Another month, another laundry list of injuries for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Despite missing a large majority of their top nine forwards, the Penguins managed to have their best month of the season, going 12-3-1. Head coach Mike Sullivan always preaches the “next man up mentality,” and his team has been nothing but the ‘next men’ all season. Not many teams can suffer the number of injuries like the Penguins have taken and continue to be a top team in the league.
March has historically been a great month for the Penguins, but March 2021 held more importance with a shortened season and a close fight to stay in a playoff spot in the Mass Mutual East Division. It was a whole team effort and everyone who played a game deserves a star in their own right. Narrowing it down to just three was not an easy task.
The month of March saw the Penguins’ forward core get torn to shreds with injuries, but the “next man up mentality” stood strong. The taxi squad was busy and the biggest standout may have been Frederick Gaudreau. In seven games in March, Gaudreau has been making his case to remain in the NHL lineup. He may not be the highest point scorer, but he has been able to step up and prove his worth as an NHL player. Once guys like Evgeni Malkin and Teddy Blueger return from injury, Gaudreau should be penciled in as the fourth-line center.
Third Star: Bryan Rust
Anyone who was a fan of the Penguins during the Dan Bylsma years remembers the legend of the monthly “mustache boy.” That tradition returned to the team in March 2021 and Bryan Rust was the first loser. That practice, however, served as the last time all month Rust would lose. Rust and his “Rustache” looked to be one of the many highlights for the Penguins in March.
In the month of March, Rust played in 16 games and scored eight goals and five assists for 13 points. Averaging almost 20 minutes of ice per game helped bolster those numbers as well as pick up three game-winning goals. A six-game point streak and a hat trick against the New York Islanders to round out the March sealed the deal on one of the most productive months of his career.
Second Stars: Tristan Jarry/Casey DeSmith
Let’s cheat a little bit here and give the second star to both Penguins’ netminders. Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith were a huge reason the Penguins were able to collect 12 wins through March. When a team is missing multiple key players, a huge piece of success is the performance of the goalies, and these two have been standing as the top tandem in the East Division.
Jarry continued his midseason redemption tour with an 8-2-1 record and a .928 save percentage (SV%) in March. His goals-against average (GAA) continues to drop as well, now sitting at a 2.79 on the year. He may have left the last game of March early with an injury, but things don’t look bad as he traveled with the team to Boston on their most recent road trip.
DeSmith had himself a particularly impressive month of March, picking up a record of 4-1-0 with a pair of shutouts. In six games, DeSmith only let in five goals and reached a .969 SV%. His stellar March helped him jump into the NHL’s top five in GAA (1.91) and SV% (.929). While Jarry may be day-to-day with an upper-body injury, DeSmith will have to continue his torrid pace to keep the Pens amongst the top teams in the East.
First Star: Sidney Crosby
He was named the NHL’s first star of the month for the East Division, so it’s only appropriate that Sidney Crosby be given the Penguins’ first star for March, as well. Crosby played in 15 games in the month of March and he found another level to his game reaching 21 points (7-14—21). He is back over a point per game with 39 in 35 games.
Those Crosby trade rumors are well in the past now, and with the month he just had, he continues to prove that he won’t lose the spotlight as the best player in the league, or he at least won’t go down without a fight. At the age of 33 and in his 16th season, he looks like he hasn’t lost a step as the rest of the league continues to get younger and faster.
Through all the injuries suffered by the Penguins, Crosby and his linemates (Rust and Jake Guentzel) have been a huge part in keeping the team afloat. We’ve seen Crosby and Rust’s numbers, but Guentzel himself posted over a point per game (17 points in 16 games). While the team waits for the rest of the lineup to get healthy, a lot will hinge on this trio to remain dominant.
Who to Watch in April
The season is coming down the home stretch and the Penguins will soon enough be getting important pieces back in the lineup. Some players that fans will want to watch heading into the final month of the season are Jason Zucker, who is returning from a long-term injury, and McCann, if he can continue his high pace since returning from his injury. If Mark Jankowski ends up losing his spot in the lineup, look for Gaudreau to be an important anchor on the bottom line.
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.