No winning streak lasts forever, and so goes the first six-game winning streak in two years for the Pittsburgh Penguins, gone by the hands of the Boston Bruins in a 2-1 loss on Tuesday. It was a tough game for the Penguins to win, as it was the second of a back-to-back (Pittsburgh is notorious for dropping those), and they were behind the eight ball to begin with as Teddy Blueger was a surprise scratch prior to warmups. By the time the game ended, they were also without Brandon Tanev, ejected for boarding Jarred Tinordi, and Evgeni Malkin, who was injured in the second period. Malkin now joins the already-out-of-the-lineup Jason Zucker, John Marino, Jared McCann, and Mark Friedman on the injured list.
Unlike previously in the season when it seemed that only the defensemen were getting hurt, now the forwards seem to be attracting the attention of the injury bug. Whereas with the defensemen the Penguins were somewhat surprisingly able to survive, it’s less certain that the team will be able to coast with the bulk of the middle six forwards on the shelf. Head coach Mike Sullivan has been reticent to use his fourth line for more than ten (or even nine or eight) minutes a night, and with good reason, but now Colton Sceviour, Anthony Angello, Sam Lafferty, and Mark
DonkJankowski will probably be called upon a little more often than perhaps Sullivan would like. Losing guys like Malkin and Blueger for an extended period of time, along with the absences of McCann and Zucker, will take a big chunk of the offensive productivity out of play.
It’s good fortune then that the next five games are against the two worst teams in the East Division, starting tonight with the first of three games (two on the road, one at home) against the seventh-place New Jersey Devils. On Tuesday New Jersey collected just their third win in their last fifteen games, a 3-2 win hosting their co-basement-dwelling peers from Buffalo. The game-winning goal was scored on the PP by Miles Wood, and yes I am an eleven-year-old at heart. It was Wood’s ninth goal of the season, putting him two goals ahead of Pavel Zacha for the team lead. The number would also tie Bryan Rust for third on the Penguins, if that gives you any idea of just how not prolific the Devils offense is at present. Overall New Jersey has scored the second-fewest goals in the League, seven goals ahead of the Sabres for that ignominious distinction.
One of New Jersey’s biggest issues is their special teams play. The power-play goal by Wood was just their tenth of the season, and overall the Devils are fourth-worst in the League with the man advantage. Not to be outdone, their penalty-kill is third-worst in the League. Don’t let me mislead you though: the Devils are generally a bad team overall. Goaltending is probably their strongest suit, but it is still eleventh-worst in the League for a team that has allowed the ninth-fewest shots against. As long as the Penguins can keep the Devils from controlling play in their offensive zone (which they can do, as they are in the top ten in Corsi, Fenwick, and shots-for per 60 minutes), there’s not much reason to worry. And remember, it’s not the Penguins defense that’s hurting right now!