With four games in six days, this week was always going to be difficult for the Pittsburgh Penguins. After beating the Calgary Flames 3-2 and a crazy 8-6 comeback win against the Vancouver Canucks, they suffered back-to-back defeats against the Columbus Blue Jackets and St. Louis Blues. With injuries to Bryan Rust and Brian Dumoulin on Friday and Saturday, going 2-2 doesn’t feel so bad.
But with the injuries continuing to mount, guys that were expected to perform did just that. Their top healthy players, who make a combined $22.75 million, rose to the occasion and did whatever they could to set the Penguins up for success. Let’s take a look at the Penguins’ three stars and highlight the club’s best performing players of the week.
Third Star: Kris Letang
One of the Penguins’ alternate captains, Kris Letang, had a strong week. With three goals and one assist, he has returned from injury in stellar form after missing eight games with a lower-body injury. Perhaps the best thing about his return is he immediately went back to playing 24 or more minutes a night, ending the week with over 28 minutes of ice time after Dumoulin went down on his first shift on the game against the Blues. In the crazy three-goal comeback victory over the Canucks, Letang scored the game-winning goal after receiving a pass from Jake Guentzel and blasted it past the netminder.
Letang would go on to add an assist on Evgeni Malkin’s empty-net goal to ice the game for the Penguins. Against the Blue Jackets, he brought the Penguins to within two with a one-timer that was rocketed past the goaltender. The following night, he would add another goal, again to make the score 4-2, after shooting the puck from the blue line that took a deflection on its way to the goal. Letang has come back from his injury strong, and with two top-four defenders down, he will have to anchor the defense more than he usually does.
Nov. 24-30 Stat Line: 3 goals, 1 assist, 25:55 average TOI
Second Star: Evgeni Malkin
Since the injury to Sidney Crosby, Malkin has been on an absolute tear. While it is still early in the season, he is winning 53.8% of his faceoffs. This is the first time in his career his faceoff percentage is over 50%. He had an explosive game against the Canucks on Nov. 27 with two goals and three assists in the thriller. He quickly picked up two assists on the first two goals of the game by Guentzel and Rust. He would bring the Penguins within one goal with a slap shot from the right point on the power play. He would later get a secondary assist on Letang’s game-winning goal before finishing the game off with an empty-net goal while falling down to cap off a five point night.
Malkin would go on to add three more assists in the final two games of the week, two that set up Letang and one that set up Guentzel, who he has developed incredible chemistry with in a very short amount of time. In the absence of Crosby, he has elevated his game in every area. He is double-shifting on occasion, winning faceoffs and is averaging almost 1.5 points a night. He has certainly hit the ground running after missing the first 11 games due to injury.
Nov. 24-30 Stat Line: 2 goals, 6 assists, 64.8% FO%
First Star: Jake Guentzel
The best player for the Penguins this season, Guentzel had another fantastic week. While his seven-game point streak was snapped in the week’s final game against the Blues, he still was the best player to wear the black and gold this week. He scored the overtime winner to beat the Flames 3-2. Dominik Kahun held the puck up perfectly along the blue line after a long shift to allow Guentzel to hop over the boards, skate into the zone and bury a wrist shot to send the fans home with smiles on their faces.
He would go on to open the scoring against the Canucks after a set faceoff play that he rocketed past the goaltender to give the Penguins a quick lead. Just a few minutes later, he would pick up an assist on Rust’s power-play goal to make it 2-0. He would return the favor as he set up Guentzel early in the third to bring the Penguins within one. Later in the third period, with the score tied 6-6, he set up Letang for his game-winning goal that capped off a three-goal comeback victory.
Against the Blue Jackets, the same team he scored his first career NHL hat trick against in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, he would open the scoring for the Penguins after Malkin passed him the puck and he went between the goaltender’s legs to tie the game 1-1. He would later assist Letang’s goal that was very similar to the goal that won the game just two nights earlier against the Canucks. Guentzel is playing lights-out hockey, is staying healthy and should be the team’s All-Star Game representative. Since 2007, Crosby, Malkin and Letang have been 20 of the 24 selected players from the Penguins. Guentzel leads them in goals and points and has been playing the best hockey of his young career.
Nov. 24-30 Stat Line: 4 goals, 3 assists, plus-1
Each week, an updated point system will be in place. The third star receives one point, the second star receives two, and the first star gets three. Agree or disagree with the stars of the week? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter at @joshkaradeema.
- Sidney Crosby- 7 points
- Evgeni Malkin- 7 points
- Bryan Rust- 6 points
- Jake Guentzel- 5 points
- Jared McCann- 5 points
- Brandon Tanev- 4 points
- Kris Letang- 3 points
- Matt Murray- 3 points
- Dominik Simon- 3 points
- Patric Hornqvist- 2 points
- Dominik Kahun- 1 point
- Sam Lafferty- 1 point
- John Marino- 1 point