The Kessel Run writes for Pensburgh.com. You can follow him on Twitter @Gbehanna.
When we last saw the Penguins, they were struggling and just outside the playoff spots. They have ripped off 9 of 10 since. What’s been the difference?
I think the biggest difference to the Penguins’ change of play since the Dec. 12 game has been the goaltending, and the reemergence of Matt Murray to what looks to be his pre-injury / Stanley Cup-winning form. Since Murray’s return on Dec. 15, he’s gone 7-0, with a .959 SV% through the month of December. Casey DeSmith has also held his own, winning three out of his last four games since the Pens last met the Hawks. Winger Bryan Rust has also exploded on the score sheet since then, alleviating the pressure of the top stars, notching a hat-trick in that loss to Chicago and tallying eight goals and 13 points to close out December.
The Pens just re-upped Jake Guenztel for five years at $6 million per year. Good deal?
Jake Guentzel has been a constant alongside Sidney Crosby for a while now, and he’s even made a name for himself with his crazy goal-scoring prowess in the postseason. I think every Penguins fan knew an extension was coming. It was just a matter of when and figuring out how Guentzel’s new deal would affect the team’s salary cap with so much money already locked up to big-name guys. Luckily, the salary cap looks to be increasing next year, which was one of the reasons GM Jim Rutherford was able to get the deal done now. Given Guentzel’s consistently positive possession metrics, his knack for scoring big goals, and chemistry with Sid, $30 million over the next five years looks like a great deal for all parties.
Why hasn’t Derick Brassard worked out? It seemed a perfect fit on the third line.
Derick Brassard becomes more polarizing with each passing game. Jim Rutherford even called Brassard out for his lack of overall production since the trade. Was this done to try and light a fire under Brassard? Who knows. However, Brassard holds a sub-50 CF% on the season, which blows given the role he has on the team. While his linemates have been shuffled around, he’s just never looked comfortable for whatever reason on the third line. Possibly due to more defensive responsibilities on more of a “checking” line. When given the off chance to move up the lineup, to play on Crosby’s left wing for example, he’s said he loves playing there with Sid. But everyone knows that’s not why we traded for him. He was supposed to be that cornerstone in the bottom-six like Nick Bonino was during the two Cup runs, but Brassard has never found his groove. Only time will tell if he’s shipped out in a package or something along those lines before the trade deadline.
What do you think the Penguins will do before the deadline and what will the spring look like for them?
Jim Rutherford’s favorite unofficial holiday may be the NHL Trade Deadline. Rutherford has never been shy of making a deal, especially while in Pittsburgh. With that said, there are a few moves I could see the veteran GM making to bolster his team for another championship run. Trading the aforementioned Brassard is a package deal may be a possibility if Rutherford feels he’s not getting anything out of him. Young defenseman Olli Maatta is another player whose name has been floated around in recent weeks and months as part of a larger package deal. Realistically, I could see Rutherford looking to bolster his defense again by swapping Maatta for a different face. The same goes for Brassard and the third-line center role. Whatever value both players have now and leading up to the deadline remains to be seen. As you may know, Rutherford has already shipped out the Penguins’ top prospect in Daniel Sprong earlier in the year, so prospect depth isn’t really a strength the team has for wheeling and dealing. The team has its 2019 1st-round pick still with them, so that may be a vital piece in whatever Rutherford decides to do.
It will be another interesting spring for sure. After the horrendously slow start the Penguins were on, they are now riding a season-defining eight-game win streak at the moment. Wins are more crucial as the season draws to a close, obviously. With goaltending looking better and better with each game, the Pens are in position to close out the 2018-19 season in pretty good shape, with their eyes on yet another Stanley Cup.
Game #44 Preview Suite