Well, the season is now 20 games in which means that roughly one quarter of it is gone, and so, just like when you were back in school, it is time to issue the first quarter report card for the team, the players and the coach.
The Team: B-
The team has had to make quite a few adjustments this year from welcoming in new players to learning to play in a brand new facility and the adjustments have been anything but seamless. The Penguins currently sit fourth in the Eastern Conference four points behind division leading Philadelphia but with games in hand on both Philly and teams right behind them in the standings, this could change easily. The team has taken some time to get used to their new home, and it showed in their early games, but a 2-1-1 record in the last four at home shows that they may be settling in nicely. Scoring goals, which has never been a problem for this team is definitely not a problem this year as the Pens are currently 7th in the league in goals per game, but early struggles to find the right defensive pairings has led them to only 13th in goals allowed per game. Finding the right defensive players for the Penalty Kill has definitely not been a problem as they currently rank 3rd in the league killing off almost 90% of all man advantages. Unfortunately, they seem to have forgotten how to play with the man advantage as their Power Play has sunk to 25th in the league converting on barely 12%. This team has way too much offensive firepower for this to continue, but I don’t think the problem is up front, I think it is on the blue line as the coaching staff seems to be relying way too much on Letang and Goligoski to get the job done. In the last 12 games(5-5-2), the Penguins are 4/49(8.2%) on the Power Play, and in that time, GoGo and Tanger each only have 2 Power Play points. I’m thinking it might be time to give Paul Martin a shot or go with an extra attacker at the point.
Sidney Crosby: A On pace for 120 points, and has become not only a leader by example but now a vocal one as well
Evgeni Malkin : B- Started slowly but 8 points in his last 6 games shows he might be getting in gear
Craig Adams: B+ One of the main reasons the PK is so good. and has no qualms about trying to score while short handed.
Arron Asham: Incomplete Missed 9 games due to injury, but I like what I’ve seen from
him so far
Mike Comrie: D Wife still more well known in this town than he is.
Matt Cooke: B+ Another of the reasons that the PK has done so well, and on pace for 45 points this year.
Pascal Dupuis: C With each passing game, he continues to make you wonder how many points Sid would have if he had a winger that could convert the types of set ups that Dupuis has been failing on.
Deryk Engelland: B Who knew we had a future heavyweight champion in our midst?
Eric Godard: C- Contract fortunately up at end of this season. His skill set no longer required.
Alex Goligoski: B-/C+ The B- is for his offensive prowess and the C- is for the defensive lapses that have led to too many breakaways and odd man rushes for the opponents. How he is a +8 is beyond me.
Tyler Kennedy: C Really misses his buddy Jordan Staal
Chris Kunitz: C Just like Dupuis. Misses way too many opportunities that Sid gives him and is invisible on the Power Play. Should have way more than 10 points playing on Sid’s wing and with Sid and Gino on the Power Play
Kris Letang: A Won’t win the Norris but currently leads all defensemen in scoring with 17 points. Has really taken his game to a new level this year.
Mark Letestu: B- Started out like a house of fire and is still among the league leaders in rookie scoring but only 2 points in the last 13 games. May see playing time decrease quite a bit when Staal returns unless he can pick it back up soon.
Ben Lovejoy: Incomplete Just hasn’t been able to get on the ice with great play of Engelland
Paul Martin: B Was expecting a little more offense than 3 assists in the last 13 games but is playing very well defensively
Zbynek Michalek: Incomplete Missed nine games with an injury. Was brought in to be a shut down defenseman who was proficient at blocking shots. Currently a -3 and only averaging slightly over 2 blocks per game. Need to see some improvement.
Brook Orpik: B+ Brooks is like the silent killer, you never notice him until it’s too late. Does all of the little things and certainly not afraid to get his nose bloodied doing the dirty work. Just an all around solid defenseman.
Mike Rupp: B- Solid fourth line player
Max Talbot: A- Works as hard as any player in the league and gets the most out of his talent. Every team needs a guy like him in its locker room and on the ice.
Brent Johnson: A Would hate to think where the Pens would be if he hadn’t stepped up his game while Fleury was in his funk.
Marc-Andre Fleury: D/A The first grade is for his first eight starts during which he won only once with that win coming in overtime, and the second grade is for his last four starts in which he has only given up six goals and has a .931 save percentage. Let’s hope we see a lot more of the second guy.
Coaching Staff: B- We all thought the departure of Mike Yeo would solve all of last year’s power play woes. Not only has the PP not gotten better, but it has gotten substantially worse. I will give them a pass on some of the defensive woes as it can take time to figure out which pairings work the best when you have replaced half of your defensive corps.
Ray Shero: B- When the Pens didn’t repeat as cup champions last year, everyone said it was because we no longer had Gill and Scuderi to keep pucks away from Fleury. Ray tried to remedy that situation by targeting to Paul Martin and Zybenek Michalek to replace them as well as replacing Gonchar who, not only got the extra year from Ottawa that the Penguins wouldn’t offer, but also got a salary increase. And while I think they might have been better served going after Anton Volchenkov, it does take time for a new defensive corps to gel. It also looks like as long as Shero is in charge, the Pens will continue to go with the same game plan of getting by with the average/mediocre wings that they have and looking to improve at trade deadline time.