The Pittsburgh Penguins played their first hockey game since March on Tuesday against their rivals the Philadelphia Flyers. It was the first game in months for both teams and ended in overtime. The Penguins will play the Montreal Canadiens in the play-in round and they have four players who fans will need to keep a close eye on.
Jake Guentzel was on pace to a career season before he had shoulder surgery in December, which forced him to miss the remainder of the season. He had 20 goals and 43 points in 39 games, which put him on pace for 42 goals and 90 points, if he played a full 82-game season. Guentzel was questionable for the playoffs, but with a four-and-a-half-month stoppage, the forward recovered and will be available to the team in the play-in round.
He is a proven playoff performer, totaling 24 goals and 43 points in 41 games for the Penguins, although he struggled in the 2018-19 postseason like the rest of his teammates. He will be playing on Sidney Crosby’s line as he did during Tuesday night’s exhibition game. Conor Sheary was reacquired by the Penguins at the trade deadline and reunited with the two. The forward will help in bringing back the line’s playoff success. Guentzel had an assist in the exhibition game against the Flyers as Sheary scored the first goal in the NHL’s return to action.
“We feed off each other, we know each other,” Guentzel said to NBC Sports. “If we have that opportunity, hopefully we have time to get that chemistry back.”
Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry
The Penguins have split the goaltending duties between Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry all season. Murray has been the starter for the Penguins since the team won the Stanley Cup in 2015-16. With Jarry developing into an NHL-calibre goaltender, head coach Mike Sullivan had the option to split time between the two.
Throughout the season Jarry has had a 2.43 goals against average (GAA) and a .921 save percentage (SV%), which is better than Murray’s 2.87 GAA and .899 SV%. The goaltending decision will extend farther past the postseason. Whoever becomes the starter in the playoffs will likely be the goalie that the team decides to re-sign, as both goalies are restricted free agents this offseason. Jarry (24) is only a year younger than Murray (25), so the two will be playing for their jobs in Pittsburgh.
The Penguins added Jason Zucker in a trade with the Minnesota Wild for Alex Galchenyuk, defenseman prospect Calen Addison and a first-round pick in the 2020 or 2021 NHL draft. Zucker has been a great addition to the Penguins’ lineup so far. The forward scored 6 goals and 12 points in 15 games since joining the club. Although he has been great in the regular season for them so far, it will be interesting to see how he performs in the postseason.
During his time with the Wild, he has struggled to produce during the postseason. Through 31 playoff games, he has only scored four goals and eight points. This could easily change as he will play with an elite forward in Evgeni Malkin since Guentzel has returned to play with Crosby. Zucker will be the key to pushing the Penguins over the top in the play-in round.
Penguins Are a Cup Contender
From returning players to new ones, the play-in round will play a significant part in the Penguin’s future. If the team happens to lose in this round, they will have an opportunity to win the lottery for the first-overall pick in the upcoming draft. The team and its fan base are not looking forward to losing and are hungry for another Stanley Cup, which would be their third in five years.
Regardless of how the regular season plays out, as long as they are in the playoffs and with Malkin and Crosby in the lineup, the Penguins are always a threat for the Cup. Zucker and Guentzel can make the team an even bigger threat if they produce as expected.