Two week roundup is a season long look at the Penguins performance over the previous two week period. It will highlight what the team is doing right and what they are doing wrong. It will track individual and team performance for that period and for the season to that point.
Okay, so this will be more like a three week roundup. Too much turkey made reaching the keyboard a little difficult last week, but the Pens are winning so who cares. The return of many of the key players from injury means a return to winning for the defending champs, and they are once again looking the part. Now that most of the starting defensemen are back in the lineup, the Pens are looking solid again. There are still a few important guys out of the lineup, but they should be returning soon. But most importantly, please give a big round of applause to the Baby Pens who filled in while the hospital ward was full. Guys like Deryk Engelland and Ben Lovejoy filled in admirably during this time and, even with half of the team on the shelf, were able to play well enough to keep the Pens competitive and near the top of the standings. And it hasn’t taken long to get back to the top of the conference.
Holy crap, the Penguins finally found their power play. After missing for several weeks, it was found alive and well by Bill Guerin during the Ducks game. Apparently it was missed because the Penguins went on to score PP goals in four straight games and five of the next eight. It still is not a good thing that the PP was at 14.6% over the last nine games and that was an improvement. Overall, though, the Pens are down to 14% for the season, good enough for 27th in the league.
The penalty kill continues to be the best part of the Pens game. They killed off an incredible 24 of 27 for an 88.9% success rate. They are now at 83.6% for the season, up to 8th in the league. Staal even netted a shorthanded goal against the Ducks and nearly had another against the Rangers.
Another sign that the Pens are back to their old selves again is that they are again consistently out shooting their opponents. In fact, they out shot the other team in six of the last nine games. Over these nine games, they averaged 31.3 shots/game compared to 28.3 /game for the opponents. For the season, they are 7th in the league in shots and tied for 4th in shots against. Hey, if you’re shooting more, you should be winning more.
The Pens were not blocking as many shots as usual over this nine game stretch, but I blame that on the absence of Jay “Kevlar” Mckee. He was out several games and the BS totals dropped as a result. Don’t get me wrong, they are still impressively averaging 13.9 BS per game, but this is an integral part of their defense and the Pens need to keep at it.
Maybe most importantly, the Pens have improved remarkably at the face-off circle over these nine games. They won at a 51.3% rate, which is 5 percentage points better then the last roundup. Overall, they are up to 17th in the league at 49.4%. Most of this success is due to Crosby, who is one of the best in the league at the dot, but Jordan Staal has been extremely impressive at face-offs as well and this has really helped on the PK and occasionally leads to goals. Just ask Mike Rupp.
* Sidney Crosby & Evgeni Malkin – It is pretty safe to say that no one missed Geno while he was injured more then Sid. There is an ongoing debate about who is the leader of the team, but the reality is that they are two halves a hockey monster. In the last nine games they had 27 points between them. Sid had an astounding 8 goals and 8 assists in the nine games with 5G & 3A in the last two. Geno racked up 4 goals and 7 assists over the stretch and had at least one point in seven of the nine games. Look out everyone, the two-headed monster is hungry and on the prowl.
* Goaltending – While the rest of the team was banged up, the Penguins goalies were healthy, focused, and stood on their head to make the saves that kept the Pens in some games they had no right to be. Marc-Andre Fleury continues to be one of the premiere goal tenders in the NHL and is currently tied for the league lead in wins. He is not getting the league wide respect he deserves yet, but he gets a little more every day. And Brent Johnson has already surpassed the expectations. There was some worried Pens fans out there when he became the back up, but he has proven himself and then some.
* Penalty Kill – By far, the PK has become the best part of the Penguins game. Not only are the almost always assured to kill the penalty, but they are a constant threat to score shorthanded. The penalty kill has served as a rally point for the team when they are having a bad game, and can single-handedly turn a game back in the Pens favor. The PK is currently ranked 8th in the NHL and is rising quickly.
* Power Play – While seeing the Penguins power play succeed again is a huge relief, the hard truth is the PP is still struggling tremendously and turning it around needs to be the focus of this team. The power play was 6 for 41 over this nine game stretch and looked uncoordinated almost every time. There is little sustained pressure in the offensive zone, passing is sloppy, and there are not enough quality shots. The Pens are still enjoying success in the win column, but will need to get the PP on track if they want to still be playing in June
* Chris Bourque – Now, singling out a third line winger as a problem on the team is, in part, a good thing. This team is heading to the next level and everyone seems ready to follow…except one. That being said, Bourque is a hard worker. He is definitely giving his best out there, but that is the whole problem. His best does not seem to be enough. Bourque is still young and has time to improve, but if he is going to play with one of the best teams in the NHL, he has to improve faster.
* Discipline – With the team winning as much as they are right now, it is difficult to criticize their play, but all to often during the games in this stretch, basic team discipline seems to fade. Luckily, more often then not, the Pens have been able to recoup in time to win the game. But there were a few examples where this didn’t happen and the results in a disappointing loss like the one against the Islanders. The main reason this is a problem is because sooner or later this will start to catch up to the Pens when more teams identify this weakness and take advantage of it
#3 – Jordan Staal – He is quietly becoming a power on this team. 2 goals and six assists in nine games, one shorthanded goal and a monster at the face-off dot.
#2 – Martin Skoula – Skoula continues to be the most complete defenseman on the team. 3 goals and 3 assist over this stretch. The Pens must find a spot for him when everyone is healthy again.
#1 – Sidney Crosby – From goat at Halloween to hero on Thanksgiving, Sid has looked the part of captain of the Stanley Cup Champs. 8 goals and 8 assists in nine games and winning more face-offs then he loses.
The sick bay is finally nearly empty for the Penguins. Alex Gologoski remains day-to-day with a lingering groin injury, and Chris Kunitz will hopefully be back any day now from a lower body injury.
* Sidney Crosby is tied for 8th in the league in face-off wins at 57.1%.
* Mike Rupp had 4 goals in nine games including a hat trick. That’s usually a season for him. Amazing what playing with Sid can do.
* Matt Cooke is serving a two game suspension for an open ice hit against the Rangers. Six points and a suspension in the last nine games. Nice job Cookie! Next time save it for the Flyers.
* After this offensive output, Sidney Crosby is now 3rd in the league in points and 5th in goals.
* The Penguins took five penalties or less in eight of the nine games.
The Penguins get to enjoy some home games coming up.
- 12/3 – vs. Colorado Avalanche
- 12/5 – vs. Chicago Blackhawks
- 12/7 - vs. Carolina Hurricanes
- 12/10 - @ Montreal Canadiens
- 12/12 – vs. Florida Panthers
- 12/15 – vs. Philadelphia Flyers