There are plenty of reasons to be excited about the Pittsburgh Penguins.
For one, they just romped arguably the best team in the MassMutual East Division, the New York Islanders, 6-3, on Saturday and have an 11-3-1 record in March, including a new three-game win streak. As the theory goes, the team that wins the Stanley Cup is usually the team that gets hot at the right time — down the stretch and into the playoff push. Well, we’re getting to that time; the Penguins have 21 games left, and if they can get healthier, they will be poised to make a push for the Cup.
A lot of things have been going the Penguins’ way, including contributions from their supporting cast and goaltending.
Contributions From Everyone
With injuries come new players inserted into the lineup. And with the many injuries the team has suffered, the Penguins have received some key contributions from players like Frederick Gaudreau and Radim Zohorna. Gaudreau has been especially effective in his six games with the club. From the moment he was called up from the taxi squad, the seven-year pro has been noticeable and, frankly, looks like he does not want to go back to the American Hockey League.
Sometimes, when players get their chance in the NHL after spending a few seasons going back-and-forth between the AHL and the NHL, they play with extra motivation; they are surely tired of taking the bus, and they will do anything to stay in the show.
In six games, playing primarily on the fourth line, Gaudreau has tallied a remarkable goal and two assists while making the bottom line look better than the third line.
Injuries also opened up a spot for Zohorna, who has been itching for an NHL opportunity after signing a one-year, two-way contract in 2020. It didn’t take long for him to make his presence felt. The 6-foot-6 forward played a very solid game in his NHL debut and found the back of the net late in the first period.
With a couple of players in the bottom-six not playing to their potential, it’s hard to imagine that Gaudreau and Zohorna will not stay in the lineup after the Penguins start getting players back from injury.
Jarry, DeSmith Holding Down the Fort
A team is only as good as their goaltending.
At the beginning of the season, the Penguins were bad, and a lot of the blame went to Tristan Jarry because he was playing poorly. But he has really stepped it up in the past couple of months. Jarry has won seven of his 10 starts this month and now sports a 14-8-2 record with a 2.83 goals-against average (GAA) and a .909 save percentage (SV%). Jarry’s confidence and swagger are evident of late and he looks to be playing at, dare I say it, a championship level.
What’s better than an elite starting goaltender? A solid backup and Casey DeSmith has been all that and then some. In 11 starts this season, DeSmith has an 8-3-0 record with a 1.93 GAA and a .928 SV% while recording a win in four of his last five starts. His last outing was arguably his best, as he recorded a 36-save shutout during Pittsburgh’s 4-0 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday. The shutout was DeSmith’s second of the season and sixth of his NHL career.
Amid all this talk about injuries, some good news was reported recently as Jason Zucker, who has been out since Feb. 23, skated on Sunday for the first time since his injury.
The Penguins also re-assigned forwards Jordy Bellerive and Josh Currie to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Pittsburgh wraps up their five-game homestand on Monday with a 7 p.m. contest against the Islanders.
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.