Greg Wyshynski: For any NHL team with a tenuous grip on a playoff spot, the phrase “week to week” is the last one you want to hear describing a goalie’s injury. Yet here we are with starter Matt Murray, who was injured on Monday night against the Philadelphia Flyers and is “week to week.” Funny how the hockey world works sometimes: The Penguins signed Antti Niemi in the offseason because they wanted to give Tristan Jarry, 22, more time to develop. Niemi was a disaster (0-3-3, .797 save percentage) and was put on waivers; Jarry ended up as Murray’s understudy and will now replace the lead for “weeks.”
There’s a lot to like about Jarry, who’s had a couple of sips of coffee in the NHL to go along with two seasons of AHL grooming. The Penguins are quite high on him, and it’s entirely possible he plays well enough to borrow some starts when Murray gets back. Or perhaps he doesn’t play all that well, and then option B is Casey DeSmith. So if the question is what the Penguins do next, then acquiring an insurance policy in goal would be top of the list. Obviously, the Penguins don’t need a No. 1. They need a stopgap, cost-effective No. 2 with an expiring contract. Three names leap to mind: Reto Berra, toiling in the AHL for the Anaheim Ducks; Eddie Lack, toiling in the AHL for the Calgary Flames; and Andrew Hammond, toiling in the AHL for the Colorado Avalanche. If I’m the Penguins, I just want a wee bit more veteran presence in the crease in case things go awry with the starter. Then again, that’s how they ended up with Niemi.
Emily Kaplan: If you’re looking for the next personnel move the Penguins will make, it’s trading venerable defenseman Ian Cole, 28, who is being shopped. Coach Mike Sullivan has done his best to deny it, but it’s pretty clear based off a flurry of reports by trusted reporters — plus the fact that Cole has been a healthy scratch the last few games — that this is the case. The main issue with Cole? He has a $2.1 million cap hit and becomes an unrestricted free agent after this season. GM Jim Rutherford — forever in a delicate salary-cap balance because of the large, long-term deals for Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin — would like to squeeze some value out of that before letting Cole walk in free agency.
If you’re looking for the next change Pittsburgh must make to start looking like their old, two-time-defending Stanley Cup champion selves again, it’s this: They must get off to better starts. The Penguins have allowed 30 first-period goals, which is the worst mark in the league. They’ve scored only 20 goals in the first period themselves (which is 20th in the league), and that minus-10 differential is an ugly indicator of why they’re 13-10-3 and in fifth place in the Metropolitan Division. What’s one thing that could help them? A bit of scoring depth, especially if it comes on the cheap. That’s what I would expect the Penguins to look for as a return for Cole.
Chris Peters: This might not be the most exciting answer, but I don’t think there’s a move the Penguins should make aside from simply getting healthy. There is obviously the Cole trade speculation, and the Pens remain in the lower third of the league in goals per game, but there probably isn’t anything drastic in the cards for Pittsburgh.
Rutherford is best served allowing his head coach the opportunity to find the right mix with the players he has. It’s something Sullivan has managed pretty well in his relatively brief tenure with the club. The personnel is a bit different this time around, which is what makes things a little trickier, but it’s hard to see the Pens having the ability to bring in any outside help that would make a big enough difference.
Pittsburgh is not without flaws, but they also haven’t been getting the bounces. They’re shooting 8 percent as a team, well below the league average of 9.3 percent, and have the league’s lowest PDO per Corsica. With the players on their roster, especially after Malkin gets back, it’s hard to see that being the case all season. It’s also hard to see the Pens making a drastic enough move to make a noticeable difference anyway, but you never quite know what Rutherford has up his sleeve.
After playing at Buffalo on Friday, the Penguins will return for a big five-game homestand. That should be a good time for the club to assess where they’re at, what their health situation is and whether something bigger needs to be done. Until then, I think they should stay patient with the group they have.