The Pittsburgh Penguins are wrapping up a very unconventional first month of the season. Led by a forward group held together by duct tape and superglue, the Penguins have already had a five-game winning streak and three-game losing streak. That losing streak might have been extended if not for a strong performance by goaltender Matt Murray. Fortunately, a healthier roster and a trip home suggest good times ahead.
Rutherford Finally Trades a Blueliner
The league has been patiently waiting since the preseason for Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford to make a trade and, after plenty of different rumors, one blueliner was finally shipped out. The Anaheim Ducks are dealing with injuries to two major defensemen and were the perfect trade partner.
Because the Ducks were desperate for defensive bodies, the Penguins were able to ship Erik Gudbranson out west for a late-round pick and a journeyman forward. Andreas Martinsen has appeared in 113 AHL contests and 152 NHL games over the last five seasons since coming over from the DEL in Germany. However, the actual return on Gudbranson wasn’t what was so important.
Rutherford was able to pawn off Gudbranson’s entire $4 million cap hit for this season and next. Moving the big blueliner opened an NHL roster spot and gave the Penguins plenty of financial breathing room. The team was pressed against the cap ceiling but now, after the recent AHL call-ups are returned to the minors, they’ll have over $3 million in cap space. The extra money next season will go a long way in re-signing the team’s pending free agents including Murray and Jared McCann.
Murray Stifles Stars to Prevent Empty Road Trip
In a 4-2 loss to the Florida Panthers last Tuesday, Murray ended his four-game winning streak. He turned in one of his worst performances of the season, allowing three goals on just 21 shots. Although the Panthers had a bit of puck luck, Murray wasn’t at his best.
The following night, backup Tristan Jarry took his second straight tough-luck loss. After allowing just one goal in a loss to the Vegas Golden Knights a few days prior, the 24-year-old netminder squared off against the lethal Tampa Bay Lightning in enemy territory. He stood tall, making 45-of-48 saves and lost in heartbreaking fashion as the third-period horn sounded. Despite his 1-2-0 record, Jarry has a terrific 2.02 goals-against average and .939 save percentage.
Tasked with ending the team’s three-game losing streak, Murray bounced back in his second start against the Dallas Stars in nine days. The Thunder Bay native stepped up and turned away all 25 shots the Stars put on net for his first shutout of the 2019-20 campaign. With strong goaltending from both Murray and Jarry, the Penguins have allowed just 2.5 goals per game this season, ranked seventh in the NHL.
Penguins Starting to get Healthy
After trading Gudbranson the Penguins had a new problem to deal with: roster flexibility. Bryan Rust and Nick Bjugstad returned from their extended absences and Rust even pocketed a goal in his season debut. For head coach Mike Sullivan, this is a much better problem to have than what the team dealt with in the last few weeks.
With the return of the two forwards, Joseph Blandisi was relegated to the press box as a healthy scratch. After scoring a goal and an assist in his first two games this season, the 25-year-old hasn’t scored a point in his last five, registering a minus-3 with just one shot on goal.
Adam Johnson has missed the last two games with a minor upper-body issue but he might have been the other healthy scratch either way. He’s also gone five games without a point and averaged just 7:34 of ice time in that stretch. With Alex Galchenyuk and Evgeni Malkin nearing their returns, expect Blandisi and Johnson to be the first two sent back to the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
Brian Dumoulin is still out with a lower-body injury so both Juuso Riikola and John Marino will be in the lineup this week. Once Dumoulin is back on the top pairing next to Kris Letang, Riikola will likely be heading back to the bench as Sullivan appears adamant about keeping Marino in the lineup. It’s possible that the two will alternate positions regularly, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Riikola and Jack Johnson shopped around the league by Rutherford.
Three Stars of the Week
Third Star – Brandon Tanev: 2 goals, 3 shots on goal
Second Star – Jake Guentzel: 1 goal, four points, 11 shots on goal, plus-2
First Star – Matt Murray: 1-1-0, 1.51 GAA, .935 save percentage, 1 shutout
This Week’s Schedule
Tuesday, Oct. 29 – vs. Philadelphia Flyers
Saturday, Nov. 2 – vs. Edmonton Oilers
Tyler Bowen is a University of South Florida graduate and lifelong hockey fan. Tyler covers the Pittsburgh Penguins for thehockeywriters.com. You can usually find him obsessing over his fantasy teams and looking for his next gambling tip.