The Pittsburgh Penguins kick off an exciting four-game home stand on Tuesday night, featuring matches against two formidable Stanley Cup contenders and a rapidly improving Ottawa Senators team. Here are four intriguing thoughts to ponder.
1. Is the power play on the verge of a breakthrough?
The power play’s inability to score goals has been a major letdown in the first five games. They have only managed to score two goals so far, both by Sidney Crosby in a 4-0 shutout win against the Washington Capitals in the second game of the season.
Aside from that, they’ve struggled.
The main complaint about the power play, apart from the lack of goals, is its tendency to be too passive and not aggressive enough in generating shots. While I generally agree with this criticism and believe they can be too hesitant with the puck, the statistics show that they are actually taking a lot of shots.
As of Tuesday, the Penguins’ power play ranks as follows in terms of shot generation league-wide:
Shot attempts per 60 minutes: second
Shots on goal per 60 minutes: first
Expected goals per 60 minutes: first
Scoring chances per 60 minutes: first
High-danger scoring chances per 60 minutes: fourth
I have voiced my criticism of the power play for stalling the team’s momentum and failing to convert in crucial moments. While I believe they lack movement at times and can be too passive, they are generating shots. That’s the first step towards scoring goals. It seems like one of those situations where the numbers may not tell the whole story, but it’s hard to ignore the actual numbers. Hopefully, if they keep creating shots and chances, the goals will eventually come.
Given the talent on the roster, the power play should be a significant contributor to offense.
However, it hasn’t lived up to expectations so far.
2. Tristan Jarry in need of a rebound performance
Blaming Jarry entirely for the slow start would be an easy target at this point.
In my opinion, he was good enough to win against Chicago in the season opener, secured a shutout in Washington, and was left exposed in Detroit and St. Louis.
However, he should make key saves, and he has not made any significant ones in the past two games, resulting in an underwhelming .892 save percentage in his first four starts. He has also conceded three more goals than expected based on the expected goals he has faced, which is one of the worst marks in the league.
To sum it up, Jarry has had one good game, one truly exceptional game, and two underwhelming games, even accounting for the circumstances in front of him. This is a critical week for a struggling team in desperate need of a win, facing off against formidable opponents. It’s the perfect opportunity for Jarry, who earns $5 million per year, to step up and play the role of a game-changer, helping the team reverse its course. He has the capability, as we’ve seen glimpses of it every year. They need that spark right now.
3. Radim Zohorna’s impact on the third line is intriguing
Zohorna wasted no time in making a greater impact than any other bottom-six forward in the first four games of the season.
In addition to scoring his first goal of the year (which also happened to be the first goal by a bottom-six player on the team), he made significant contributions to offensive plays and stood out on the ice. This is the kind of performance he has consistently shown when given the chance. It’s actually quite impressive how well he performed in his limited NHL experience, particularly with the Penguins.
Of course, these are relatively small sample sizes, but during the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons, he played over 200 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey with the Penguins, and they outscored their opponents by a margin of 20-3 during that time. Moreover, they dominated the scoring chance numbers. While it may be too much to credit this entirely to Zohorna, it’s clear that he is a surprisingly skilled player given his size. Leaving him off the opening night roster after the preseason he had, especially in favor of Jansen Harkins, was questionable.
The trio of Zohorna, Lars Eller, and Drew O’Connor proved to be the Penguins’ most successful line on Saturday, and I’m curious to see if they can replicate that success this week. At the very least, they represent the team’s three best options in the bottom-six.
4. Rickard Rakell is due for a breakthrough
Rakell has been relatively quiet in the top-six so far this season, failing to score a goal in the first five games. I have been thrilled with his addition to the Penguins’ roster since his arrival, which was the one truly positive outcome during the Ron Hextall and Brian Burke era. As of Tuesday, he has yet to find the back of the net in five games, but I believe he’s getting close.
He’s still getting shots off.
He’s still creating scoring chances.
And he’s contributing to what has been the Penguins’ most effective offensive line alongside Evgeni Malkin and Reilly Smith. As long as that line keeps generating goals, the identity of the goal scorer doesn’t matter much to me. However, it would be satisfying to see Rakell ignite the power play.
Last season, he scored 11 power play goals and was consistently one of the most aggressive players in generating shots on goal during the man advantage. The team needs more of that this season.
Sarah Anderson dives into the fast-paced world of NHL hockey. Her coverage includes game analysis, player spotlights, and the latest news from the ice. Sarah’s dedication to the sport ensures that hockey enthusiasts stay informed about the NHL’s thrilling action.