As it is with everything I write, the first one is a work in progress. I want to talk more about hockey because that is really what keeps Pittsburgh going in the winter. So every Monday, I’ll be here to give you a recap of what happened and a look at all the goals scored for the week. The Penguins managed to end the week with a 1-1-1 record after a terrible performance in Boston. They keep finding their way to at least overtime which has helped them stay in fourth in the division. They have to start to rack up some regulation wins as they have handed too many points to other teams in this division. They now trail Boston by one point and have New Jersey and Buffalo nipping at their heals one point behind. The team finishes up the road trip tonight against the Rangers before heading home.
Tuesday started with the Penguins falling behind 2-0 before starting the comeback in the third period. The defense continues to struggle, especially to start games. They’ve trailed in each of their last seven games despite scoring a point in six of them. Injuries have played a part in that as Brian Dumoulin joined the list with Marcus Pettersson, Mike Matheson, and Juuso Riikola. They managed to hold off the Bruins in the third to get to overtime and grab a point but the Bruins shut the door when Craig Smith scored with 11 seconds left.
To try and spark Malkin, Coach Sullivan has paired him with Kaspari Kapanen to try and recapture the magic from lines prior that included James Neal and Phil Kessel. He looked better in this game compared to others this season, but he still isn’t up to where they need him to be. But in perfect Penguins fashion, the game was on his stick and too much passing led to a missed opportunity.
Kapanen has looked good on the second line though and has been flying around the ice. It finally paid off as he got behind the defense for his first goal. We thought he would appear on the Crosby line to start the season but after easing in on the bottom six, he has found a home with Malkin and Zucker.
The second game against Boston resulted in the Penguins being completely outplayed, mainly in part to the lack of help on the back end. The Penguins have signed Yannick Weber but he was not able to make it to Boston quick enough to play Thursday so they resulted to Kevin Czuczman who quickly gave up the first goal with a bad attempt at clearing the puck. The Bruins were able to manage the game and play their style the rest of the way. The combination of a weak defensive group and below average goaltending is something that can’t happen going up against one of the top teams in the east. I had all the hope in the world that Jarry would step up and be an elite goaltender this year but I would ride with DeSmith for now until he can figure some things out. He doesn’t have it all figured out either but Jarry is almost giving up four goals per game.
All of the injuries has opened the door for Pierre-Olivier Joseph who has now jumped all of the way up to the first pairing. He was drafted in the first round by the Arizona Coyotes and was moved to Pittsburgh when Phil Kessel was sent out west. He spent almost 26 minutes on the ice and assisted on three of the five goals. As shaky as the defense as a whole has been, he has only been a minus in one of his five games. Despite the ineffectiveness of this defense, you have to look at the young group of POJ and John Marino and like where you’re headed. The only concern is whether they can continue to bring guys in. Both of them came from trades. With their draft picks, the front office needs to make better selections that can come up and help these two out.
Saturday night, it looked like we weren’t going to get to watch much 5 on 5 hockey right from the jump. The Rangers take a penalty 12 seconds into the game but the Penguins can’t do anything with it. They rebounded and got a penalty of their own. They had chances but, with DeSmith in net, the Penguins were able to kill and get back to even strength.
A great play by the young guns of Kapanen and Joseph led to the first goal by Zucker. Escaping the defensive zone is a frustrating part of this team’s game but they were able to get out there and put it in the net. The Penguins were able to get one more goal off of a deflection from Brandon Tanev to take the lead going into the first intermission.
Kapanen scores on a breakaway in the second period to take a 3-2 lead, once again showing off his phenomenal speed. The concerning part in the second period was the toll the injuries are taking on the defense. Kris Letang left which left an already depleted squad with five guys. John Marino is going to have a great career but he’s making a few too many mistakes early on in the season with a bigger workload. He gave up the 2-0 chance that lead to the Rangers second goal and took two penalties in the period, the latter of which resulted in the Rangers fourth goal.
Rutherford out as GM
The news was a shocking development Wednesday afternoon as the team looks for defenders to make up for all of the injuries. Patrik Allvin will now be tasked with that duty as the Penguins search for a new GM. He has spent 14 seasons as a scout before being promoted in November to assistant GM. Now, only 12 weeks later, he gets another promotion to interim GM.
The big news off the ice this week is the retiring or stepping down of Jim Rutherford. He cited personal reasons for stepping away but rumors are swirling due to a trade that ownership would not allow involving Kris Letang.
“It just got to a point that I decided my time was up here,” Rutherford told The Associated Press, stressing that the move had nothing to do with his health.
“I know everybody wants to refer to my age all the time,” the 71-year-old Rutherford added, with a laugh. “The guy who has the toughest job in the world, who just got elected [78-year-old President Joe Biden] is way older than me. … I feel good. I feel good and healthy, and if there’s an opportunity that presents itself, [I will listen].”
POJ continues to play more and more minutes without waivering with his performance. Coach Sullivan says it a lot better than I can but right now, he is the top defender for the Penguins at only 21 years old.
The Penguins can’t seem to find a goalie that can consistently make big saves. They are in the bottom half of the league in shots allowed but can’t get a .900+ save percantage night from either Jarry or DeSmith. DeSmith is the better option at this point but as he showed in the Rangers game, he leaves rebounds in terrible positions that lead to easy goals.
The power play is now -2 in the last four games. No goals have been scored for the group but two pucks have gone the other way for short handers. This was supposed to be an improved power play group with Reirden taking over that group.
Luck is not on the Penguins side as the injuries are racking up on the defensive end. I’m not sure what is out there but a trade might be needed with so many guys out long term. You have probably three guys in the lineup right now that are better suited as seventh defenders.