The Pittsburgh Penguins are on a winning streak that started in California on Saturday, Nov. 4, against the San Jose Sharks. The Penguins defeated the Sharks 10-2 in the first of their three-game road trip. They went on to beat the Anaheim Ducks 2-0 on Nov. 7 and the Los Angeles Kings 4-3 on Nov. 9. Before heading to California, Pittsburgh was dead last in the Metropolitan Division, and their playoff hopes did not look good. Now they are back in the race and have a big division rivalry game on Thursday, Nov. 16, against the New Jersey Devils. Has the team finally figured out the recipe for success?
Penguins Are Finally Getting It
In their last five games, the Penguins have looked like a different team, shutting out both the Ducks and the Buffalo Sabres on Nov. 11, two offensively talented teams. What has changed?
The first major difference is that the Penguins are finally getting competent goaltending. In their most recent win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Nov. 14, Tristan Jarry saved 27 shots. He has now won his last four starts, and his save percentage is up to .918. Magnus Hellberg, the Penguins’ third-string goalie, got the start against the Kings and saved 33 of 36 shots. Jarry will more than likely get the start against the Devils, and he will need to continue playing well to give his team a chance.
Pittsburgh’s mindset also seems to have changed. Last season and at the start of this season, they were still playing like the fast, aggressive team they used to be. The reality is that they are the oldest team in the NHL, and it seems like they have finally accepted that their game must evolve.
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Over the past five games, the Penguins have played with more structure. They have been a lot more conservative and have also been committed to playing defense with a 1-2-2 structure that creates a second layer of defense through the neutral zone. They have also been doing a great job of finishing their chances. This is when they have looked their best – when they are patient and not trying to outskate their opponent or be too aggressive.
Keys to a Win Over New Jersey
The Penguins are sitting in fourth place in the Metropolitan Division and are very much in the playoff mix. A win over the Devils would put them in an even better spot. They could definitely use more secondary scoring; however, the top six have been on fire lately.
Captain Sidney Crosby is coming off a hat trick against the Blue Jackets, the 13th of his career, and has points in his last nine games. Bryan Rust has 13 points in 14 games, and Jake Guentzel has six goals and 12 assists on the season.
The Devils will likely be without their top two forwards, Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes, on Thursday. They have lost their last three games, but should not be taken lightly. Their offense has been playing well, and they have scored three or more goals in eight of their last ten games. However, their goaltending has been poor – they rank 30th in the NHL in goals against per game.
The Penguins are evolving into a team that plays a more structured, patient game, and it has been paying off. If they can fully accept the fact that they are no longer a team with superior speed and aggression, they will continue to find success.