One of the NHL's words-du-jour this year has been "truncated", as in "truncated season". As in, it was just three and a half weeks ago that the Pens opened the season in Philly, and tomorrow they'll be playing their fourteenth game of the year. We're at the quarter-pole of the season. So how are things?
5G – 12A – 17P
WOO THAT’S GREAT: Started a little slow like he usually does but prior to this past weekend, he had been held off the scoresheet just twice in the team’s first eleven games. To put his current pace in perspective, he’d put 31 goals and 107 points over an 82-game season. If Shero adds another legitimate top-six winger, holy hell, look out.
DAMN THAT SUCKS: Is he over-passing the puck or looking for the perfect play a little too often? Maybe. Crosby is a playmaker first, but it may not hurt him every once in a while to get a little more selfish.
3G – 13A – 16P
WOO THAT’S GREAT: Came out absolutely flying against the Flyers and Rangers in the first two games. Like Crosby, he’s only been held off the scoresheet four times all year and he instantly re-established chemistry with James Neal, especially on the power play.
DAMN THAT SUCKS: 24 PIMs to lead the team. What a goon. OK, so 10 of those minutes came courtesy of some bizarre game misconduct he got popping off to a ref at the very end of the Toronto game. But six of them also came this past Saturday against the Devils. He just can’t do that. His seven minors tie him with Despres for the team lead. You expect that from a rookie defenseman, not so much from a veteran alternate captain. He's tended to deal with his frustration this year by resorting to bouts of Kovalev-itis (one too many moves with the puck), or by taking bad penalties. Not too worried about the relatively low goal production, as Operation Top Six Winger will eventually address that.
6G – 9A – 15P
WOO THAT’S GREAT: Six goals on 21 shots gives him a team-best shooting percentage of 28.6%. If this were an 82-game season, he'd be on pace for 37 goals and 94 points. To put that in perspective, his 26G and 61 points LAST year were career highs. So yeah, he's obliterating his usual output right now. Off the scoresheet, he's a perfect fit for this system given his speed, relentless forechecking, willingness to throw himself into corners to get the puck. Scary thing is that he'll do this playing alongside either Crosby or Malkin, which may come into play if Beau Bennett gets the call.
DAMN THAT SUCKS: He probably can’t keep that pace up over a 48-game season, right? Right?
8G – 2A – 10P
WOO THAT’S GREAT: Picked up right where he left off last year with eight goals in 13 games. At this pace, he’d score 50 in an 82-game season. Currently, he’s on pace for almost 30 goals over a 48-game season. One of the best shots in the league, hands-down.
DAMN THAT SUCKS: Much like linemate Geno, he’s been visibly frustrated at times and it's translated into some bad penalties. Whatever. He makes up for it by trying to fire wrist shots through goaltenders' shoulders.
4G – 4A – 8P
WOO THAT’S GREAT: Same old Dupuis. He’s on pace for 14-15 goals this year, which would be 25 over 82 games, which would match his career high from last year.
DAMN THAT SUCKS: (grasps at straws) I don’t know…he’s not Marian Hossa? Seriously, it’s almost impossible to complain about him without sounding like a spoiled brat of a hockey fan. He has a cap hit of $1.5 million. For $1.5 million, most teams would be thrilled stupid with 15 goals and 30 points in 82 games. He may get that in 48. Yes, he has suspect hands at times. Yes, he's too much grinder and not enough skill. Again, though. 15-goal, 30-point pace in 48 games for $1.5 million.
3G – 3A – 6P
WOO THAT’S GREAT: It took him some time, but he’s begun to get comfortable in this system and it’s starting to show. He has three goals and two assists in his last six games. He hasn’t taken a penalty since the second game of the year. Damn, he's fast.
DAMN THAT SUCKS: Went six straight games without a point but his linemates have been the ghost of Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy. Can’t really complain much otherwise as he's gotten progressively better.
Matt Cooke & Tyler Kennedy
Combined 3G - 3A - 6P
WOO THAT'S GREAT: Cooke has 2 goals and 2 assists on the year and recently has done a good job creating traffic in front of opposing goaltenders. Tyler Kennedy isn't a horrible third-liner in this system.
DAMN THAT SUCKS: Kennedy has two points. He's 4th on the team in shots. That's great, but consider this - If he had HALF of Kunitz's conversion rate, he'd have 4-5 goals right now. He has one. Sooner or later, you either have to hit something other than the goalie (not the glass, TK), or start using your linemates.
3G - 6A - 9P
WOO THAT'S GREAT: 25 minutes of ice time a night and he probably covers every inch of it when he's out there. His ridiculous speed and skating abilities are almost unmatched among NHL blueliners and it allows him freedom to operate all over the ice.
DAMN THAT SUCKS: Hurt again, though it sounds like he'll be back soon.
1G - 5A - 6P
WOO THAT'S GREAT: In terms of his play in all three zones this year, he's making a leap like Sergei Gonchar did from 2005-06 to 2006-07 (which Gonch then built to Norris-candidate levels of play in 2007-08). Completely different player over last year. Confident carrying and moving the puck. He's playing positional defense at shutdown caliber and engaging opponents with effective stick checks.
DAMN THAT SUCKS: This huge plate of crow sure is awesome.
No points, 24 minutes a night
WOO THAT'S GREAT: Shutdown pairing city with Paul Martin. His 34 blocked shots leads the team.
DAMN THAT SUCKS: Just stay healthy. Just stay healthy. Just stay healthy.
2G - 3A - 5P
WOO THAT'S GREAT: Stepped in seamlessly after Matt Niskanen got hurt, he's played 15+ minutes in six of his last eight games and absorbed the role quite well, even seeing some limited PP and PK time. Only Letang has more shots on net among Pens' d-men. Plays a stronger physical game than initially expected.
DAMN THAT SUCKS: Seven minor penalties ties him for the team lead there with Malkin, but that's to be expected with Despres. Rookie makes rookie mistakes sometimes. Go figure.
1G, 1A, 9 hits, 8 blocked shots
WOO THAT'S GREAT: Brought much-needed range and nastiness to the defense. Doesn't want any of your damn cookies.
DAMN THAT SUCKS: Like Despres, young player sometimes makes young player mistakes. Whatever. He's fun to watch.
WOO THAT'S GREAT: Eight wins in 13 games, and a combined save percentage of .911. With teams seldom getting more than two consecutive nights off all year, this arrangement could prove to be invaluable to the Pens. Many other teams *cough*DevilsRangersFlyersIslanders*cough* have opened the season starting one goalie in about 90% of their games. The Pens' 60/40 split here was by design. It's a luxury. It's the plan.
DAMN THAT SUCKS: Trade talk. Neither is making the other expendable. Again, this is a luxury most teams don't have. This. Was. The. Plan. As long as they're winning and getting solid goaltending, does it matter who is in net?