MORNING PENS BUZZ
The Pittsburgh Penguins are off a 5-1-0 start, have the look of one of the most balanced teams in the NHL and they are playing without their best defenseman in Kris Letang and their top goal scoring winger James Neal.
We have seen a lot of positives from this team. That said, the Penguins schedule has been weak to start the season as the Penguins six opponents (New Jersey, Carolina, Buffalo, Florida, Tampa Bay, Edmonton) are a combined 10-23-8 this season.
Out of that group, maybe one of them makes the playoffs in the Carolina Hurricanes, possibly the Tampa Bay Lightning but that is a tough division in the Atlantic.
The Penguins have beat teams they should and the coaching staff deserves credit for having this team ready to play just about every night.
The schedule, though, starts to pick up following Thursday’s game with the Philadelphia Flyers. Pittsburgh is in Philadelphia against the 1-6 Flyers Thursday night, and then home to John Tortorella’s Vancouver Canucks (4-3-0, 8 pts) in an intriguing game, followed by Patrick Roy and the undefeated Colorado Avalance (6-0-0, 12 pts) coming to town Monday night.
Few would have thought the Avalanche coming to Pittsburgh for an October game would be newsworthy but it is. Roy has given the Avalanche a swagger about them and all of the talent they have upfront is starting to mesh. Roy, though, has made the Avalanche into an excellent defensive team and they have given up just 6 goals in six games. Quite an accomplishment as on paper the Av’s have an average at best group of defensemen.
The Penguins wrapup a three game homestand on Friday, October 25th vs the New York Islanders in a rematch from last years first round series. Pittsburgh then goes on the road to face Toronto and Carolina before returning home for a rematch of the Eastern Conference Finals with the Bruins coming to town on the 30th.
Some Cup contenders and serious playoff contenders are starting to creep up on the schedule in the latter part of the month.
I’m hearing there’s no definite timetable established from team doctors but the Penguins feel James Neal’s upper body injury is at least a four to six week injury and he’s going to miss a couple more weeks of action, if not more. Neal is in the second week of his injury and he’s at the point where he can’t take contact yet, but is permitted to skate.
Neal being injured eliminates pretty much any shot of making Team Canada, as he was a longshot candidate to begin with, or being in contention for a 50 goal season which team officials have felt was attainable from Neal if everything goes right and he played a full season.
As for Matt D’Agostini, he’s still not eligible to come off LTIR until next week. He is closer to returning than Neal.
D’Agostini could get some looks with Evgeni Malkin and Jussi Jokinen on the second line with Neal out. D’Agostini entered the season penciled in as the third line left winger but Chuck Kobasew’s emergence has put a dent into those plans.