Final Thoughts on the Penguins Before the Trade Deadline

Photo Credit: Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

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The Penguins had their final audition before the trade deadline to convince General Manager Ron Hextall to add to a group with a palpable chance of winning the Stanley Cup. That audition went rather well as they dominated the Arizona Coyotes in a 4-1 victory.

It wasn't easy as Coyote goalie, Scott Wedgewood, made spectacular save after spectacular save thwarting every good Penguin opportunity. The ice breaker happened to be Kasperi Kapanen's first tally in 21 games as he took a beautiful cross ice pass from Jeff Carter, buried it behind Wedgewood, kissed his stick and was mobbed by a bevy of happy teammates.

Add an Evgeni Malkin tally and two from Sidney Crosby and the Penguins finally solved the Coyotes goaltender.

Standing at 38-16-9 with 85 points to their name, the Penguins are going to make the playoffs. Now, it is up to Hextall to take them from a team struggling to score to a more formidable team in the scoring department. The Eastern Conference is as tough as it's ever been. The Penguins will need every bit of their scoring depth to be successful in the postseason.

We all know what the Penguins need so I'm not going to spend anymore time harping on that. You can check out my long list of Penguins' trade targets by clicking on the link here. Instead, I'm going to give some tidbits on my thoughts about some players/situations that could be changed following the deadline.

More Drew O'Connor

Drew O'Connor hasn't played an NHL game since January 15. This is due to a collapsed lung shortly thereafter that caused him to miss more than a month of game time. Fortunately, O'Connor is back playing hockey again for the AHL's Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.

O'Connor has 19 points in 20 games for Wilkes-Barre and has been playing some very good overall hockey while in the minors. Back to full health, it is a wonder the Penguins haven't brought O'Connor back to the NHL.

Valtteri Puustinen was brought up for a game after Brock McGinn went down with an injury. He played very well and recorded an assist in 10:14 of ice time. Puustinen was sent down following the game and Radim Zohorna's call up was the corresponding move.

Zohorna hasn't done much with his playing time since. He's been nothing more than okay, and the Penguins need more scoring. The Penguins do value Zohorna's rare size at 6'6, however, he doesn't necessarily use it in the way he should.

I'd send Zohorna to the AHL with an assignment to learn to play a bit meaner and bigger than he does at the moment. Let O'Connor come up and man a spot in the top-12. He only has three goals in 22 games in the NHL, but maybe potting some goals in the minors has given him some more confidence. He plays a solid two-way game too so he deserves a chance with the big club.

Pittsburgh locked up O'Connor for next season earlier in the week with a modest extension. They obviously see him as a piece of the lineup going forward so why not let him come up now?

Something Has to Give Defensively

The Penguins defense is the most expensive blue line unit in the NHL. This dates back to the days of Jim Rutherford who never shied away from giving his blue liners big money.  Well fast forward to this season and that unit doesn't look like one deserving of that "highest paid" distinction.

Kris Letang has been his usual self so he is not included. Mike Matheson is having his best season in a Penguins uniform which is cool to see after a mixed bag of results in his debut season last year in Pittsburgh. Seventh defenseman Mark Friedman has done an admirable job in his role providing a physical spark the Pens don't have much of.

The problem lies in the other four members of that unit.

Brian Dumoulin, a staple alongside Letang for the past six seasons, has taken a bit of a step back this season. Marcus Pettersson and John Marino have both seen their fair share of struggles, and Marino made an egregious pass that led to the Coyotes lone goal on Saturday. Chad Ruhwedel has been mostly as solid as they come but he is a mix between a sixth and seventh defenseman.

You'd have to think the Penguins would love to get out of one of those long-term deals with that high paid blue line. Spread that wealth out a bit so that they can acquire some forward help. Friedman will do just fine as a sixth-defensemen.

As much as the Penguins should focus on the forward market at the deadline, I would not be surprised if they dip their toes in the defense market.

There are still some depth defensemen available such as Zdeno Chara and Robert Hagg, among others. They shouldn't cost the world to acquire. Pittsburgh could look to make multiple moves before 3 P.M. on Monday and I wouldn't be surprised if they try and bring in someone to bolster the bottom-part of the defensive depth chart.

Zucker and McGinn Due to Return at Some Point

Neither Jason Zucker nor Brock McGinn will provide a rapid scoring pace upon their return, however they do play vital roles on the team.

Zucker's goal scoring has been underwhelming since his arrival in Pittsburgh and he's had a lot of trouble staying healthy. He is costing the Penguins $5.5 million towards the salary cap and that certainly is a hinderance when he isn't available. But his 200-foot game is deserving of a lineup spot and he plays hard every night.

McGinn is a solid penalty killer and has 11 goals in 56 games as a bottom-six forward so he is helping more in that area than anticipated. He's not going to play on the power play and wind up clappers like Alex Ovechkin but he will, in fact, be a big piece of the puzzle when he comes back.

Zucker has spent a lot of his time playing with Malkin when he was healthy. With such a high cap-hit, the Penguins can't afford to play him in a lesser role so they'd love to have him and Malkin click so that Danton Heinen can return to a third-line role, one he thrived in to start the season.

Anytime you can get anyone back from your top-nine, your team will be better off because of it. Hopefully, Zucker and Malkin will have a new line mate upon Zucker's return.

The Penguins Will Go as Jarry Goes

It is no secret that Tristan Jarry had a rough go in the postseason last year. Based on things I've read, it seems some in the organization were okay with moving on from Jarry following his flop. Hextall is the one who adamantly stood up for Jarry and wanted him to return. Big hat tip to him.

Jarry won't win the Vezina this season. Igor Shesterkin of the Rangers seems ready to run away with that. However, Jarry has proven to be one of the more reliable goaltenders in the NHL and he's going to turn just 27 years-old next month.

Jarry became just the fourth goalie in Penguins history to win 30 games in a season. His record stands at 31-12-6 with a 2.28 goals against average (fifth in the NHL) and a .922 save percentage (ninth in the NHL). Jarry has been awesome for Pittsburgh and a huge savior when things weren't going swimmingly for the team.

Without Jarry, it's hard to tell where the Penguins would be. Casey DeSmith had a rocky start to the year but has since turned things around and has become a reliable backup once again.

I think the Pens should play DeSmith more down the stretch and rest Jarry a bit so he doesn't burn out. However, Jarry seems to play better when he's starting most of the games, similar to Marc-Andre Fleury when he was in Pittsburgh. Mike Sullivan surely seems to trust Jarry and would love to see things improve for him this postseason versus last.