Gameday 31: Covered With Puu(stinen)

Monday’s 4-3 win for the Pittsburgh Penguins over the Minnesota Wild was unnecessarily anxiety-inducing, with the Penguins giving back their impressive 3-0 lead over the course of about ten minutes. But we did see the triumphant return of the second line which scored two goals at even strength, buoyed by the playmaking of Marcus Pettersson and most notably Valtteri Puustinen. Puustinen, the 24-year-old right-winger from Finland, has made the most of his appearances for Pittsburgh, notching five points in his six total appearances between the 2021-22 season and this season. Given the opportunity with the absence of Bryan Rust, he has found himself alongside Evgeni Malkin on the second line and seeming not to be overwhelmed at the pressure.

PUUSTINEN … oh, wait
PUUSTINEN … honest mistake

Whenever the Penguins can find a solution to their depth issues from within the organization rather than without, especially in this day of famine in that regard, it stands to reason that people will get excited. I seem to recall Drew O’Connor and Radim Zohorna also receiving a likewise sense of excitement, and yet they are both factors in how Pittsburgh has been stuck in mediocrity this season. O’Connor in particular has disappointed when given the opportunity on the first line next to Sidney Crosby, but Zohorna as well did not show much when given the same opportunity. So as much as I want to hope that Puustinen will invoke the same sort of “out of nowhere” boost of production à la Rust when he arrived in Pittsburgh, I don’t want to get ahead of myself because he could fade away just like O’Connor and Zohorna seem to have.

The Pittsburgh Penguins will ring in the winter solstice tonight with a visit from the Carolina Hurricanes in their second meeting of the season. Like most of the Metropolitan Division, the Hurricanes are above .500 but not substantially so, and they have struggled to meet the preseason expectations of being towards the top of the division. They even went so far as to waive Antti Raanta as they hope Pyotr Kochetkov’s better play of late will continue to lift them up the division standings. Otherwise there’s been no good excuse for Carolina’s subpar performance to date as they’ve been extraordinarily healthy with 13 of their players playing all 31 games and another three players missing no more than five games (the Penguins have had 10 players play all their games and just one missing no more than five games). They are one of the most lopsided teams in terms of shots-on-goal for and against, sitting tied with Florida with the most SOG for while allowing the third-fewest shots against.

Pittsburgh’s better performance on the power play in recent games has unsurprisingly seen them rise out of the very bottom of the League in power play success rate from something around third-worst to seventh-worst. They have a long way to go of course but they’ve gotten six power play goals in four games which is their best stretch in that span since mid-January. This season they’re still sitting on just one loss when they’ve scored a power play goal, so the formula for winning games seems quite clear: keep finding goals when they have the man advantage. For what it’s worth, thus far this season Carolina’s penalty kill is about as good as the Penguins’, but lately the Hurricanes have allowed two power play goals in 35 opportunities over their last 13 games.