Very quietly the Pittsburgh Penguins are starting to find their way this season.
Their 4-2 win over the New York Rangers on Tuesday night continues the recent momentum they have built over the past month and and improves them to 10-4-0 in their past 14 games. It is not hard to see what has changed from the first month of the season. The goaltending is better, and some of their best players — specifically Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang — are starting to return to form.
All of that was on display on Tuesday.
Let’s start with the biggest development, which is the play of Jarry.
Goaltending changes everything
Goaltending was one of the biggest question marks and X-factors for them this season given how unproven the duo of Jarry and Casey DeSmith were at the start. There have been some inconsistencies, but as Jarry has improved over the past month so have the Penguins. He was one of the big stars on Tuesday by making 33 saves on 35 shots, including a couple of game-savers late in the third period as the Penguins tried to protect a one-goal lead.
His best save came with just two minutes to play in regulation when Rangers forward Pavel Buchnevich looked like he was in position for a game-tying goal only to have Jarry manage to get his pad on the shot to keep it out of the net.
In his first eight starts Jarry had an .864 save percentage that placed him among the least productive goalies in the league. To the surprise of no one, the Penguins were struggling to win games with that level of play in net. In his 10 appearances since then, including Tuesday — he has a .923 save percentage as part of the Penguins’ recent turnaround.
The Malkin-Kapanen duo is starting to click
One of Jim Rutherford‘s biggest moves this offseason before his resignation was re-acquiring Kasperi Kapanen from the Toronto Maple Leafs. He paid a hefty price for him (a first-round pick and a top prospect) but it is really starting to work out for the Penguins. Kapanen has been on a roll over the past few games and seems to be developing some solid chemistry on Malkin’s wing.
Malkin is another player that was clearly off his game in the first part of the season but is slowly but surely starting to play his way out of it. That duo has teamed up for five goals since March 1, including the eventual game-winning goal on Tuesday night to cap off a completely dominant shift late in the second period.
When the Penguins acquired Kapanen it was originally assumed he would play alongside Sidney Crosby on the top line. But as was the case with James Neal and Phil Kessel before him, he seems to be fitting better alongside Malkin.
With his goal on Tuesday Kapanen is now up to seven goals and 17 total points in his first 22 games this season. That would be a 26-goal, 63-point pace over 82 games.
Malkin is now on a five-game point streak and has eight points in his past seven games.
Not only have the Penguins won 10 of their past 14 games, that stretch has seen them play all but two of those games against the New York Islanders, Philadelphia, and Washington Capitals. They are not only starting to win more, they are beating the top teams in the division but they are not in the middle of an 11-game stretch that will see them play all but two games against the Rangers, New Jersey Devils, and Buffalo Sabres. They have an opportunity to gain some ground here if they can do what is expected. If nothing else, they have put themselves in a good position.