1st of 6 part series evaluating the Penguins through 62 games
Tomorrow: Forward Evaluations/Grades
The Pittsburgh Penguins head into the Olympic break on a disappointing note, losing their final two home games, including a 4-3 shootout loss to the Nashville Predators Sunday afternoon. Through 62 games, the Penguins are one point out of first place, posting a 36-22-4 record and in prime position to earn another division title.
However, Pittsburgh heads into the Olympic break with concerns. Defensively it remains to be seen if they can match up against the likes of the Capitals, Blackhawks and Sharks and undisciplined penalties continue to be a team flaw and cost the Penguins yet another game Sunday afternoon.
Other concerns center around a winger for Evgeni Malkin and a power play that ranks 26th in the league after 62 games.
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
*Second place in Atlantic Division (36W-22L-4-76 pts) : Through 62 games, Pittsburgh is comfortably in the 4th seed in the Eastern Conference and only a point out of first place and the second seed in the Eastern Conference.
*Sidney Crosby (42G-36A-78pts +9): The games most marketable star has established himself as one of the games premier goal scorers, heading into the Olympic break tied for first in the league with 42 goals, surpassing his previous career high of 39 goals. Crosby assists on down this season but has also taken his game to another level in the face-off circle (56.7%)
*Bill Guerin (17G-21A-38pts +2): The highest Penguins scoring winger with 17 goals and ranks 4th on the team in points behind the Penguins “Big Three”. Guerin has been taking some unwarranted criticism from fans but he has already performed above expectations. Another thing to ponder, there’s not too many wingers with a $2 million cap hit that have put up the production that Guerin has. Case in point; Bill Guerin (17 goals, $2 million cap hit), Ruslan Fedotenko (8 goals, $1.8 million cap hit)
*Jordan Staal (16G-23A-39pts +16): In year four has taken his game to another level and behind Crosby, is the Penguins most complete forward. A team best plus-16 rating and is showing the ability to become a regular top-6 forward alongside Evgeni Malkin.
*Penalty Kill (83.2%): Ranked 9th in the NHL on the PK, the Penguins penalty kill has become a strength under assistant coach Tony Granato. Pittsburgh is playing more aggressive than in years past and are getting excellent production from PK regulars Jordan Staal, Pascal Dupuis and Matt Cooke.
*Matt Cooke (12G-12A-24pts +12): Has provided leadership on and off the ice and has been very productive on the ice. Ranks 2nd on the team with a plus/minus rating of +12 and is on pace for a 16 goal season.
*Brooks Orpik (1G-18A-19pts +7): The Penguins most consistent defenseman this season and the teams only defenseman who provides a consistent physical presence.
*Pascal Dupuis (13G-12A-25pts +1): Versatile forward who has been rebounded this season with a solid season and is regarded highly by the coaching staff. Excellent on the penalty kill and his 13 goals through 61 games has been somewhat unexpected after a sub par 2008-2009 season
*WBS Callups: Great teams get unexpected production from the farm team and Pittsburgh has this season. Defenseman Ben Lovejoy established himself as a potential top -6 defenseman while the likes of Chris Conner, Mark Letestu and Nick Johnson have come up and given the Penguins production.
*Alex Goligoski (0 goals in 35 games): The 24 year defenseman got off to an excellent start to the season but has been overmatched defensively and is not producing offensively. Goligoski hasn’t scored in 35 games (Nov. 3). Goligoski is minus-3 in his last two games and has 6 goals and 20 assists on the year.
Kris Letang (3 goals on the season): Letang’s defensive play has been strong of late and this is not a knock on Letang but the 22 year old defenseman has not taking the next step offensively in year 3. Letang has only 3 goals on the season and leads all Penguins defensemen with 140 shots on goal. Most team insiders had him penciled in for 12-15 goals this year.
*Michael Rupp (lack of toughness): Michael Rupp has exceeded all expectations scoring 11 goals this season but that’s not the reason Pittsburgh signed him. He was signed to a two year contract to provide toughness up and down the lineup (not as an enforcer) and Rupp has lacked consistency in the toughness department. He’s a valuable asset when he plays the type of game he played against the Islanders Wednesday night.
*Injuries: The Stanley Cup Champions have been plagued with injuries throughout the season with Max Talbot, Tyler Kennedy, Chris Kunitz, Sergei Gonchar all missing significant time. Core players such as Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin have also missed a handful of games this season due to injuries.
*Evgeni Malkin (21G-44A-65pts -2): Among the top 5 players in the game, the Penguins expect more from Malkin. Currently ranked 13th in points, Malkin’s goal scoring continues to take a plunge under head coach Dan Bylsma as he has become more of a playmaker under DB but the real concern has been the undisciplined penalties by the art ross trophy winner.
*Ruslan Fedotenko (8G-14A-22pts -16): A complete disappointment this season, Fedotenko has 8 goals on the season and a team worst plus/minus rating of minus-16. After coming off a strong playoff run, expectations rose as personnel members felt a 20+ goal season was possible as did Fedotenko’s agent Allan Walsh, who saw a prime opportunity to return on a one year contract in Dan Bylsma’s system and cash in this off-season. That plan has not worked out.
*Craig Adams (0G-7A-7pts -7): The Penguins 4th line is not constructed to score goals but what the coaching staff looks for is a 4th that controls the play in the offensive zone by cycling and plays responsible in the defensive zone. At times Adams has looked like a player who was placed on waivers last season and is a disappointing minus-7 on the year and under 50% on faceoffs this season. Numbers the Penguins don’t like to see from their 4th line anchor.
*Max Talbot (28GP-1G-4A-5pts -2): It’s been one injury after another for the Penguins Stanley Cup final hero. Talbot missed the first two months of the season after having off-season shoulder surgery and has not been the same player since. Some believe he came back early and other injuries have now plagued him, including a groin injury has kept him out of 10 of the Penguins last 11 games. It may be a lost season for Talbot.
*Power Play (16.3%): The Penguins power play has been one of the most disappointing aspects of the team thus far. The Penguins rank 26th in the league on the power play and a concern has been the inability to score a big goal at timely moments.
*Limited Cap Space: The Penguins Penguins head into the Olympic break with two priorities; Adding a 2nd line winger and a defensive defenseman. The likelyhood of acquiring both is slim as the Penguins have an estimated $700,000 in cap space.