Pittsburgh Penguins' David Perron (39) celebrates his goal with teammates during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Minnesota Wild in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2015.(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
The Penguins went through a big transition during the off-season, replacing their general manager, head coach and a number of players. Those changes had them under a microscope through the first half of the season, as everyone waited anxiously to see how they would fare under their new regime.
Well, so far so good as they hit the All-Star break sitting in second place in the Metropolitan Division just three points behind the Islanders. They sit in fifth place in the Eastern Conference just four points behind the Lightning and they have been competitive with all of the best teams in the league.
The full story of this group of Penguins will not be told for a few months, but there has been plenty to be satisfied with through their first 46 games. There were also plenty of pitfalls, as the team went through the typical ups and downs of the NHL season.
Today we’ll take a look at three of the biggest “ups” and three of the biggest “downs” of the first half.
The Flower Blooms
No player on the Penguins roster seems to get scrutinized more than Marc-Ande Fleury. He never seems to get enough credit when the team wins and is always taking the brunt of the blame when they lose. His narrative is that of an average goaltender, who hitched a ride to a Stanley Cup Championship and has since been unable to do anything in the playoffs. Well, the second part of that narrative will linger until he changes it this spring, but he has shown the hockey world that he is far beyond average in his first 37 starts.
Fleury has been among the best goaltenders in the league all season long. He has posted a 22-9-5 record, a 2.31 goals against average, and a .921 save percentage. His six shutouts lead the league and he is currently taking part in his second career All-Star Game.
He has been removed from a game just two times on the season and has held opponents to two or less goals on 19 occasions.
The Penguins traded James Neal to the Predators back in June for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling. They also added Blake Comeau, Steve Downie, Thomas Griess and Christian Ehrhoff via free agency. All six of those players have made an impact on the team this season.
Hornqvist, Comeau, Downie, Spaling and Ehrhoff are all in the top 10 scorers on the roster; have played in a variety of roles and have helped the team to their place in the standings.
It is also worth noting that the team has gotten great results from some internal replacements such as Bryan Rust, Bobby Farnham, Brian Dumoulin, Scott Harrington, Derrick Pouliot and Andrew Ebbett, who have all had to fill in for injured players this season.
Even after having to use 33 different players this season, the Penguins boast 13 players with at least 10 points, nine with at least 15 points and 11 players with at least 5 goals.
Pens Strike Oil
General manager Jim Rutherford traded Neal at the NHL draft in June and might have grafted a replacement for him onto his roster on Jan. 2.
Rutherford sent his 2015 first round draft pick and forward Rob Klinkhammer to the Oilers in exchange for sniping forward David Perron. Perron is a three time 20 goal scorer, notching a career high 28 last a season ago for the Oilers. He has broken the 40-point plateau four times and the 50-point plateau twice.
He has been a great fit so far, skating in eight games alongside Sidney Crosby and rolling up five goals, two assists, 37 shots on goal and two power play points. He is also one of the most physical forwards on the roster rolling up 25 hits over that span.
Injury Bug Rides Again
The Penguins are no strangers to losing players, particularly impact players, to injury and that has again been the case this season. They have been hit with their share of conventional injuries this season, but were again hit with a number of injuries that most teams simply aren’t equipped to deal with.
Pascal Dupuis was lost for the season with a blood clot in his lung. Olli Maatta, who has since been lost for the season with a shoulder injury, was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor on his thyroid gland, and of course a number of players, including Sidney Crosby, were diagnosed with the mumps.
All told, the Penguins have lost 205 man games to injury through their first 46 games and have now lost 1,525 man games to injury since the opening of Consol Energy Center back in 2010, which is the most in the league.
Losing lots during a winning season
The Penguins hot start though their first 32 games, a span that saw them roll up a 22-6-4 record, helped them weather an ugly 14 game stretch leading into the All-Star break.
The team went just 4-6-4 over their last 14 games, something that can be directly tied to the fact that they have had to deal with so many injuries. The silver lining of that span is that they still managed to collect points in eight of those games.
Lack of offense also played a hand in the losing stretch; they were averaging 3.13 goals per game over those first 32 games, but have averaged just 2.57 goals per game over the past 14.
Sidney Crosby hasn’t always looked like himself this season and that has had many asking questions about what might be wrong with the Penguins’ captain. That situation was magnified as he went through one of the worst months of his career in Dec.
Crosby, who rolled up 33 points over his first 23 games played in Oct and Nov, picked up just five points over the course of 11 games in the month of Dec. He also battled a case of the mumps that month, which could have played a role in those struggles.
It is worth noting that even during a perceived “off-year” for the 27-year-old, he currently ranks third line the league’s scoring race with 51 points (15 goals). Those December games aside, Crosby has scored at a rate of 1.43 points per game.
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More about Marc-andre Fleury
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