Grove: The Penguins Depth Scoring Is A Key To Their Success

Bob Grove
November 30, 2019 - 9:38 am

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Despite allowing six goals on Wednesday, the Penguins’ marked defensive improvement this season – they’ve allowed the sixth-fewest goals per game and fifth-fewest shots per game heading into today’s action – remains their biggest storyline with the schedule one-third complete.

But the emergence of some serious scoring depth, most of it at even strength during a stretch in which the power play has underachieved, is a close second given the injuries they’ve sustained.

Secondary scoring is never overrated.

Going into this weekend’s back-to-back road games in Columbus and St. Louis, the Penguins have scored 63 even-strength goals this season (excluding OT), matching the Bruins for the league’s top spot. Overall, the Penguins are averaging 3.52 goals per game, better than all but four teams, and 34.8 shots per game, second only to Montreal.

Evgeni Malkin, Jake Guentzel and the injured Sidney Crosby are all averaging a point-per-game thus far, and there’s no surprise there. However, the contributions of others have played a pivotal role in a Pittsburgh attack that has helped the team earn points in 12 of its last 14 games.

Bryan Rust, Jared McCann, Dominik Kahun and Brandon Tanev are all on pace for career highs in points, and John Marino is on pace to match the second-best point total of any rookie defenseman in team history. In all, Pittsburgh has 10 players scoring at a half-point per game clip or better; they had eight such players when they won the Stanley Cup in 2017 and seven when they won the Cup in 2016.

What’s more, Rust and Kahun have played both wings, McCann has played center and wing and Tanev has stayed on the right wing but at times has played on the second, third and fourth lines. So they’ve moved around with different linemates and seen varying amounts of ice time and yet have produced at a rate that makes the Penguins more difficult to defend.

You can bet coach Mike Sullivan also loves the fact their skating ability and, among the forwards mentioned, their ability to forecheck and track back on pucks has played a role in feeding their offensive totals. Those four forwards and Marino are all plus players, and all of them have a CF% of 52+ for the season at five-on-five.

So even if there’s a bit of regression to their scoring output, other elements of their game are poised to guard against that happening to any large scale.

The emergence of this scoring depth has been more than a luxury. It’s been essential given the injuries to Crosby, Malkin, Letang; the current injury to Justin Schultz, who was regressing in points production from last season even when healthy; and the obvious struggles of Alex Galchenyuk. If the Penguins are going to make a playoff run this spring, it will remain essential.

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