This past weekend was Masters Weekend on the east coast, and if we’re looking at the lowest score, Keith Yandle is leading the NHL’s green jacket race with a minus-41. The play of the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers, however, bring us back to the Eastern Conference for this Weekly Lost & Found edition.
While one team is still fighting to officially clinch a playoff spot, the other has clinched its first playoff berth since losing in the 2019-20 bubble’s opening round. If you discount that, then it’s the first since the 2016-17 season. Let’s get started.
Lost: Pittsburgh Penguins Limp Through Past 10 Games
The Pittsburgh Penguins are limping toward the end of the regular season. They’ve won three of their past 10 games, and were on their second four-game losing streak of the year until an overtime victory over the Nashville Predators on April 10. That win put them at 1-3 this past week.
Scoring 33 goals isn’t bad over a 10-game span, especially when the power play is operating at roughly 27 percent, however, a big problem is having allowed 37 goals. It’s not necessarily the penalty killing units’ faults, as they’ve killed about 85 percent of opposing power plays, but the Penguins’ goaltending has struggled mightily.
Starter Tristan Jarry has regressed from his play during some of his prior Weekly Lost & Found appearances, and won just one of his past seven games, while allowing 24 goals with an .894 save percentage (SV%). Casey DeSmith has seen limited action this season, but is 2-0-1 in his past four games, having allowed eight goals and holding a .922 SV%.
Sidney Crosby is officially a 1,400-point scorer in the NHL following a two-goal, three-point performance in that April 10 win. It’s just another milestone in his Hall of Fame career. He’s scored six goals and 11 points in his past nine games.
Meanwhile, Evgeni Malkin has recorded 11 points in his past nine games, and Jake Guentzel has eight in his past 10. Their longtime staple on the blue line, Kris Letang, has contributed 10 points over his past 10 games as well. Evidently, the Penguins are getting the necessary contributions from their star players, but they really need to see some consistency in goal to turn things around.
The team is in a tough spot. They have three games this week, including a home-and-home against a New York Islanders team that has played arguably its best hockey since the All-Star break. Despite sitting third in the Metropolitan Division, the Washington Capitals are hot on their heels with two games in hand. The Penguins need to turn things around to officially clinch that playoff berth, and try and fight to get the best seeding possible.
Found: New York Rangers’ Offense and Goaltending Propel Playoff Berth
The New York Rangers are back in the playoffs. A big factor in their clinching a playoff berth was winning 11 of their past 15 games, while achieving 23-of-30 potential points. That included earning seven-of-eight points this past week which sees them take a three-game winning streak into this week.
The goals have come in a big way, they’ve scored 52 and allowed just 37. Their penalty kill, which was at one point one of the NHL’s best, has dropped off a bit, as they killed roughly 76 percent of opposing power plays over that 15-game span. On the flip side, their power play has been great, scoring at about 27 percent over that stretch, and Chris Kreider is a big part of its success.
If you want to talk about a career year, you can talk with Kreider, the current longest-tenured Ranger. His 49 goals have smashed his previous total of 28, and his 70 points have surpassed his previous 53, which he coincidentally achieved in the aforementioned 2016-17 season. The soon-to-be-31-year-old power forward has also set the Rangers franchise record for power-play goals and game-winning goals with 25 and 10, respectively. He has 11 goals in his past 15 games.
However, he hasn’t been doing it alone. Artemi Panarin has tallied 19 assists and 25 points, while Mika Zibanejad has added five goals and 16 points in their past 15 games. In 10 games since being traded to the Rangers, Andrew Copp has 11 points and is making a serious case for general manager Chris Drury to re-sign him. Similarly, Frank Vatrano’s scored six goals and nine points in his 13 games since being acquired.
Related: Rangers Need to Re-Sign Copp During the Offseason
Vezina hopeful Igor Shesterkin has kept his solid play going. He’s won six of his past 10 games, allowed 22 goals and held a .914 SV% with a shutout. His backup has played a lot better of late, despite a sub-.900 SV%. Alexandar Georgiev has won five games in six appearances and allowed 14 goals with a shutout.
The Rangers need to keep doing what they’re doing as the playoffs come near. They’ll play three games this week, but just one against a fellow playoff team, the Carolina Hurricanes. These games still hold importance in terms of seeding. They’ll want to finish strong to help drive them into the playoffs.
The Penguins’ goaltending needs to establish consistency as their season winds down and they look towards the postseason. Meanwhile, if the Rangers can keep rolling, they may be able to make more noise than may have been anticipated at the start of the season — they just need to fix their penalty killing. For coverage on those teams, the rapidly approaching NHL Entry Draft and more, stick with The Hockey Writers.