Checking in on the Penguins quest for a three-peat
The entire NHL needs to be on the lookout following All-Star weekend in Tampa Bay because the Pittsburgh Penguins look like they are rounding into form, and if anybody needs a reminder of what this team can accomplish when “in form,” check out the last two engravings on the Stanley Cup. The Penguins have won 7 of their last 9 games and 8 out of 11 since the start of 2018. They have moved themselves into 3rd place in the crowded Metropolitan Division as of Tuesday, January 30. Though the teams below them have played fewer games, Pittsburgh can still hold onto a playoff spot even if the lower teams win all of the games they have in hand. After much panic from Penguins fans for the first half of the season, it seems – at least for now – that this team has figured things out to roll towards the playoffs.
Ever since a 4-0 loss against the Carolina Hurricanes on January 4, the Penguins have competed hard in every single game, having the opportunity to win each contest. Without one awful period in Anaheim and stone cold goaltending in San Jose, we might be talking about a 9-game winning streak right now. Regardless, the Penguins are playing impressive hockey at a time when they really needed it in order to stay in the race for the playoffs.
After their California road trip, the Penguins took care of business at home against division rival Carolina and Western Conference foe Minnesota. In both games, the Penguins stuck with inexperienced Casey DeSmith in goal, who has proven that goaltending depth is not a concern for the Penguins right now. Considering the concerns at that position to start the season – with Fleury leaving via expansion draft and Niemi disappointing – it is almost laughable now that fans find themselves debating about which backup deserves the role more: DeSmith or Jarry. For now, at least, the team has gotten behind DeSmith, starting him in 4 straight contests, of which he has won 3. Murray has had a lengthy layoff, in part due to leaving the team because of the passing of his father. We will likely see him return to action soon, maybe even Tuesday night against the Sharks.
The Penguins’ offense has also come to life as of late, both on the power play and at 5-on-5. The team scored 3 even strength goals against the Hurricanes before adding 4 more with Minnesota in town. The Minnesota game also had the Penguins go 2 for 2 on the power play to boost their league-leading percentage up to 27.1%. The stars have rediscovered their scoring touches as Phil Kessel has climbed to 3rd in the league with 58 points, and Crosby sits at 9th with 55. Malkin is tied for the league lead with 12 power play goals. The worries about this team’s aging stars seem to be fading game by game.
Of course, the season is not yet over by any stretch of the imagination. Pittsburgh has 31 games remaining on its schedule. They need to show that their play so far in January is sustainable to drive them into the playoffs with momentum. With the NHL trade deadline looming at 4 weeks away, the Penguins’ players need to prove they belong on this roster and can contend for a 3rd straight Stanley Cup, because everyone knows Rutherford will not hesitate to make a deal that he believes makes this team better.
The week ahead contains important points for the defending champs as they play 2 out of 3 games against divisional opponents near them in the standings. After a rematch of the 2016 Stanley Cup Finals against the Sharks, the Washington Capitals come to Pittsburgh before the Penguins head to New Jersey to matchup with the Devils. If the Penguins continue their trend of 2018 so far, then by next week, they could be sitting more comfortably in a playoff spot, maybe even looking to fight for the top of the division.