Throughout the course of an NHL season, or most professional sports in general, there are highs and lows that show a team’s range of potential. Luckily enough, the Penguins have found themselves at a high point at the right time this season. Winning eight of their previous 11 games with one of the easier remaining schedules in the division, the Penguins seem to have finally clicked together as a group and set themselves up for a fantastic second half. This article will deconstruct the Penguins’ recent series and the three biggest takeaways from each.
New York Rangers: High-Octane Offense
The Penguins had no problem scoring in this series, putting up a total of nine goals in just two games against the Blueshirts. 13 different Penguins recorded points in the two games, including seven different players recording two or more points. Perhaps the most important part of this team’s recent scoring bonanza is the second line finally gaining some chemistry and confidence. Malkin, Kapanen, and Rodrigues formed the second line for this series, recording nine combined points.
The first and third lines continued to be the trustworthy backbone of the strong offensive corps by scoring goals at a constant pace, and goaltending continued to hold strong for the opportunities allowed. The second line finally finding their stride with one another is the fuel this team needed to finally get some more depth scoring, making them a scary team (when healthy) down the stretch.
Buffalo Sabres: Special Teams
One of the predominant separations between the Sabres and Penguins in their first seasonal showdown was the dominance of the Penguins’ special teams and the lack thereof for the Sabres. The Penguins had four power play opportunities in the series, scoring on two of them. The two power play tallies by Jake Guentzel gave the Pens a 50 percent power play percentage over these two games, well over their season average of 19.2 percent, which puts them at 20th in the NHL.
On top of having a spectacular power play with great puck movement in this series, the Penguins also managed to shut down the Sabres’ power play. The Sabres have the 14th best power play in the league, sitting at 22.9 percent. The Sabres mustered up four power plays over the course of the two games, scoring no goals on those opportunities. The Penguins’ penalty kill limited quality chances and had a 100% success rate, while their season average hovers around 77%, currently 17th in the NHL.
Boston Bruins: Lack of Discipline
The Penguins walked into the two-game stint in Pittsburgh against the Bruins riding a five-game winning streak during which they had only allowed 33 total penalty minutes for the opposition. In the two-game series with Boston, the Pens were in the box for 29 minutes, including 21 in the second game of a back-to-back. The Bruins went 2/8 on the chances the Penguins gave them, both serving as game-opening tallies for each of the games.
While the Bruins only operated at 25 percent efficiency on the power play (which is just above league average), the Penguins granted them way too many opportunities with a man advantage. The Penguins were in the penalty box for 35 percent of the second game, making it extremely difficult for them to get any sort of momentum going. The Penguins also didn’t do themselves any favors by letting Boston get the first lead in each game, a situation they find themselves in often this season.
New Jersey Devils: Not Opportunistic Enough
The Penguins played a three-game mini-series against the Devils, coming out 1-1-1. While the Penguins most certainly had more firepower on offense than New Jersey, they were incapable of finding the back of the net at the right times. The Pens outshot the Devils 107-95 in these three games, only mustering six goals in that span, amounting to a team save percentage (SV%) of .944 over that span.
Goaltender Scott Wedgewood was red hot in this series, posting a .930 SV% in his two games played. Wedgewood came in as a last-minute replacement for Mackenzie Blackwood, who was injured during warmups of the first matchup. To put it simply, Pittsburgh and New Jersey were neck and neck in this series performance-wise, but a combination of important players being injured with amazing goaltending resulted in the Penguins walking away with three of a possible six points.
Buffalo Sabres #2: Playing Through Adversity
The second dose of the injury bug hit the Penguins in the weeks leading up to the second series with Buffalo, this time affecting the offense more-so than the defense. The Penguins found themselves without some of their most important players in the likes of Evgeni Malkin, Kasperi Kapanen, Jason Zucker, Teddy Blueger, and Brandon Tanev, to name a few. The Penguins now have a total of 135 man-games lost in this season alone.
The Penguins were in desperate need of the “next man up” mentality with the condition of their forward corps, and they proved they were capable of it in the series with Buffalo. Despite missing the entirety of the second and third lines, the Penguins still combined for nine goals in two games, with point contributions from 11 different forwards alone. The first line continued to lead the way as they have all season long, combining for nine points in the two games. Casey DeSmith and Tristan Jarry continued to play lights out in net, combining for .969 SV% in the two games.
While the Penguins have been unlucky when it comes to injuries, they’ve created their own luck on the ice to hit their stride at the right time. They have continued on their tradition of strong March performances with a record of 10-3-1, putting themselves in a terrific position for the final playoff push. (from ‘Tim Benz: Biggest hurdle to overcome for Penguins — and every other East Division contender,’ Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 03/24/2021) If the Penguins can manage to get their stars back on the ice and stay healthy, there should be no reason why the Penguins can’t surge to first in the division and claim home-ice advantage come playoff time.
Born and raised in Raleigh, NC. Played and coached hockey since 2008. Amateur Sports Writer of 2 years. Attending North Carolina State University. Writer for the Pittsburgh Penguins.