Pittsburgh Penguins Mounting Perfectly Timed Challenge
For much of this NHL season, a lot of the talk around the reigning Stanley Cup champions has concerned their underwhelming position. But then came 2018, and new Penguins team emerged from the depths of the Metropolitan Division.
In January, Sidney Crosby scored three goals and 21 points, Evgeni Malkin scored 12 and assisted seven, and Phil Kessel scored five goals and 17 points. Most interestingly, three different netminders started games, and each only tallied one loss. It all seems to be coming together for Pittsburgh at the perfect time for them to charge on the top of the Metropolitan Division.
An amazing start to the New Year
Source: Matt Freed, via Twitter
Pittsburgh won a massive nine of their 12 games – four of which came against division rivals – in January, with their three biggest forwards tallying huge numbers. Then came February, which the Penguins started with an almighty 7-4 drubbing of the Washington Capitals.
Not only were the Caps leading the Metropolitan at the time, allowing the Pens to close the gap even further, but it continued their stunning run of form. At 54 games played, Pittsburgh was only four points behind the division leaders, and given that their form has been significantly better than all other teams in the Metropolitan, it’s surprising that the Pens are +575 in the latest NHL odds to win the division.
Given that Sidney Crosby is clearly on a mission, and his fellow superstar Penguins are following suit, there’s a great chance that Pittsburgh will continue this strong form to the end of the season, and quite scarily into the playoffs. If Crosby wants the hattrick, you can bet that he’s going to go all-out for it.
However, if the team want to reach the peak of the division and stave off the competition, they’ll also need to compete at the trade deadline to plug some gaps.
The Penguins desperately need a center
Source: CoastToCoastHockey, via Twitter
Sidney Crosby has been very strong in the faceoff circle, and while Evgeni Malkin has been lax in the duel, his elite-level play as a center makes up for it. As a bottom-six center, Riley Sheahan has been somewhat of a sensation, proving his worth alongside powerful wingers and speedy wingers as well as contributing the scoring from time to time. But as far as that fourth or third line center goes, no one has been able to step up.
The trait bait aisle may be a bit devoid of top-class centers, but the Penguins don’t need another incredible center, they need a faceoff winner who is a strong playmaker, can anticipate moves, and is a decent puck mover.
As far as rentals go, Edmonton’s Mark Letestu is one of the top options as we approach the trade deadline. This season, he has eight goals and eight assists as well as a strong 52.7 faceoff win percentage and only ten penalty minutes to his name. Derek Ryan burst into the Carolina Hurricanes ranks last season and has been a mainstay ever since. Set for a career-best season in goals and points – this being the 31-year-old’s second season of more than six games in the NHL – Ryan is also a menace to face in the faceoff circle, boasting a 56.1 percent win rate.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau is said to be available for trade from the Ottawa Senators, but at 25 and with a couple more years left on his contract, he may be a bit pricey for the cash-strapped Penguins. But, one rather sneaky move that could come to the fore is for that of Max Domi, of the Arizona Coyotes. It’s said that Domi is available for trade and that the Penguins may have the inside lane to landing him. Given his incredible raw talent, and practice at center in past seasons, a Penguins move for him would prove to be a massive coup – even for the Stanley Cup champions.
The elite skill dotted around the Penguins lines can carry the team to the top of the Metropolitan Division, especially during this time when the rest of the division is slipping up. But, claiming a center to fill that gaping void in the bottom six would bolster the team exponentially.