Before the Pittsburgh Penguins left for their three-game road trip last week, they were on a seven-game losing streak, outscored 33 to 16 in that time. Their play was poor, showing no indication of the team’s potential.
This road trip was different, coming out of it with a 2-0-1 record. They beat the lowly Washington Capitals 4-1 and the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-2. Scoring 12 goals over the three games, their trip ended on Saturday night (Nov. 12) against the Montreal Canadiens, a 5-4 overtime loss.
Penguins Offensive Production & Defensive Shuffles
The team’s top left wingers helped the Penguins get on the right track to begin their road trip. Jake Guentzel and Jason Zucker each had a goal on Thursday night and continue to contribute with 13 points each. Brock McGinn has struggled but found the back of the net with his second goal of the season. The help from the supporting cast of forwards allowed the team to find production from further down the lineup, which reduced the pressure on the top two lines. Head coach Mike Sullivan made some changes to the bottom lines as Kasperi Kapanen was scratched, allowing Filip Hallander to make his season debut.
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Sullivan also shuffled his defenseman ahead of the team’s matchup against the Capitals. Brian Dumoulin was removed from the top pairing after struggling during the team’s losing streak. He was demoted to the third pairing alongside right-handed shot Jan Rutta. Pierre-Olivier Joseph and Jeff Petry played on the second pairing, and Marcus Pettersson moved up to play on the left side of Kris Letang. Joseph and Rutta both left Wednesday’s game (Nov.9) with injuries, but the team got some help from the back end as Petry scored from just inside the blue line.
Malkin & Second Line Leading the Way
After coming off a 4-1 win against the Capitals, the team flew into Toronto with a little more confidence. Evgeni Malkin came into the game scoreless in his last three, but after taking two penalties, he scored late in the first period and tallied his 450th career goal. He was an offensive threat in Friday night’s win – he was in “beast mode,” according to Sullivan.
On Saturday night (Nov.12), Malkin scored off one of Zucker’s three assists. The second line has led the way in the Penguins’ last three games, recording 11 points. Rickard Rakell also hit the scoresheet with a goal and an assist, but it wasn’t enough to finish off the trip with six points. Even though Sullivan’s team scored four goals in each of the three away games, he was still disappointed with the outcome. “When you get five out of six points out of three games on the road, most coaches would probably take that,” Sullivan said. “But when it’s there for you to get six, it’s a little bit disappointing.”
Bottom Forwards & Goaltending
The third line has produced six points in the last three games. Over the three-game stretch, the Penguins forwards got some help from McGinn, who recorded another goal, scoring in three straight games. He has fit in nicely on Sullivan’s third line, playing alongside veteran Jeff Carter and Danton Heinen.
On the fourth line, Kapanen was brought back into the lineup after being scratched the previous two games. He has become an early-season trade candidate as his five-on-five play has been dismal, with five points in 13 games. Known for his penalty killing, he hasn’t been able to contribute when down a man, and the team is ranked in the bottom half of the league.
Casey DeSmith improved during the road trip, stopping 52 shots over his two starts against the Capitals and Leafs. He won in back-to-back games, improving his record to 2-3-1 with a .915 save percentage. After struggling early in the season, DeSmith looked more confident and played a tighter game. He shut out star players like Alex Ovechkin, Auston Matthews, and Mitch Marner in the team’s wins. He should gain momentum from his two starts and build on that confidence.
There are a lot of great takeaways from the team’s three-game trip. Sullivan should be content with their scoring ability, getting production from top players and forwards who are further down in the lineup. The team also played physically during that stretch, registering 93 hits. DeSmith did his part, only allowing three goals in starts against the Capitals and Maple Leafs. The Penguins will look to build on their five points in their last three games when they host the Maple Leafs on Tuesday (Nov. 15).
4th Year Student at Toronto Metropolitan University covering the Pittsburgh Penguins with The Hockey Writers. Check out my Twitter Page @pressboxpedia !