The Pittsburgh Penguins have improved to a 34-15-3 record, and now stand at first in the MassMutual East Division, and tied for fourth in the NHL overall. The team outscored the Washington Capitals by a score of 8-4 in the two-game series, and obtained all four possible points while only allowing their opponents one. Here are five takeaways from this mini-series.
Bryan Rust Continues His Legendary Big Goals in May
Bryan Rust is known for his historic big goals in the month of May, as he scored in many crucial moments for the Penguins during their back-to-back runs. He continued that last night when he scored two straight unassisted goals in the second game of this mini-series. He showcased elite skating and speed on both goals, as they were both breakaways, and also showed quick transition plays, as the second breakaway came off of a block at the blue line.
Rust had two goals on three shots to go with one hit and one blocked shot in 18:35 time on ice. He had a 76.38 expected goal percentage (xG%). He was great on both sides of the ice in creating and limiting quality scoring chances, with a 1.04 expected goals for (xGF) and a 0.35 expected goals against (xGA).
This is the type of performances the Penguins will need to see from Rust in the postseason, as the tempo and speed he brought to the table resembles what we saw in the Cup runs, and would work especially well against a slow team, like the Capitals or the New York Islanders. If he can keep this up, his line with Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel will do wonders.
Tristan Jarry Needs to Bring This Level to the Playoffs
Despite Rust’s terrific game, there was just one player who was better, and that was Tristan Jarry. The 26-year-old goaltender stopped all 23 shots that he faced, good for a 1.00 save percentage (SV%), and a 1.64 goals saved above expected (GSAx), meaning he played a huge role in winning the game for the Penguins.
His second game was a big improvement from the first one, in which he stopped 33 of 37 shots, which was good for just a .892 SV%, and a minus-1.31 GSAx. In both games, however, Jarry outplayed whichever Capitals goaltender was in between the pipes. In the first, Vitek Vanecek was horrible, allowing five goals on 35 shots, for an .857 SV% and minus-2.73 GSAx. In the second game, Ilya Samsonov allowed three goals on 26 shots for an .885 SV% and 0.03 GSAx.
There is no doubt that Jarry has not been the greatest statistically this season, the majority of his poor numbers come from the first couple of games of the season, which were abysmal. He has a .910 SV% and minus-5.10 GSAx this season, but has been very good during the recent stretch. If he can continue this level of play in the postseason, the Penguins will not have a single weakness in the lineup.
Former Penguins’ Conor Sheary and Daniel Sprong Stand Out
The Capitals have many former Penguins on their team this season, but the two that stood out in last night’s game the most were Conor Sheary and Daniel Sprong.
Sheary had two shots in 14:58 of time on ice. He was flying all over the place, though, and creating solid scoring chances with a 0.70 xGF, which is second-most on the team, trailing just Nicklas Backstrom by 0.02. Although he was horrific in his own end, he was probably the team’s most dynamic offensive player last night, and tried his hardest to get the team a goal.
Sprong stood out to me for the first time since being moved out of Pittsburgh. The Dutch winger had two shots and five hits through 15:43. He was one of the better forwards defensively, with a 0.56 xGA, and was laying some big hits, including one on Penguins forward Sam Lafferty.
Sidney Crosby’s Struggles Continue
This two-game series was not a fun one for Penguins captain Crosby, who had zero points in 42:24 of action. Specifically in last night’s game, he was basically invisible. He was not a gamechanger by any means, and I hardly saw him with the puck.
The good news for Crosby is that the last four games of the season are against teams that have already been eliminated from playoff contention, the Philadelphia Flyers and Buffalo Sabres, so these will be very good games for him to gain some confidence and get on the board.
The Penguins will hope to get Crosby going as the playoffs creep up — they will need him to be in his best form to chase a Stanley Cup.
Improved Fourth Line Came to Play
The fourth line has been updated since the game in Boston, with Frederick Gaudreau and Sam Lafferty sliding in for Mark Jankowski and Evan Rodrigues. Quite frankly, they were much better.
For starters, Colton Sceviour looked great out there with his new linemates, with a 90.95 expected goals percentage (xG%). He played better in the offensive zone than usual, and was lock-down defensively. He seemed to be more energized and had an extra step.
Lafferty also looked terrific, with a team lead 91.16 xG%, he showed that he wants to be in the lineup come playoff time. He was seen getting into it with Tom Wilson all game long, and his grit helped energize the Penguins at times.
It is a shame that once Evgeni Malkin is back that Gaudreau will be taken out, as he has been very good. He provides speed, great skating, and a rare skillset for a bottom-six player. He will be a great extra forward for what the team hopes to be a deep playoff run.
Huge Final Stretch for the Penguins
These final four games for the Penguins are going to be huge. They are currently first in the division, but if they could win at least three of these upcoming games it would basically solidify their spot at the top.
PIT Penguins Writer THW. Twitter & Instagram: puckempire. Formerly a Florida Panthers writer.