The back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions have had an interesting 2017-2018 so far. Pittsburgh’s record is 13-10-3 with 29 points. They are currently in fifth place in the Metropolitan Division and if the season ended today, Pittsburgh would be in the playoffs and face the Tampa Bay Lightning. Pittsburgh plays in a tough division. The thing is they are only four points back of the Columbus Blue Jackets, who are currently in first place in the Metropolitan Division.
On the second game of back-to-backs this season, the Penguins record is 1-4-2. They still have 12 more back-to-backs this season. Pittsburgh is going to need quality goaltending in those games. Matt Murray is going to be sidelined for the next couple of weeks because of a lower-body injury suffered on Monday Night against the Philadelphia Flyers. His record is 11-7-1 with a .906 save percentage and 2.95 GAA, along with one shutout.
Tristan Jarry will serve as the Penguins starting goaltender for now. He has won two consecutive games and Jarry has played well. His record is 2-0-2 with a .907 save percentage and a 2.83 GAA so far this season. Jarry has been the backup ever since Antti Niemi was waived and claimed by the Florida Panthers.
Casey DeSmith will now serve as the backup for the time being. DeSmith has appeared in one game for the Penguins this season. It was in relief against the Winnipeg Jets. His save percentage is .800 and DeSmith has a 4.29 GAA.
Time after time this season the goaltending has saved the defense from errors. However, the goalies can’t bail them out all the time though. Kris Letang has a plus/minus of -13 this season which is one of the worst in the NHL. However, he has been good offensively with one goal scored and 17 assists. Justin Schultz has scored two goals and recorded eight assists so far this season.
Olli Maatta can be stiff at times. He’s a slow skater and turns the puck over. Maatta has scored two goals and recorded nine assists so far this season. Brian Dumoulin has been an excellent shutdown defense. He might have a plus/minus of -8, but it is usually not his fault. Dumoulin plays on the same defensive unit with Kris Letang at times and that is why his plus/minus isn’t great.
Pittsburgh is trying to shop defenseman Ian Cole. He is a shutdown defenseman and Cole played a big role for the Penguins in winning back-to-back Stanley Cups. He has scored a goal and recorded two assists so far this season. Cole has been healthy scratched for the past three games. General manager Jim Rutherford thinks that he is too valuable to lose for nothing. It is possible he could be traded to the Edmonton Oilers or the Toronto Maple Leafs.
I think Carl Hagelin could be traded with him as well for cap reasons. Cole ($2.3 million) and Hagelin ($4 million) could be traded for like a Ryan Nugent-Hopkins ($6 million) or Tyler Bozak ($4.2 million). It is also possible Pittsburgh could acquire James van Riemsdyk ($4.25 million). It also wouldn’t be surprising if the Penguins added a draft pick in any of those deals.
Pittsburgh would definitely be getting depth at the center position. Bozak is a nice player, but Nugent-Hopkins is only 24 years old and a former number one overall pick. He is also under contract for a few more seasons. Nugent-Hopkins is an unrestricted free agent after the 2020-2021 season.
Nugent-Hopkins would thrive as the third line center because of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin being ahead of him. Nugent-Hopkins would also have wingers like Jake Guentzel, Phil Kessel, Conor Sheary, Bryan Rust, and/or Patric Hornqvist.
Phil Kessel leads the Penguins in points with 32 (11 goals and 21 assists). Sidney Crosby has scored 10 goals and recorded 15 assists. Evgeni Malkin has scored seven goals and recorded 14 assists. He has missed the past few games with an upper-body injury. Jake Guentzel has scored 11 goals and recorded six assists. Patric Hornqvist has scored eight goals and recorded seven assists.
Riley Sheahan was acquired in a trade from the Detroit Red Wings earlier in the season for Scott Wilson. Sheahan has played well despite only scoring one goal and recording five assists in 17 games with Pittsburgh. He is good defensively as well. When he becomes the third or fourth line center, this team will be even more dangerous.
One fact to consider: when Carter Rowney plays this season, Pittsburgh’s record is 8-3-1. When he doesn’t play, they are 5-7-2.
Pittsburgh plays 14 games in the month of December and they only have one back-to-back against the Buffalo Sabres. This will help Pittsburgh out in a big way. They have scored 74 goals and given up 90 goals so far this season. The Penguins need to tighten down on defense in the month of December and win big games. They have no back-to-back excuses this month.
The Penguins have a 26.3% power play percentage which is the second-best in the NHL. The Penguins have a 76.7% penalty kill percentage which is ranked 26th in the NHL. Pittsburgh needs to stay out of the penalty box and they will be fine.