The 2020-2021 regular season was yet another success as the Pittsburgh Penguins are heading to the playoffs for the 15th straight season. The Penguins look to end their season with another tally in the win column on their May 8 finale against the Buffalo Sabres. Their success can be attributed to numerous factors throughout the year.
The Team’s Offensive Production
Pittsburgh has an incredible amount of firepower in their offensive lineup. Because of this, they are leading the MassMutual East Division in goals for. The first line, consisting of Bryan Rust, Jake Guentzel and Sidney Crosby, scored 68 out of 187 total goals. Crosby’s unparalleled ability to dish the puck to his wings makes scoring goals look easy.
Unfortunately, center Evgeni Malkin missed 23 games due to a lower-body injury. Despite this, he wasted no time returning to form. Malkin recorded three assists in his first two games back in the lineup against the Philadelphia Flyers. Left wing Jason Zucker has struggled offensively this season, but has started to heat up as he recorded six points in his last 10 games.
Pittsburgh’s powerplay has also been on fire lately as the unit is seventh-best in the league with a 23.5 percent success rate. Winger Jared McCann has been a powerhouse, leading the team with seven powerplay goals on the season.
Pittsburgh’s Defensive Play
The defensemen in the lineup are also to thank for the team’s success this season. Kris Letang has been the topic of trade rumors for some time with fans even begging him to be traded. However, he proved his doubters wrong this year. Letang’s ability to contribute offensively has been immeasurably helpful as he has 43 points in the 53 games he has played.
Brian Dumoulin has also been a key piece to the defensive core. Although he doesn’t put up the points that Letang does, he is a very solid from a defensive standpoint. He is tied with a +17 plus/minus with fellow defensemen Letang and Cody Ceci.
When it comes to defensemen John Marino and Marcus Pettersson, the season has been disappointing. Neither Pettersson nor Marino have had the season that fans expected. After he signed a contract extension in 2020 where he makes about $4.025 million per year, expectations for Pettersson were high. Unfortunately, he has not quite lived up to his expectations. He has not been able to produce offensively, and his defensive play has been questionable. Marino has also had an underwhelming year with lackluster offensive production. With the 2020-2021 season being his sophomore year in the NHL, he has put up half the points he did in his rookie season in almost the same number of games. However, both Pettersson and Marino are young, meaning there is plenty of time for them to develop further.
Evaluating Pittsburgh’s Trades In The 2020 Offseason
The Penguins had a busy offseason that included multiple trades. Unfortunately, the trades that Pittsburgh pulled the trigger on could be seen as controversial. There were two main trades that were under fire at the time: the Kasperi Kapanen trade and the Patric Hornqvist trade.
On September 24, 2020, Patric Hornqvist was traded to the Florida Panthers for defenseman Mike Matheson and depth-forward Colton Sceviour. Jim Rutherford, the general manager for the Penguins at the time, had difficulty executing this trade. However, he did it in an effort to make the aging team a bit younger. Although neither Matheson nor Sceviour are unable to put up the points that Hornqvist could, they both fit their role perfectly. Matheson only bolstered the strength of the defense, and Sceviour is an exceptional depth winger.
The Kasperi Kapanen trade was a bit more peculiar. In 2014, Kapanen was the key piece that the Penguins traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs to acquire Phil Kessel. Fast-forward six years, and Pittsburgh reacquired Kapanen. On August 25, 2020, Kapanen returned to Pittsburgh in exchange for prospect Filip Hallander, Evan Rodrigues and Pittsburgh’s 2020 1st round draft pick. Toronto used that pick to draft Russian prospect Rodion Amirov. Kapanen has been solid for the Penguins as he has played on the second line for the entire season. However, with the team only getting older they will need the prospects and draft picks that they traded.