Last night, the Pittsburgh Penguins faced the New Jersey Devils on the road, hoping to snap out of the seemingly endless spiral they were in. The Devils have only had 4 regulation losses in their last 20 games, so it was a bleak outlook for the Penguins.
THANKFULLY, my boy Evgeni Malkin showed up to play. Off the back of a 3 point night from Malkin, the Pens toppled the Devils 5-2, to reach the 40 win mark for the 13th straight season. Which, if you think about it, is kinda wild. 13 straight 40 win seasons? You love to see it. I can only imagine a Red Wings-esque collapse is coming down the pipeline after our stars get older but I’m going to act like that’s not a possibility.
Anyways, Malkin led the team with 2 goals and 1 assist. Evan Rodrigues scored the first of the game (and as a Penguin) with an assist coming from McCann (who I fully believe should stay in the center position). Nikita Gusev tied it up about 4 minutes later to send the game to it’s 1st intermission tied.
The second period was relatively uneventful, save for the Justin Schultz goal 4 minutes in, earning Malkin his first point of the night in an assist, and Rust also getting an assist. The game went into the 2nd intermission with the Penguins leading 2-1.
The third period had a bit more action, and was something all Penguins fans love to see. Malkin put two pucks in the back of the net and Kris Letang put one in himself, after assisting on Malkin’s first of the night. Miles Wood scored with an assist going to Hischier of the Devils, but that’s all they got. So did the Penguins provide a glimmer of hope or did New Jersey just stumble through the game?
The optimist in me wants to say yes, the Penguins did in fact provide a glimmer of hope. I’m not really sold on that yet. Despite the fact that the Devils have been on a surge as of late, they are already knocked out of the playoffs. It’s hard to think the Pens would play as well as they did last night against a team who is fighting for a playoff spot. You just can’t really compare the two. The Devils don’t have much to fight for, they don’t have that sense of urgency behind their wheels.
Does that mean we should be worried still about the Penguins? Yes and no I think. Yes, because it’s only one game, and they have been pretty bad lately. No, because of Evgeni Malkin. If there has been anyone on the team lately who has been showing up huge, it’s him. That, in itself, should be a scary thing for any team playing the Penguins. When Malkin is on, he’s hands down the best player in the league, he can take over a game by himself. Malkin on his game is a beautiful sight for fans and dreadful sight for enemies. He now has 11 points in a 5 game point streak, with that coming from 4 goals and 7 assists. If he can keep this up, the Penguins should have no issues clinching a spot in the playoffs. Unfortunately, he’s not the only necessary part.
There are two other significant issues that the Penguins need to truly address before we can put faith in a long playoff run, let alone making the playoffs. Our defense and our goaltending. Our defense as of late has been absolutely atrocious. The number of odd man rushes opposing teams have had on the Penguins recently is outrageous, and should never be happening with a team of our caliber. Something needs to be fixed and it needs to happen soon. It’s not even to say that the pairings are bad, because I honestly think they are fine, the play has just not been up to par. Last night was an improvement, but they need to keep that going in a positive direction.
Lastly, we need to determine our starting goalie. It’s nice to be able to have this issue, with both goaltenders playing well (recently it has not been the goaltending that’s the issue, they’ve been hung out to dry without a doubt). That’s nice, don’t get me wrong, but they need to pick a starting goaltender. I think it’s difficult on the Penguins defense to constantly adjust to a different goaltender every night. You need consistency to get into a rhythm, and they haven’t had that. That’s no excuse for their play, but it’s part of the problem. I personally think Matt Murray is who they are going for, and I can get behind that. I don’t think he’s been the best he’s ever been, but he’s been much better of late. I trust Sully and his sense of the game. If he thinks Murray is it, then Murray should be it. That being said, they need to stick with it, we’re fast approaching the playoffs and if we want to go anywhere in them, a true number one goalie is crucial.
We’ll see tomorrow if the Penguins can compete with a team who’s fighting for a spot tomorrow, as they travel to Columbus to face the Blue Jackets at 7pm.