Heading into the All-Star Break; Pittsburgh on Pace to Defend Title

The Pittsburgh Penguins are off to an 8-3 start in 2018 and because of that, they sit in third place in the Metropolitan Division at the all-star break with a 27-21-3 record with 55 points. If the season ended right now, they would face the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second consecutive season. It is quite possible that Columbus and Pittsburgh might meet each other once again in the first round this postseason. It is also possible Pittsburgh meets the Washington Capitals for the third consecutive season.

Time will tell but in order for Pittsburgh to stay in good playoff positioning, they will have to continue scoring goals. Pittsburgh’s record so far this season when they score three goals or more is 25-5-2. When they don’t, they’re 2-16-1.

The Penguins lost goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, defenseman Trevor Daley and Ron Hainsey, forwards Chris Kunitz, Nick Bonino, and Matt Cullen in the offseason. Pittsburgh has done a nice job filling those voids. They acquired defenseman Jamie Oleksiak from the Dallas Stars back in December. He has made the defense look so much better. Oleksiak has scored two goals and recorded two assists in 16 games with them.

Centerman Riley Sheahan was acquired from the Detroit Red Wings back in October. In 42 games, he has scored four goals and recorded 11 assists. Sheahan has played third line center for most of the season.

The Penguins have relied on the farm system a lot this season and that’s not a bad thing. Goalies Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith, along with forwards J.S. Dea, Dominik Simon, and Daniel Sprong have helped contribute so far this season. Dea scored his first career NHL goal in Pittsburgh’s 3-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes just a few days ago. Dominik Simon has scored four goals and recorded five assists in 16 games so far this season. He has played on Sidney Crosby’s line often. Daniel Sprong has played in eight games so far this season and he scored two goals and recorded one assist. Sprong also played on Crosby’s line, but Sprong was sent back down to the minors.

Crosby has scored 17 goals and recorded 38 assists so far this season. Phil Kessel leads the Penguins in points with 58 (21 goals and 37 assists). Evgeni Malkin has scored 23 goals and recorded 29 assists so far this season. Patric Hornqvist has scored 15 goals and recorded 14 assists so far this season. Jake Guentzel has scored 15 goals and recorded 10 assists so far this season. Conor Sheary has scored 12 goals and recorded seven assists so far this season. Kris Letang has scored three goals and recorded 25 assists so far this season.

Matt Murray’s record so far this season is 15-12-1 with a .903 save percentage and a 2.93 GAA, along with one shutout. Murray missed some time recently to be home in Ontario because his father passed away. Murray hasn’t started a game since January 4 against the Carolina Hurricanes, but the last time he played in a game was on January 7 against the Boston Bruins.

Casey DeSmith has started the past four games for the Penguins. His record is 3-2 with a .927 save percentage and a 2.08 GAA. Because of DeSmith’s recent success, goalie Tristan Jarry was sent back down to the minors. Jarry’s record with Pittsburgh was 9-4-2 with a .919 save percentage and a 2.44 GAA, along with two shutouts. Jarry is one of Pittsburgh’s MVP’s in the first half of the season whether you believe it or not.

With the Antti Niemi experiment failing from the start, Pittsburgh decided to waive him after three games and his save percentage was a horrendous .797 with a 7.50 GAA. They decided to call up Jarry and Pittsburgh was much better in the second game of back-to-backs. Pittsburgh was 0-4 in the second game of back to backs before Jarry was called up. Since then, Pittsburgh is 4-0-2 in the second game of back-to-backs. The fourth win was by Casey DeSmith and Jarry backed up that game.

Pittsburgh has the top power play percentage in the league (27.1%). Pittsburgh has the seventh best power play percentage in the league (82.9%). Having good special teams is a key in order for the Pittsburgh Penguins to win a third straight championship. It hasn’t happened since the New York Islanders have won four straight in the early 1980s.

Will Pittsburgh make a trade before the deadline? I don’t think they should but they might anyway. Pittsburgh could trade defenseman Ian Cole and/or forward Carl Hagelin but I don’t see it now. There were rumors in December that the Penguins were looking to trade defenseman Kris Letang, but that was a false rumor. If the Penguins play at a high level in the final 31 games of the regular season, they will most likely make it to the postseason for the 12th consecutive season. Pittsburgh currently has the longest playoff streak in the NHL.

 

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