Forward Progress: 1st Half Grades

As we come to the All-Star Break, the Pens sit at 5th in the East with 33 games left to play. At a little more than halfway through the season, here are my Forward Grades.

Evgeni Malkin: A+
-Had a torrid preseason and started the season strong. Injury woes popped up again early, but he's rebounded and since Sid went down, Geno has elevated his game to levels we have not seen in a couple years. Playing fantastic hockey lately, leading the NHL in scoring with 58 points in only 42 games and hitting on all cylinders with his linemates. Taking over games and carrying the team on his back. If he stays healthy and motivated, expect more huge things from Malkin.

James Neal: A
-Last year's goal drought is LONG gone. Tied for second in the NHL in goals with 27. Tied for first in power play goals with 13. Leading the league in shots. 47 points in 49 games. All-Star. Terrific chemistry with Malkin. Forechecks like a beast and plays responsible in his own end. Primed for a big second half and the 40 goal mark. My only complaint is he seems to take too many minor penalties.

Chris Kunitz: B+
-Complements Neal and Malkin nicely on the top line. Gritty winger hits anything that moves and provides net front presence on the PP. 14 goals and 18 assists in 49 games. Would like to see him score more goals, but they keep getting called back.

Jordan Staal: B
-Grade would be higher, but he's been plagued with injuries. Out for a few more weeks with a knee injury. When healthy this year, he's been a terrific two way player. 15 goals in the 34 games he's played and strong on the PK and a shorthanded threat. If he can come back from the knee injury and play his type of game, he will be a force and make the Pens an even better team down the stretch.

Pascal Dupuis: B
-Was on a points tear for awhile, but has since cooled considerably. Has 27 points in 49 games. Still strong on the PK. Would like to start seeing him score again and give the Pens that secondary scoring they are going to need.

Matt Cooke: B+
-Much like Dupuis, his scoring has dropped off lately, but I've really been impressed with how he has changed his game and not been that guy that everyone hates. 16 penalty minutes, only 8 minors, in 49 games. Excellent on the PK. Would like to see a little more than his 7 goals and 9 assists for that all important secondary scoring.

Tyler Kennedy: D
-Yes, very disappointed in TK. He's missed some time to injury, but 6 goals in 38 games isn't going to cut it. Stepped up last year but been very one-dimensional and virtually invisible lately. He doesn't kill penalties and gets very little PP time, so he needs to start scoring more at even strength, especially with Sid out of the lineup.

Steve Sullivan: B
-Not doing too bad. Surprisingly hasn't missed a game yet and has potted 9 goals and 14 assists. Has really helped the power play, but the turnovers at the blueline on the power play drive me absolutely crazy though. Would also like to see a little more consistency in scoring.

Dustin Jeffrey: C
-Missed a ton of time with a bad knee, but seems to finally be getting back to his game as evidenced by a recent 2 goal, 3 point game. Gonna need him to step up and help in the scoring department in the second half.

Richard Park: B-
-4 goals and 9 points from someone not even expected to make the team in training camp. Has proved valuable on the third line and the PK. Like many players, more consistency in his game is needed.

Joe Vitale: A-
-I love this guy. He's not here to score, but has 2 goals and 9 points. He's here to win faceoffs and bang bodies and he does it well. Valuable 4th line and PK player.

Craig Adams: B+
-Another guy I love. Doesn't show up on the scoresheet much, but shows up every night to play gritty hockey. Hits, fights, blocks shots, gives it all on the PK. Tough as nails.

Arron Asham: B-
-Was rolling along fine in his role til struck with another concussion. Drops the gloves to protect teammates and plays his fourth line, veteran role with pride.

Eric Tangradi: D
-12 games, 2 fights (???), 2 broken panes of glass, no goals. Needs to step it up and provide secondary scoring and hasn't shown much at the NHL level yet. This is his time to prove himself NHL-worthy. Not that he hasn't been playing hard, it's just not happening. Needs to find a way to get his game going at this level.

Steve Macintyre: D
-Has been back and forth between here and the Baby Pens. Gets only seconds of ice time and has no fights in his 11 games in the NHL this year. Not his fault so much, as it seems the "enforcer" player is becoming expendable and there are less and less guys to fight.

So, everyone likes to play GM and say how they would fill out the lines, so here are my two takes...a healthy roster without Sid, and a healthy roster with Sid.

Healthy Without Sid:

Healthy With Sid:

Without Crosby, I think the Pens can still be very dangerous if they get secondary scoring going from guys like Jeffrey, Cooke, Dupuis, Sullivan, Kennedy to complement scoring machines Malkin and Neal.

With Crosby, the Pens can finally get back to throwing three dangerous lines with three great centers at opponents. Look. Out.

Either way, I'm excited for this second half of the season and can't wait to see what kind of a ride the boys take us on.



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