Another month of Pittsburgh Penguins hockey has come and gone, and through 20 games, they sit with an 11-8-1 record for 23 points, which are good for fifth in the Mass Mutual East Division, just outside of a playoff spot.
The Penguins played 11 games in February for a 6-5 record, winning three of those games in overtime. Due to schedule restructuring, the Penguins only played the New York Islanders and the Washington Capitals during the 28-day month.
While the team as a whole looked average last month, certain players needed to improve their game and they were able to do just that. What follows is the Penguins’ three stars for the month of February. However, an honorable mention should be given out before we continue.
Cody Ceci only added two assists in February, but his defensive play was solid. Fans were not happy when he was signed, and no one can blame them. His play in recent weeks, however, has far exceeded expectations.
Third Star: Jake Guentzel
February seemed like a quiet month for Jake Guentzel. That is until you look at his numbers. Playing in all 11 games, he was a point-per-game skater with four goals and seven assists. At 26 years old, he has a bright future with the team, and that future starts now as he enters his prime. A point per game is about where he should be.
What makes Guentzel’s month so special is how he planted himself firmly in second in team scoring behind Sidney Crosby. Guentzel has seven goals and 10 assists, and both his assists and points are second on the team, while his seven goals are tied for the team lead. Also, in February, he picked up an important game-winning goal against the Capitals.
Part of Guentzel’s game that could use improvement is the time he spends in the penalty box. He is second on the team with 14 PIMs behind Evgeni Malkin (16 PIMs). Both of the Penguins’ special teams have been bad this season, and having Guentzel in the box does not help. What makes this number staggering is that he had 14 PIMs all of last season.
Second Star: Tristan Jarry
Trade rumors began around Tristan Jarry when he finished January with a 2-3-1 record. Those ended when he put up improved numbers and looked more like a starter. In February, he played eight games (including seven straight) picking up a 5-3 record.
Jarry’s save percentage (sv%) and goals-against average (GAA) have both improved since the calendar flipped to February. In his eight starts that month, he earned a .915 sv%, improving his season stat to .894. That number may not be where he, or fans, want it to be, but it will be soon if continues his stellar play.
As a bonus, Jarry not only kept the puck out of his net, he also helped dish it to his teammates. So much so that he collected two assists. His first came from a Zach Aston-Reese empty-net goal, and the second was part of Kasperi Kapanen’s overtime winner nine days later, both against the Capitals.
First Star: Kris Letang
Fans were not happy with Kris Letang’s play at the beginning of the season, and for good reason. Through the first nine games, he had three assists and was no help defensively. As the team entered February, the veteran blueliner found a new level to his game.
Letang’s February was impressive with 11 points in 10 games. Four goals, seven assists, plus a pair of game-winning goals are forward-like numbers. Guentzel and Letang shared the team lead in points for the month, and that’s important for the team’s success. Guentzel has started to play up to his level of previous seasons, and Letang has quieted some critics with his recent play.
Silencing critics is a step in the right direction for Letang, especially when his harshest critics might be his new bosses. The trade rumors have always been around, but when it comes to the Penguins’ ‘aging core,’ he is the most expendable. If he wants to stay in Pittsburgh, he will have to impress management, including general manager Ron Hextall and president of hockey operations Brian Burke, as they evaluate the roster before making any changes this offseason.
Who to Watch in March
It’s time for some Penguins to reach their midseason form. March will be important for many reasons. Jared McCann is returning from an injury and will fill the spot of an injured Jason Zucker on the second line. Mike Matheson has been finding his footing with his new team but could still use some tooling around, and Teddy Blueger is always fun to watch, but he may be filling the third-line center role for the rest of the season if he can find an extra gear.
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.