Penguins Weekly: Bottom-Six Steps Up, Pettersson Contributes & More

The Pittsburgh Penguins have turned the page on the second week of the NHL season, splitting a pair of games against the Dallas Stars and Toronto Maple Leafs. The past two games returned familiar themes from the season’s opening stanza. Marcus Pettersson flaunts his offensive instincts from the blue line, the team’s forward depth steps up in absence of its stars, and Tristan Jarry continues to enjoy a return to form. Let’s dig in.

Pettersson Shows Offensive Chops

Paul Coffey, Sergei Gonchar, Kris Letang…Marcus Pettersson? When it comes to the franchise’s most gifted defensemen, the Swedish blueliner will never figure into the discussion, but did he ever have himself a week to remember. Across the two games on the schedule, Pettersson tallied four points (one goal, three assists) and now finds himself tied for first among Penguins’ defensemen in scoring — unfamiliar terrain for the 25-year-old defensive stalwart.

Marcus Pettersson, Pittsburgh Penguins
Marcus Pettersson, Pittsburgh Penguins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In addition, the Penguins’ net was untouchable with Pettersson roaming the ice, as the team controlled 68 percent of shot attempts and outscored the opposition 6-1 in the rearguard’s 38 minutes at five-on-five against Dallas and Toronto. His career-high is 22 points in 69 games in 2019-20, proposing that he likely trails off as the year progresses. However, welcome contributions from unexpected sources make a world of difference in the long run, and Pittsburgh should look back fondly on the early returns if the season brings significant playoff success.

Bottom-Six Dominance

Although the Penguins’ big guns are approaching a much-anticipated return to the lineup, their continued absence demands that the team’s depth replaces a sizeable amount of their significant offensive production and defensive impacts. Luckily, in the Pittsburgh tradition, relative unknowns have contributed, keeping the Penguins afloat through the tail-end of October.

In the 7-1 dismantling of the struggling Maple Leafs, Evan Rodrigues (one goal, one assist), Drew O’Connor (two goals), and Danton Heinen (two assists) all featured heavily in the final score. O’Connor and Heinen teamed up with winger Jason Zucker to form a makeshift second line, outscoring Toronto 3-0 and claiming 74 percent of the expected goals (xGF%). Although Toronto kicked their teeth in at five-on-five on Saturday (19 percent Corsi For percentage), the Zach Aston-Reese, Teddy Blueger, and Brock McGinn line dominated against the Dallas Stars, controlling 84 percent of the shot attempts while posting a 94 percent xG share. No matter who Pittsburgh has thrown into the fire, they’ve delivered admirably.

Related: Penguins Need these Players to Step Up During Malkin/Crosby Absence

It’s nearly impossible to win in the NHL without a leading star or two, but often a difference in the quality of depth enjoyed by two competing squads creates a tilt in on-ice results. As Pittsburgh showed against Toronto, when the primary scorers are not firing on all cylinders, the unheralded worker bees at the bottom of the lineup can be of immense value.

Jarry Continues Early Resurgence in Pittsburgh Net

Even though I wrote of Tristan Jarry‘s strong season debut in last week’s roundup, I couldn’t help but give him another feature for this entry. The Penguins’ netminder posted identical statistical lines for both matchups, saving a total of 56 of 58 shots against the Stars and Maple Leafs. Although he was only rewarded with a win for the second game, his performances were sturdy enough to warrant an undefeated record this week.

Tristan Jarry Pittsburgh Penguins
Tristan Jarry, Pittsburgh Penguins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The 26-year-old goaltender elevated his 2021-22 record to 3-0-1, and currently boasts a save percentage (SV%) of .943 through four games. According to data provided by MoneyPuck, Jarry ranks fourth in the NHL in goals saved above expected, behind only Frederik Andersen, Igor Shesterkin, and Sergei Bobrovsky. His excellence thus far could be a premature mirage, but his career SV% of .913 suggests he more or less maintains this level of performance through most of the season. In any case, that Pittsburgh finds itself tied for seventh by points percentage is a testament to the team’s resilience while its entrenched stars battle to return to full health.

Week Three Preview

As the 2021-22 calendar flips to week three, the Penguins look to remain undefeated in regulation and add to their stellar goal differential (+11; tied for second in the NHL). Next, Pittsburgh takes on the Tampa Bay Lightning (2-2-1), the Calgary Flames (2-1-1), and the New Jersey Devils (3-1-0), hoping to maintain their grip on the Metropolitan Division’s third and final automatic playoff spot. Tune in next week for another edition of Penguins’ weekly.

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