back to action, the mediocre performance the Penguins showed in the first quarter of the season looks to be fading out of memory.
The only thing that one could really quibble about right now is the absence of a proper third line, or a proper fourth line depending on your point-of-view. The Buzzsaw line of Teddy Blueger, Brandon Tanev, and Zach Aston-Reese has come back together over the past few games and has made an impact offensively: Blueger is somehow tied with Evgeni Malkin for fourth on the team in points (this is supposed to be an indictment of Malkin’s performance this season); Tanev is just one point behind Kris Letang in points (this is absolutely an indictment of Letang’s performance this season); and Zach Aston-Reese has four points in as many games.
And yet, the Blueger line was anticipated to be the fourth line on this roster, but they’ve managed, without much trouble, to outperform the third line amoeba of Mark Jankowski, Colton Sceviour, Drew O’Connor, Sam Lafferty, and soon the injured Jared McCann and Evan Rodrigues. As set-in-stone as the top nine forwards are on the roster, the last three might as well be thrown in a blender for the time being. Jankowski, Lafferty, and O’Connor each played less than ten minutes on Tuesday, the typical indication that they are only useful in letting the more productive players rest, which is not a great situation in the long run. Right now it doesn’t matter so long as the other three lines are offensively-productive, but ideally the fourth line does what the third line was expected to be: a shutdown, defense-only group that may provide offense on rare occasions. Right now the Blueger line is very likely over-performing offensively, but they should not be expected to handle all of the heavy lifting defensively.
I can understand if you want to quibble about the defense and goaltending as well, but things are trending in the right direction for both. Again, Tristan Jarry has been solid in the last couple of games, and that is very encouraging from a “we need stability in goal” perspective. The return of Marcus Pettersson brings the Penguins that much closer to having all of their defensemen back.
(One of the weird quirks that I can never seem to understand is that the more shots the Penguins allow, the better they do. It was the case with Marc-Andre Fleury, it was the case with Matt Murray, and it continues to be the case this season. Maybe someone can explain it to me?! One thing that is consistent AND makes sense is that when the team’s PDO is over 1.000, the Penguins have only lost one game, while when their PDO is under 1.000, they have only won one game. In any event, the Penguins need things to be working well at both ends of the ice, at least until one end can really start to dominate.)
The big to-do for tonight’s game against the Islanders is a big milestone for Sidney Crosby: he’ll have played in 1,000 regular season games when he steps on to the ice for the first time. It will make Crosby the fourth of his peers taken in the 2005 Entry Draft to hit the 1,000 regular season game mark. Believe it or not, he’s actually tied with Los Angeles’ Anze Kopitar in games played when you include the postseason, and both players are about thirty games behind San Jose’s Marc-Edouard Vlasic in terms of total games played. (Current Dallas Star Andrew Cogliano is the fourth member of the group to play in 1,000 regular season games.) In spite of the injuries that have limited Sid over the years, that he has managed to keep up with his peers is surprising.
Of course, what is most impressive is that, despite being 36th amongst active players in games played, Sid sits third in total points, just 16 points behind Alex Ovechkin for second. Both players are over 200 points behind Joe Thornton, but Thornton is eight years more veteran than both players and turns 42 on July 2. Ovechkin has also played 164 more games than Sid, so Crosby’s production is even more impressive in that light.