With the All-Star break approaching, the Pittsburgh Penguins end January with just three games in eight days, all at home. This mini-pause gives us a chance to take stock of the season so far. Here are some takeaways from what we have learned.
Takeaway #1: Goaltending is Deep
Despite the struggles and unfortunate circumstances around Pittsburgh Penguins starter Matt Murray, it does appear that Tristan Jarry is more than adequate to step into the starting role, at least for stretches.
We haven’t seen a lot of Casey DeSmith yet, but what we have seen has also looked good. Given the AHL pedigree of these netminders, if nothing else, it looks like the season won’t hinge solely on the play or health of Murray.
Takeaway #2: The 3rd Line is Still a Puzzle
Perhaps one of the more disappointing aspects of this season so far is the constant shuffling of lines. In a previous early-season article I talked about the third line, but even I didn’t realize what an ongoing issue it was going to be. Part of the difficulty is in the injuries that always cause some shuffling. But there is no denying that if you assemble the best top six, and keep the most effective fourth line guys together, you have a hole on the third line. Maybe a good trade is our best hope now.
Takeaway #3: Crosby is Not Over The Hill Yet
It is amazing to me how quickly some people want to over-react when a great player gets into a slump. I think it’s fair to say Crosby is not going to go 110% every single shift anymore. Maybe not even every single night. But to suggest the game has passed him by (as some in the mainstream click-bait sports media did earlier in the season) is ridiculous. Yes, he is going to the All-Star game as much on laurels as on his play this season.
Nevertheless, he still has some highlight-reel goals this year, and more to come.
Takeaway #4: Penguins Have An Extra Gear
When the going gets tough, the Pittsburgh Penguins get going. I think it has been difficult for the Penguins to manage the same kind of consistent dominance this season that they had shown for the last year or so.
However, there have been several occasions in bigger games when you could see the championship Penguins show their feathers. The biggest question really is whether they can keep up that level of play for any sustained number of games. The Playoffs are a grind, and it will take more than a handful of great games to pull out the three-peat.
Takeaway #5: Penguins Have a Consistency Problem
Even at this point in the season, it’s not clear how far this Penguins team can go. Early in the season I excused a lot of the inconsistency. There were a lot of factors – changes in personnel and the grind of two championship seasons.
However, by this point in the season, teams should have found their stride. It is now that you can start to separate the contenders and pretenders. Unfortunately, the Pens remain a bit of an enigma. Flashes of dominance mixed with periods disinterest. Perhaps February will show us what kind of team this really is.
A strong February will all but punch their ticket to the playoffs, but another uneven month will leave more questions than answers. Let’s go Pens!