March 12, 2017, 12:01 PM ET [25 Comments]
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The Pittsburgh Penguins are three for three on their road trip and are now the owners of a five game winning streak. This winning streak coupled with the Washington Capitals three game losing streak has seen the Penguins close ground in the standings and are now only one point behind for the divisional lead. This was once an unattainable goal based on how the Capitals were playing, but given that the rest of the Penguins schedule is favorable they may have a shot to steal the division.
The NHL has a terrible playoff format and winning the division would be very beneficial in round one. The chances of the opponent being worse than Columbus is likely.
Can the Penguins keep winning? That is a fair question. The injuries are starting to pile up. Kris Letang has already missed an extended period of time and we really haven't been given a time table on his situation. Patric Hornqvist has a concussion. Olli Maatta, Trevor Daley, and Bryan Rust have been out long term. Matt Cullen missed last night's game as well and so did Carl Hagelin. Pittsburgh is going to be missing out on Hagelin's speed for a while.
It is believed that the injury occurred during a blocked shot in the Winnipeg game. This means that Hagelin played on the injury against Edmonton and will now miss an extended period of time.
This will keep him out of action for the remainder of the regular season with a return date slated for when the playoffs start. This is certainly not ideal, but it doesn't have to be something the Penguins can't overcome. We aren't talking about the 2015-16 version of Carl Hagelin.
Last year Hagelin was amazing. He had a points per 60 of 2.26 when you combined his regular season and playoffs. The HBK line hit it off and was one of the main driving forces for Pittsburgh's success. This year has not gone the same way. Hagelin's 5v5 points per 60 is only 1.47 which is way off last year's pace. He is only the 11th ranked forward on the team in producing offense at even-strength this year. Replacing the offense he has provided this year is an achievable task. In fact the Penguins have a guy who can probably step into that role and do a fine job. Scott Wilson's points per 60 at even-strength this year has been 2.09 and his quality of teammate hasn't been anywhere close to that of Hagelin's.
Losing Hagelin's speed and ability to drive play isn't a plus for the Penguins, but it probably won't be as much of a minus as it could have been. Scott Wilson will plug that hole and probably do a satisfactory job. Chris Kunitz can plug into a top nine role and not drown.
The top line wasn't very kind to the Vancouver Canucks last night. Sidney Crosby, Conor Sheary, and Jake Guentzel were a buzz saw.
In a wild coincidence Brandon Sutter played most of his minutes against the Crosby line.
Sidney Crosby had nine shots on goal, Conor Sheary had eight, and Jake Guentzel had four.
This is the future for Sidney Crosby and it looks really damn good.
The Jake Guentzel goal is why this line will be very scary. Sidney Crosby isn't even involved and these are the kinds of things that can happen
Sheary's speed and pass were very evident. Jake Guentzel sneaking into that soft spot is a natural skill he possesses. He is a very smart player and as a result good things happen for him.
This line hadn't been rewarded with points lately even though they've been playing really well. The points will come if the standard of play stays where it is. Each player on the line had two points last night.
The Penguins should give Jake Guentzel a hard look on the number one power play especially with Patric Hornqvist out of action. His ability to understand soft spots, tip pucks, and execute passes makes him an ideal candidate.
It is the time of year when college seasons are wrapping up and the players who are candidates to play professional hockey will be embarking on that stage of their careers. Some have been drafted by NHL clubs and others are free to choose where they want to sign. Zach Aston-Reese is one of the players that can sign wherever he wants and it appears the Penguins are interested
I can't claim to know much about him as a player other than the fact he has some great offensive numbers. In 145 career games he had 148 career points. Ryan Lambert of Yahoo! Sports does watch a lot of college hockey and thinks highly of Aston-Reese.
Is he an automatic for NHL success? Maybe, but this is exactly the type of signing that landed the team Conor Sheary. It can't hurt to try and take advantage of theses college loopholes.