1. Pittsburgh put together back-to-back weekend wins in impressive fashion, outscoring their opponents a combined 12-3 in victories over the Tampa Bay Lightning and Columbus Blue Jackets. “That’s two big consistent wins for us,” head coach Dan Bylsma said on Sunday. “I thought we had two good responses.”
What stood out in these wins is Pittsburgh put away and overmatched inferior teams. That’s what you have to do at this point of the season where every point matters. With a third straight win, Pittsburgh improved to 36-21-5, 77 pts on the season and are currently 4th in the Eastern Conference. The Penguins have won 9 of 10 at home.
2. With 20 games remaining, the Hart Trophy is clearly Evgeni Malkin’s to lose from now until the end of the season. Scoring his 37th goal of the season Sunday afternoon and fifth goal in his last three games, Malkin has 78 in points in 55 games.
Some numbers for Malkin:
— With 78 points in 55 games, Malkin is averaging 1.42 points per game, a career high. In 2008-2009 (113 pts – 82 GP) Malkin averaged 1.38 points per game.
— With 37 goals in 55 games, Malkin is averaging 0.67 goals per game, well above his previous career high of 0.57 goals per game when he scored 47 goals in 2007-2008. Malkin’s current 0.67 goals per game mark has him on pace for 50 goals.
— In his last 35 games, Malkin has 28 goals and 26 assists for 54 points, averaging 1.54 points per game and 0.80 goals per game during that span.
— Malkin 21 goals in 26 home games
— Malkin has 27 even strength goals on the season and has not scored more than 19 even strength goals since the 2007-2008 season when scored a career high 30 even strength. He’s a slam dunk to surpass that mark.
3. Jordan Staal’s emergence as a prolific goal scorer is a huge development in his game and if it wasn’t for Evgeni Malkin’s re-emergence as one of the games premier players, Staal might be the best story of the season for Pittsburgh. Staal’s progression as a goal scorer is a primary reason the Penguins remain a Cup contender even without Sidney Crosby. The big question though is that if Crosby returns this season, will Staal still think offense first if he’s playing a third line role? Most likely not.
4. In his NHL debut, Brad Thiessen earned his first NHL win in what Penguin management has felt is an opportunity Thiessen has deserved for some time. It’s hard to evaluate Thiessen against NHL competition after just one start and while the Penguins are hopeful to give Thiessen more starts, Brent Johnson remains the likely backup come playoff time if the Penguins don’t add a veteran goaltender which is considered unlikely going into Monday. The organization will want Thiessen playing in the AHL playoffs, which played a factor in the team at least looking around this week at trade options for a backup goaltender.
5. Some feel the pairing of Paul Martin with Kris Letang has had a strong influence on Martin but it’s hard to imagine Bylsma not going back to the Orpik-Letang pairing come playoff time and he probably will before then.
6. Matt Cooke’s game is starting to take off at the right time and he’s been tremendous on screens in front of the net. Cooke has 3 goals and 4 assists in his last five games.
7. Pascal Dupuis has goals in two straight, collecting his 15th goal of the season on Sunday vs the Columbus Blue Jackets. Nearly four years after the Penguins acquired him at the 2008 trade deadline, consistency from Dupuis remains the same year after year.
2009-2010: 81 GP 18 goals – 20 assists – 38 points | 2010-2011: 81 GP 17 goals – 20 assists – 37 points | 2011-2012: 62 GP 15 goals -21 assists – 36 points
8. The Penguins success on the power play is becoming quite a story this season. After a 2-for-5 day vs Columbus, the team is clicking at 20.9% on the power play, 5th best in the NHL. The last time the Penguins had a top-5 power play ranking was in 2007-2008 when they were 4th in the NHL at 20.4%. That team by the way had Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Sergei Gonchar, Ryan Malone, Ryan Whitney, Petr Sykora, and Marian Hossa joining the bunch in late February.
9. Steve Sullivan extended his points streak to five games in Sunday’s 4-2 win over the Blue Jackets. Sullivan has seven points during that span and he’s playing his best hockey of the season. One crucial area where he’s been a factor of late is at even strength. Question though remain if Sullivan will be able to keep this up when games become tighter down the stretch.
10. Returning to the lineup after being a healthy scratch for the previous two games, Dustin Jeffrey had the least amount of ice timeÂ at 6:34 and had no power play or penalty kill time. The coaching staff is extremely down on him right now.