As the 2020-21 NHL regular season winds to a close, many teams’ fates were decided in the month of April. The Pittsburgh Penguins held a record of 10-4-1 in April and clinched a spot in the postseason for the 15th consecutive year.
Reaching the playoffs is no small feat when you look at the shadows that loomed over the team all year. From a general manager calling it quits to a seemingly never-ending list of injuries, and all the doubters before the season even started, the team stayed strong and proved they can still be a contender in the NHL, in one of the most dominant divisions in the league.
Pittsburgh in April saw injuries persist for the team as well as a trade deadline that added much-needed help at the center position. It was another period of everyone contributing in their own way and helping each other to a winning month. These are your Penguins’ three stars for the month of April.
It would be a crime to talk about the Penguins’ month of April and not mention the stellar performance from a pair of defensemen. Brian Dumoulin and Cody Ceci found a new level of offensive output, each sporting a six-game and five-game point streak respectively during the month.
Dumoulin not only improved his scoring ability but also fully returned to form as one of the best defensive defensemen the Penguins organization has ever seen. In 15 games in April, he had three goals and six assists for nine points – one of the best months in terms of scoring the 6-foot-4 defender has ever had was accentuated with a career-high six-game point streak.
It’s been difficult to say anything bad about the play of Ceci throughout the year. To say he has exceeded expectations would be an understatement and the month of April only added to it by scoring 10 points (2-8—10) in 15 games all the while having a five-game point streak himself. At the beginning of the year, he was written off as just another Jack Johnson, and that couldn’t be any further from the truth at this point.
Third Star: Jared McCann
What a joy Jared McCann has been to watch this past month, especially on the power play. In the month of April, McCann put up five goals and seven assists for 12 points. Within those numbers are four goals and two helpers on with a man advantage. Thanks to his help, the Penguins’ power play rose to 10th in the league at a 21.8% success rate.
McCann also stood out on the team as being forced to play as the Penguins’ second-line center in the interim period between an Evgeni Malkin injury and Jeff Carter’s arrival via trade. Between his own return from an injury on March 20 to Carter’s first game in Pittsburgh, McCann scored 10 points in 11 games. When Carter arrived, McCann was pushed to the wing where he didn’t miss a beat putting up eight more points in 10 games.
Thanks to McCann’s consistent play on the power play, a lot of talks have been started that he should stay on the top unit even after Malkin returns to the lineup. That’s not a totally far-fetched idea and it’s possible he stays with that unit, even if the coaching staff decides to put Malkin there, as well.
Second Star: Tristan Jarry
This is the third time Tristan Jarry has been given the second star of the month; But let’s face it, a lot of the Penguins’ success this season has hinged on the play of their goalies. Aside from being pulled in the first game of April, Jarry had himself a fantastic April with a 7-1-1 record and a .911 save percentage (SV%) in 10 games played.
Seven wins helped Jarry improve his record to 22-9-3 on the season and reach a .910 SV% before the calendar turned to May. Standing within the top of NHL goalies in wins this season, his goaltending has been a huge reason the Penguins are atop the Mass Mutual East Division and have a chance of staying there.
April was a solid month that had the potential to blunder when Jarry had to miss the first two games of the month with an injury and in his first game back, he was pulled after one period. But he was able to regroup and win six of his next seven, picking up his first shutout on the season.
First Star: Jeff Carter
Obviously, the newly acquired center wasn’t with the Penguins the entire month, but Carter earned top star of the month for doing more than performing well on the ice. Carter became an instant fan favorite and proved to be more than just a repeat of last year’s Patrick Marleau trade.
In his first nine games with the Penguins, Carter scored three goals and picked up a pair of assists for five points. It’s even more impressive when you take into consideration the pressure he was under to start his tenure in Pittsburgh. Playing as the second-line center while a future Hall of Famer is injured, Carter rose to the occasion and won over the hearts of an entire city.
Since May began, Carter continued his swell play with another goal for six points in 10 games. He’s going to be a key player to keep an eye on for the remainder of the season and into the offseason. While he said he wants to keep playing after this year, the thought of retirement has crossed the mind of the 36-year-old. There is also the Seattle Expansion Draft in the near future.
Players to Watch in May and Beyond
Heading into the final few weeks of the season and the beginning of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the players to watch may be some familiar faces. Malkin is close to returning to the lineup after missing the back half of April with a lower-body injury and should have a profound impact on the ice. Beyond Malkin, keep an eye on other core players like Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang as they are determined to prove they are all still some of the best players in the NHL.
Nick Horwat is a graduate of Point Park University and was born and raised in Pittsburgh. A lifelong Penguins fan that has been watching and going to games for as long as he can remember.