Five things we learned from the Penguins’ two-game road trip
The Pittsburgh Penguins will return to practice Friday morning after splitting a pair of games against Winnipeg and Colorado on a quick two-game road trip this week.
The results were fitting for the Penguins, a team with one foot stuck in a horrible November and one foot trying to step forward on the road to recovery.
On the plus side, they’re out of the funk they saw them lose nine of 10 games from Oct. 30 to Nov. 17.
The results show that. They’re 3-1-2 in their past six games. Playing at that pace for a whole season would give a team 110 points in the standings and an easy playoff berth.
The underlying numbers show that. The Penguins have been in the black when it comes to shot attempts for each of their past five games.
After Wednesday night’s games, they were within two points of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and six points of first place in the Metropolitan Division.
On the minus side, they still have a long way to go to join the list of teams that have positioned themselves as legitimate Stanley Cup contenders in the first two months of the season.
The problems lie mostly on defense. The Penguins are scoring 3.38 goals per game for the season, which ranks seventh best in the league. The Penguins are allowing 3.25 goals per game, which is ninth worst.
They’re still twice as close to last place in the division (three points) as they are to first.
The reclamation project continues with three straight home games against the Flyers, Avalanche and Islanders this week. Before that stretch begins, here are five things we learned from the team’s two-game road trip.
1. CARRIED BY THE CAPTAIN
Sidney Crosby put the team on his back and erased a 3-0 deficit Wednesday night in Colorado with the fastest hat trick of his career, scoring three times in 5 minutes, 35 seconds.
He has 13 goals and 24 points in 16 games since the start of the team’s Canadian road trip last month.
2. NET NEUTRALITY
Casey DeSmith and Tristan Jarry have proven that they’re good enough to help keep the Penguins afloat while Matt Murray recovers from a lower-body injury. They’ve given their team a chance to win.
That said, there were some shaky moments for both DeSmith in Winnipeg and Jarry in Colorado. Long term, the Penguins probably will need Murray to return and play well to get to where they want to go. Otherwise, general manager Jim Rutherford might have to try his luck in the rarely profitable goalie trade market.
3. MIXED RESULTS
The big question coming into the trip was whether an improving Penguins defense could handle red-hot Winnipeg winger Patrik Laine and Colorado’s prolific top line.
The answer is yes and no.
They held Laine off the scoresheet, with Jake Guentzel and Riley Sheahan memorably stepping in front of two of his shots in the final minute Tuesday night. Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog, on the other hand, combined to engineer four goals Wednesday night.
4. FOURTH LINE RISING
The Penguins finally got positive contributions from the fourth line on the trip. The combo of Sheahan, Derek Grant and Garrett Wilson scored twice in Winnipeg and consistently played in the offensive zone in Colorado.
5. SECOND AND THIRD FALLING
While Crosby’s line and fourth line thrived, the middle two lines faltered. Evgeni Malkin went pointless with a minus-4 rating on the trip. Bryan Rust hasn’t scored in 16 games. When Phil Kessel and Derick Brassard were on the ice together in Colorado at even strength, the Penguins were outshot, 9-1.
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at [email protected] or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.