Just like that, the first week is in the books.
It seems as if it was just yesterday we were anticipating the start of the NHL season, but it’s safe to say the season is in full swing with the first week of games played.
It was not the ideal start for the Pittsburgh Penguins, though.
Things looked optimistic in the very beginning as Mark Jankowski scored the first goal of the 2020-21 NHL season. However, the Penguins dropped the opening game against Philadelphia, 6-4, before losing another tough one to the Flyers, 5-2.
On Sunday during the home opener against Washington, the Pens looked shaky again, trailing 2-1 after the first period, but were able to climb back and win the game, 4-3, in a shootout.
Here are a few takeaways from the first week as well as what Pens fans should be concerned with and what worked.
Is It Too Early to Be Concerned?
No, I don’t think so.
Maybe if this was a normal 82-game season, there wouldn’t be much cause for concern. But, considering the circumstances of a shortened season and realigned divisions, the cause for concern is valid.
The first thing that should concern Penguins’ fans is the play of the defensive corps. Through the first three games, Pittsburgh defensemen are a combined minus-eight and surprisingly look a lot better on paper than they have played. Of the group, Mike Matheson and Kris Letang have had exceptionally bad starts to the season.
Newcomer Cody Ceci also had a lackluster start to the season as he was a healthy scratch for the second and third games. Matheson, however, will be out “longer-term” with an upper-body injury.
Here we go again.
After Matt Murray was dealt to Ottawa in October, it seemed as if Tristan Jarry had taken the goaltending throne and ended the long-lasting goaltending controversy once and for all.
Not so fast.
Jarry, to put it lightly, had a couple of rough outings starting with the third-period blunder in the season opener. With the game deadlocked at 3-3 a few minutes into the third period, Jarry let in a goal off a Matheson turnover before giving up two goals in the span of 20 seconds later in the frame.
Jarry hardly lasted half of a period in the next game after surrendering three goals in 11 minutes and change. Casey DeSmith came on in relief and made 12 saves on 13 shots including a huge stop on Kevin Hayes’ breakaway opportunity that kept the score at 3-2 in the first.
As if it wasn’t enough of a controversy on Friday, DeSmith was solid in his win against Washington on Sunday leaving the scribes pondering on who will start in Pittsburgh’s next game on Tuesday.
Third Line Has Been Penguins’ Best Line
One of the biggest surprises early on in the season has been the play of the Penguins’ third line, which includes Mark Jankowski, Jared McCann, and Brandon Tanev.
The line accounted for two of the Penguins’ three goals in the opener and another the following night.
Currently, the line has combined for three goals, eight points and a plus-two rating, the only line with a positive plus/minus. We all knew Tanev would bring loads of energy to the bottom six, but the offensive work of Jankowski has been a pleasant surprise.
This will need to continue for Pittsburgh at least until the top six and Evgeni Malkin, who has not tallied a point while being a minus-two, find their legs.
With multiple fronts struggling for the Penguins early on, eyes turn to Mike Sullivan and Jim Rutherford to possibly make some changes.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported on Saturday that the Penguins are interested in trading for Jack Roslovic, who is an unsigned RFA and reportedly asking Winnipeg for a trade.
Roslovic, a 23-year-old center, tallied career highs in goals (12), points (29) and shots (117) during the 2019-20 season.
Pittsburgh will play three home games this week starting with Washington on Tuesday and the Rangers on Friday and Sunday.
Jake Deemer covers the Pittsburgh Penguins while previously writing for The Derrick & The News-Herald newspaper in Oil City, Pa. Born in Western Pennsylvania, Deemer graduated from Clarion University in 2018 with a degree in Digital Media Communications and Sports Journalism.