The rest of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ roster is joining in on a surge started by their three stars as the they continue to roll through 2018. With a victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets Sunday evening, they’ve now won five straight.
After the first few wins were created purely by a push from the roster’s big names and a red-hot power play, the rest of the team is now starting to gain momentum and join in on the scoring — bringing with them proof of depth that could push the Penguins through the last stretch of the season.
The Big Three After the Bye Week
In the last game before leaving for their bye week, the Penguins won against the Boston Bruins in overtime, 6-5. That win before the break sparked a run that included winning eight of the team’s next ten matches. The Penguins were rolling; they were getting solid goaltending and outscoring their opponents by wide margins. There was only one caveat: the considerable majority of that scoring was coming from a very limited number of players.
In those first five games after the bye week, four of which were wins, the Penguins scored 21 goals. Only nine of those were scored by players not named Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin or Phil Kessel. Those three were responsible for more than half of the goals during that streak; in fact, in the Penguins’ first eight games and 31 goals since the bye week, the Penguins’ three biggest players contributed 25 out of 31 goals, making them responsible for over 80% of the scoring.
Although it was good for the team to see their three most offensively-skilled players making a push for the Penguins to climb back into the playoff picture, there was some concern as to whether or not they had the roster depth to keep the momentum going if one of the stars cooled off or got injured. This question of whether this roster had enough energy in its depth players to back the stars up has been answered.
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Penguins’ Current Win Streak
The Penguins have put up five wins over the St. Louis Blues, Ottawa Senators, LA Kings, Toronto Maple Leafs and, finally, divisional rival Columbus Blue Jackets, to give them a perfect stretch since Feb. 11. They’ve scored 23 goals in those five games, including five each in two back-to-back matches. The distribution of who’s been scoring those 23 goals could not be more different from the goals at the beginning of the Penguins’ hot streak.
The Penguins’ big three only scored five of those 23 (two from Crosby, three from Malkin); the rest have been distributed through the roster. Riley Sheahan has put up three, while newly called-up Zach Aston-Reese has tallied four. Defensemen have been scoring as Olli Maatta, Brian Dumoulin and Kris Letang have gotten on the score sheet. Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust have notched a couple each. 10 of the 23 goals haven’t involved Kessel, Malkin or Crosby at all.
That wider distribution of goal scorers means a couple things. It means that some Penguins’ players are finally finding a scoring touch, like Sheahan and Carl Hagelin. And even more importantly, only two of these 23 goals were scored on the power play — the Penguins are finding the ability not only to put up depth scoring but to put up depth scoring at even strength. That feels much more maintainable than the earlier streak driven by superstars on a super-hot power play.
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Penguins’ Lingering Depth Problems
The Penguins spent the earlier half of the season looking for even-strength depth scoring. The fact that they’re finding it now means that they’re heating up going into the last crucial stretch of the season. There’s only one problem: the Penguins are still struggling to find production from their fourth line.
Fourth-line center Carter Rowney’s last goal, for example, was over two months ago, and that was just his second of the season. That might be something the Penguins will look to find a solution for at the trade deadline.
This five-game stretch the Penguins are riding right now shows that they have the momentum throughout the roster to keep their scoring up even beyond their big guns, which is nothing but a good sign for this team heading into the playoffs. General manager Jim Rutherford will look to see if he can’t extend that to the very bottom of the roster heading into the deadline.
Julia Stumbaugh is a student at the College of William & Mary.