They’ve been called the “Three-Headed Monster“. They are the Penguins’ most recognizable, expensive and skilled players. They are also reason that going into the All-Star Break, the Penguins sit in the third playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division.
Yes, all of the teams below the Penguins have games in hand. In fact, the four teams right behind the Penguins in the standings (the New Jersey Devils, Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers and New York Islanders) are all within one win of catching up to the Penguins’ 57 points. But the Penguins have every reason to feel hopeful about their rise in the standings, however temporary it may be.
In the seven games since their bye week the first week of January, the Penguins have been carried by Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, the three of whom have bolstered the team to a winning record and the best power play in the NHL since the bye week.
The Penguins’ Big Three
Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin, and Sidney Crosby are the reason this team has been winning since their bye week. Those three players all hitting their stride at the same time results in a formidable three-line rotation and a lethal first power-play unit. In the seven games since the bye week, Malkin has 10 points (6-4), Kessel 11 (3-8) and Crosby 12 (2-10.) Crosby has gotten on the scoreboard in nine straight games, and six out of those nine have been multi-point nights.
Those ridiculous numbers have resulted in the best power play in the NHL; the Penguins’ 27.1-percent conversion rate is an entire eight percent higher than the league average. Overall, the Penguins’ big three were part of 25 of the Penguins’ 31 goals since the bye week. That means Crosby, Malkin or Kessel have been involved in over 80 percent of the Penguins’ scoring these past seven games.
Joining the NHL Scoring Race
Although it almost certainly matters less to the players than the playoff spot they’ve gained, these hot streaks have also put the Penguins’ stars very suddenly into contention for the points race. Kessel is third in the league in scoring at 58, behind league-leader Nikita Kucherov by only five points; Crosby sits at ninth with 55 points, and Malkin at 14th with 39. (For reference, before the bye week, none of the three were in the top 10, and Malkin wasn’t even in the top 20.)
The Penguins are the only team in the league with three players in the top 15 in scoring right now, as well as one of only three teams with multiple players in the top 15 (the other two teams being the New York Islanders and the Tampa Bay Lightning). That impressive display of depth is an example of the advantage the Penguins have over other teams when their stars are hot; they’re able to roll out high-level scoring from the first line all the way down to the third, which makes finding appropriate defensive matchups very difficult for opposing teams.
Related: Penguins Fourth Line Finds a Spark
Good Signs for the Penguins’ Roster
These three stars performing well for the Penguins is much more advantageous for the team than just one line becoming hot. Because Crosby, Malkin and Kessel are deployed on three separate lines, consistent scoring from all three stars means that the Penguins are starting to find reliable combinations throughout their roster instead of leaning heavily on any single line. While the Penguins still have lingering issues in getting consistent scoring from their fourth line, this surge in scoring from the Penguins’ three stars could be a sign that their lineup, which often seemed out-of-sync throughout the first half of the season, is beginning to click.
Julia Stumbaugh is a student at the College of William & Mary.