What A Difference A Year Makes

The start to a season doesn't always dictate the direction a team is heading, but it certainly helps getting off to a fast start.

Picking up points in their first five games of the season, (3-0-2 8 pts.) the Pittsburgh Penguins are off to one of the best starts in the NHL. Taking five of a possible six points to kick the season off in western Canada, and then another three out of four possible points in win over Florida at home and an overtime loss to rival Washington. That's five games in eight days including 3,000 miles of travel and back.

This while captain Sidney Crosby hasn't played a single minute this season, Evgeni Malkin has been sidelined two games with soreness on his surgically repaired knee, and no Brooks Orpik on the blue line. In your best Sean Connery voice, most impressive.

Turn back the clock to this time last year. The Pens more than stumbled out of the starting gate. In the teams first five games of last season, the team only picked up two victories. Marc-Andre Fleury was anything but sharp between the pipes and a healthy Crosby and Malkin were in the lineup.

So what's the difference between now and then? I'd say chemistry.

You have a team now that is use to not relying on superstars. Who would have ever predicted Matt Cooke would be at the top of the NHL scoring leaders? On top of that, a full training camp to better understand the system head coach Dan Bylsma runs, James Neal is finally producing goals.

On defense, four of the six starters in Paul Martin, Zbynek Michalek, Deryk Engelland and Ben Lovejoy last year were new with the Penguins. A season later, you have a tighter blue line core better understanding and anticipating where their line partner will be and more comfortable rushing in on the play in the offensive zone.

Add in names like Steve Sullivan, Joe Vitale and Richard Park to the mix and you've got a well oiled offense, power play and penalty kill. A penalty kill only allowing one goal in 17 opportunities and is tied for the lead in scoring shorthanded goals with two.

The road through October is still one which will test this Penguins team. Playing the most games in the month out of any in the NHL, 13 total, making it out of October at the pace their at and keeping healthy only bodes promising things marching on this season.


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