NHL

Next week: The captain takes over

Next week: The captain takes over

The Pittsburgh Penguins He needed to start putting some points in the bank, and this past week he accomplished that goal.

In fact, the last two weeks have reached the goal.

Since ending their seven-game losing streak, the Penguins are now 5-1-1 over their last seven games, have climbed back within one point of a playoff spot and are starting to look like a little more to the team that started the year 4-0-1.

Are they perfect? No.

Do they still have some flaws that need to be fixed? You bet

But there have also been many positive changes that have helped turn the tide of the season. At least in the short term.

The penalty unit that was so bad at the start of the season has been SIGNIFICANTLY better in recent weeks and is starting to kill penalties at a similar rate to last season.

They also made a couple of tweaks to the lineup that some of us have been clamoring for all year.

Brian Dumoulin has taken on a slightly smaller role and no longer plays in the top defensive pairing, swapping places with Marcus Pettersson.

They also traded Bryan Rust and Rickard Rakell to the top two lines that have helped boost the Sidney Crosby-Jake Guentzel duo, while the duo of Evgeni Malkin and Jason Zucker continues their great start.

That last point really made a big difference. After looking sluggish for more games than we’re used to seeing, the Crosby line absolutely took off on the recent three-game road trip, with Crosby putting up particularly dominant numbers. He had 10 points on the three-game road trip, including a pair of four-point games to move him into the team scoring lead with a sizable lead over Malkin.

You knew he wasn’t going to be down for long, and he did what good captains are supposed to do: step up and take over when the team needed it.

Heading into this week, the Penguins finally get a chance to play some games at home after starting the season with just six of their first 19 games at PPG Paints Arena.

They return to action on Wednesday for the ever-popular Thanksgiving night game when they get a chance to redeem themselves against the Calgary Flames. Calgary’s game earlier this year was at the beginning of their seven-game slide and was one of their ugliest performances of the season.

The Flames haven’t lived up to the hype and expectations for them at the start of the year, while starting goaltender Jacob Markstrom has had a rough start. Despite these struggles, this is still a very good team and a very dangerous squad that is capable of a complete game.

The Penguins follow up with their first look at John Tortorella in Philadelphia when they make a Black Friday visit to flyers. Philadelphia got off to a good start during their early games, but the bottom has fallen quickly on this list. Carter Hart was masking a lot of flaws early on, and he’s still having a nice bounce-back season, but this is a really bad roster that doesn’t defend well at all.

Things start to get a lot more difficult after this visit to Philadelphia.

The Penguins return home for another back-to-back game Saturday against the Toronto Maple Leafsbeginning a five-game homestand that will feature the Maple Leafs, Carolina Hurricanes, Vegas Golden Knights, St. Louis Bluesi Columbus blue jackets. The first four games there look very tough.

Toronto and Carolina are definitely contenders in the East, while Vegas has been one of the best teams in hockey so far this season. St. Louis got off to a horrible start, but has turned things around with a six-game winning streak.

But let’s focus on the short term of these next three games.

Considering where the Flames and Flyers are this season, and the way the Penguins have started to play over the last few games, I see the “I’d like to have” games with Philadelphia as a “must have” game.

If they take care of these two Toronto becomes a bonus.

Even 2-1-0 in this stretch puts you at 11-8-3 after 22 games, which is literally the same point total they had at the same point a year ago.

I’m not saying that all problems are magically solved with penguins.

But reports of his demise based on the early losing streak were probably greatly exaggerated.



#week #captain #takes

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