DePaoli on the Penguins
Even without Sidney Crosby, the Penguins have been regarded as one of the NHL’s most complete teams and the Penguinas depth has been on display through three games, going 2-0-1 and taking a possible 5 of 6 points on the team’s opening Western Canada Swing.
“We got five out of six points,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said on Sunday. “I like that. We got some wins in tough places. We’ve played a lot of hockey already and I think that showed in this game. A lot of guys got taxed. But we’re happy with our start.”
Being regarded as one of the NHL’s most complete teams is what’s made the Penguins a hot pick for a return to the Stanley Cup this season.
They showed their depth against a Cup Contender in Vancouver and overwhelmed a Calgary team that isn’t among the NHL’s elite but figure to battle for a playoff spot this season.
The Penguins got all three teams in their home and season opener and were able to withstand that early momentum, and energy teams have in their home opener, especially Canadian hot beds like Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton.
Depth: The Penguins have 8 different Goal Scorers and 12 players have recorded at least a point.
Letang a work horse through three games: Kris Letang leads the Penguins with 5 points, 1 goal – 4 assists. Letang is averaging 27:08 of ice time, a team high. He has been a workhorse on the power play, leading the Penguins with 17:36 of ice time.
He’s off to the type of start offensively we saw from him in the first half of last season, where he was finding a way to get to rack up points on a nightly basis when he wasn’t even on top of his game.
Staal taking next step offensively?… but not in face off circle: Scouts I’ve talked with who had seen Jordan Staal in the preseason believed Staal is maturing as a player offensively. He’s finding ways to get points, averaging a point per game so far, with a goal and 2 assists.
Staal though has struggled out of the gates in the faceoff circle. Staal has won 26 of 61 draws (42.5%) and has been poor on special teams.
Staal has won 1 of 6 draws on the power play and has lost 7 of 10 draws on the penalty kill.
Vitale leaping Letestu, option for draws on power play?
Centerman Joe Vitale continues to make his impact as a right handed centerman, a specific need the Penguins sought this off-season.
Vitale has a team-high 59.5% and has won 25 of 42 draws. There is a strong importance of winning draws in the face off circle on the power play and Vitale is 4-for-4 on draws in power play situations. Vitale is not a power play player but being designated for draws could be an area he see’s more time.
Something to watch this week is Vitale leaping Mark Letestu on the depth chart. Prior to Evgeni Malkin getting banged up in the Calgary game, Vitale was getting third line shifts over Letestu with Cooke and Dupuis.
*Evgeni Malkin has a team worst 35.5% face off percentage among the Penguins top-4 centerman but he has been effective on draws in power play situations, winning 4 of 6 draws.
Confidence in Niskanen brewing: The Penguins felt a full training camp with the team’s coaching staff would benefit Matt Niskanen greatly and the coaching staff is starting to a show a lot of confidence in the fans whipping boy.
Niskanen who I’m told sold on defensively, has been aggressive in jumpiing up in the play, something the Penguins love from their blueliners but what’s been intriguing is the coaching staff becoming confident with his penalty killing ability.
Niskanen is 5th overall in ice time, averaging 19:34 of ice time through three games and he’s averaging 1:45 of ice time shorthanded per game, 4th among Penguins blueliners. He’s benefited from Brooks Orpik being sidelined for the start of the season.
Against Edmonton, Niskanen had 3:22 of ice time shorthanded, 3rd among defensemen. He’s surpassed Deryk Engelland and Ben Lovejoy on the penalty kill. Engelland is averaging 59 seconds per game (shorthanded) and had only 51 seconds of ice time on the PK vs Edmonton.
Ben Lovejoy is rarely used on the PK, collecting just 2 seconds of shorthanded ice time.
The team liking Niskanen’s ability over both Lovejoy and Engelland on the PK and power play where Niskanen’s averaging 3:15 per game, will likely keep him in the lineup for now when Brooks Orpik returns.