The All-Star Break Comes at the Perfect Time for the Pittsburgh Penguins

by Glenn Kaplan
by Glenn Kaplan

The Pittsburgh Penguins finished the first-half of the regular season on a five-game road trip. They went 2-3 in those games and the All-Star Break came at a perfect time for this hockey team. Pittsburgh was starting to show signs of fatigue and defensive lapses.

If the season ended right now, they would be in the playoffs as the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. The Penguins record so far this season is 26-16-6 with 58 points. Their first round match up would be the Tampa Bay Lightning and that is something this team doesn't want.

The funny thing is a lot will change after the All-Star Break. Pittsburgh is only one point behind the Washington Capitals and the Columbus Blue Jackets. They are only two points back of the New York Islanders for first place in the Metropolitan Division.

The Pittsburgh Penguins lead the Buffalo Sabres by four points for the second wild card spot. They lead the Carolina Hurricanes by nine points for the second wild card spot. Pittsburgh will have four games in six days out of the All-Star Break. Three of those games will be at home against the New Jersey Devils (1/28), the Tampa Bay Lightning (1/30), and the Ottawa Senators (2/1). They will also have a Saturday night road match up against the Toronto Maple Leafs on February 2.

The Penguins will also be playing outdoors at Lincoln Financial Field against the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday, February 23. Pittsburgh played against them just two years ago at Heinz Field and the Pittsburgh Penguins won that game 4-2.

Monday, February 25 is the NHL trade deadline. I expect General Manager Jim Rutherford to make another trade or two before that. Centerman Derick Brassard is expected to be moved. He has underachieved ever since he was traded from the Ottawa Senators last season. In 39 games this season, he has scored eight goals and recorded six assists. His plus/minus is -7.

If Brassard is moved, Riley Sheahan will move up to be the third line centerman unless Rutherford trades for one. In 47 games played so far this season, Sheahan has scored six goals and recorded two assists. His plus/minus is -7. If was on the third line or second line, he would have better numbers. Riley Sheahan is very good in the face-off circle and the penalty kill.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are third in the NHL in penalty kill percentage at 84.2 percent. They have the fourth best power play in the league at 25.7 percent.

Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang will represent Pittsburgh in the All-Star Game. Crosby has scored 21 goals and recorded 36 assists, in 45 games so far this season. His plus/minus is 19. Letang has scored 11 goals and recorded 29 assists, in 46 games so far this season. His plus/minus is 9. Kris Letang is one of the favorites to win the Norris Trophy right now.

Phil Kessel has scored 20 goals and recorded 33 assists, in 48 games so far this season. His plus/minus is -14. Evgeni Malkin has scored 14 goals and recorded 38 assists, in 48 games so far this season. His plus/minus is -19. Malkin's effort despite his solid offensive numbers has been lethargic at times this season.

Jake Guentzel was signed to a five-year contract extension worth $30 million earlier this season. In 48 games played so far this season, he has scored 24 goals and recorded 23 assists. His plus/minus is 8. Patric Hornqvist has had trouble staying healthy this season, but he continues to be productive. He has scored 15 goals and recorded 11 assists, in 35 games so far this season. His plus/minus is -1.

Tanner Pearson was acquired from the Los Angeles Kings for Carl Hagelin back in November. Pearson has scored eight goals and recorded five assists, in 32 games. His plus/minus is -4.

The defensive pairings will be very interesting when Justin Schultz gets healthy. It is very possible he is back immediately after the All-Star Break. He has not played since October 13, 2018, against the Montreal Canadiens. Schultz has only played in four games so far this season. He has four assists. His plus/minus is 1.

Marcus Pettersson has been solid on defense ever since being acquired by the Anaheim Ducks. In 23 games, he has recorded eight assists. His plus/minus is 5. Pettersson, Letang, Schultz, and Dumoulin will for sure be playing every game on defense when everyone gets healthy.

The final two spots will be between Jamie Oleksiak, Olli Maatta, Chad Ruhwedel, Jack Johnson, and Jusso Riikola. Ruhwedel will probably not see any time at all. Johnson should be on the bench, but he won't be because of the contract he received this offseason. In 48 games this season, Jack Johnson has scored one goal and recorded 10 assists. His plus/minus is -9.

Either Olli Maatta or Jamie Oleksiak is going to be dealt at the trade deadline. The coaching staff likes Riikola's game a lot and he isn't going anywhere. If I was Mike Sullivan, the defensive pairings should be Letang-Dumoulin, Schultz-Pettersson, and Oleksiak/Maatta-Riikola.

Matt Murray has been solid in net for the Pittsburgh Penguins ever since the slow start to the season. His record is 14-6-1 with a .913 save percentage and a 2.86 GAA, along with three shutouts.

Casey DeSmith has been good in net, but he has struggled recently ever since signing his three-year contract extension. His record is 12-9-4 with a .917 save percentage and a 2.68 GAA, along with two shutouts.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have made it to the playoffs for the past 12 seasons and they hope to make it 13 straight. Pittsburgh needs to play with energy after the break. The Penguins will be on a mission to win their third Stanley Cup Title in four seasons.