The Pittsburgh Penguins improved to a 32-14-3 record after a close win against the Boston Bruins. Jake Guentzel scored the lone goal in the game. The Penguins now stand at first in the East division with seven games remaining. Here are five takeaways from this game.
Penguins Shut Down David Pastrnak
David Pastrnak had just two goals in his last 12 games going into yesterday’s match, and the Penguins’ main goal was to keep the former Maurice Richard Trophy winner off of the board, which they succeeded in. Pastrnak led the Bruins in expected goals percentage (xGF%) and created the most offensive chances as well, however, he was unable to convert.
Pastrnak was also stopped during his playmaking attempts as well, as Mike Matheson broke up a cross-ice pass to diminish his zone entry. It was obvious he was frustrated with the lack of converting on chances like that all night long.
Pastrnak is the Bruins’ biggest threat if the two teams match up in the postseason, and Pittsburgh will need to make it their top priority to keep his chances limited and keep him to the outside of the hash marks, where his shot is most lethal. If they can do this, it won’t be hard to shut down the rest.
Mike Sullivan Does Not Trust the Fourth Line
If it was not obvious that head coach Mike Sullivan did not trust the fourth line already, it is now. Mark Jankowski, Colton Sceviour and Evan Rodrigues all saw minimal ice time, and really did not do much with it when they got the chance, they were invisible all game and all replaceable.
The Penguins can’t win the Stanley Cup if they are only playing three lines. During the back-to-back years, it was their ability to run four lines that propelled them to their success. It’s pretty evident at this point that the team is just hanging on until the return of Evgeni Malkin and Brandon Tanev so that they can swap out Jankowski and Sceviour.
Once those two are back, the Penguins will be able to confidently run all four forward lines for the first time since the 2017 championship win. I presume we’ll see a return of Zach Aston-Reese, Teddy Blueger and Tanev on the fourth line, and the current second line bumped down to the third line, with Rodrigues, Malkin and Kasperi Kapanen taking their place in the top-six.
Jeremy Swayman Could Be a Problem
Swayman kept the Bruins in this game. The rookie goaltender robbed the Penguins multiple times and was easily the first star.
Swayman stopped 28 of 29 shots, good for a .966 save percentage (SV%) and a 1.11 goals-saved above expected (GSAx). He used his athleticism and poise to track shots around the net, with the only goal being a Guentzel snipe up high off of a Sidney Crosby set up from the corner.
Swayman is 5-2-0 with a .943 SV% and 3.44 GSAx this season. If he keeps this up, there is no doubt that every game against the Bruins will be a struggle. The Penguins need to learn how to crack him.
Jake Guentzel: Sloppy, But Effective
Guentzel had a very weird game, he scored the lone goal off of an amazing shot, but he also made a couple of mistakes which could have very well ended up badly for Pittsburgh.
It seemed like after Crosby helped Guentzel score that goal, he had tried to repay the favor for the rest of the game, which led to a couple of bad turnovers. Specifically, the play on the empty net, where it was a two-on-one, he tried to pass it cross-ice, rather than just take the shot which had a decent chance of going in.
I love to see that chemistry from Guentzel, and I am sure it is great for morale, I just think it’s playing with fire, and you’re bound to get burnt eventually against this Bruins team.
Penguins Are in Trouble if Jared McCann Is Hurt
Let me put this simply. If Jared McCann’s injury is severe, the Penguins will not be in a good position to win the Stanley Cup. The forward got hurt late in last night’s game, clutching his arm after a check around the Bruins bench.
McCann has been very valuable during the absence of Malkin, stepping into the powerplay and doing wonders. He currently has 13 goals and 26 points through 35 games played. He also leads the team in goals above replacement (GAR) with 13.10, which shows just how valuable he has been to the team.
Jeff Carter and Jason Zucker would decline as well without the speed and finesse of McCann on their line, which would impact the depth plan. I truly believe this line can compete with the former “HBK” line during the back-to-back cup runs, so it would be a shame to see McCann out long term.
What’s Next for Pittsburgh?
As I stated, the Penguins have just seven games remaining, and if they want to stay at the top of the division, they can not afford to start losing. The next game is Tuesday night against the Bruins, followed by two each against the Washington Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers and Buffalo Sabres. Ideally should win at least four of those games.
Playoffs are approaching fast, and we may have gotten a glimpse of it in yesterday’s game.
PIT Penguins Writer THW. Twitter & Instagram: puckempire. Formerly a Florida Panthers writer.