Change Of Fortune
On Tuesday, January 29th, the Pittsburgh Penguins played host to the New York Islanders. With five minutes remaining in the second period, the Islanders John Tavares and Matt Moulson would both score, respectively, on consecutive power plays. At the end of the period the Pittsburgh Penguins players were booed off of the ice. The real kicker, when the Penguins returned to the ice, the arena had been half full.
Just ten days ago the Penguins record would have indicated an average team considering they were only 3-3-0. People questioned their toughness, their skill, and whether or not they could ever be considered a true Stanley Cup contender. That was just six games in, just six. Since then, Pittsburgh has been great.
Just to emphasize their current play, here are a few surprising stats about the five game winning streak-
- They have outscored the opponent 23 to 8, a 4.6 GPG for the Pens compared to a 1.6 GPG for the opposition.
- 21 penalties taken, but just two goals allowed
- 7 of 22 on the power play, a respectable 32%
With a lead in the division, the East as well, the Penguins’ are now focused on fine tuning their game. They are figuring out how they turned around their season and how they can continue to improve upon that. So, where did they actually turn their season around?
In brevity, Simon Despres has played a huge role in the clubs turn around. Since being paired with Kris Letang, the young defenseman has been nothing short of terrific. Despres is using his size, 6’4 220lbs, to box out the opposition down low. He has 15 hits, 5 blocked shots, and is third in scoring by rookie defensemen. His smooth skating and patient presence has aided in Pittsburgh’s transition game, sparking a smoother offensive resurgence (counter to the open stretch passing from last season that sealed their playoff fate).
Despres’ play was impressive enough that the Penguins felt comfortable in trading depth defensemen Ben Lovejoy. As the season progresses, expect to see Despres’ ice time move well into the twenty minute area with time spent on both the power play and the penalty kill.
While Despres has been the Penguins biggest surprise this season, it is the pairing of Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik that have the blue line sparkling. The Penguins shut down pairing, some may scoff at that notion, have been sensational.
The duo has just one penalty on the season. They have played against the top line of the opposition night in and night out and have looked outstanding. Orpik has 16 hits and 30 blocked shots, while Martin has 18 blocked shots. They are controlling play along the boards and behind the net, which has allowed the Penguins to exit the zone timely, sparking the transitional offense that made Pittsburgh so dangerous in the cup years.
With Crosby playing his strongest two way play, arguably of his career, and the growth of Brandon Sutter’s offense in the Penguins system, there are very few holes to be filled on this Penguins roster; however, the holes that exist are large ones to fill.
Who will play winger with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal? Is Tyler Kennedy on his way out of the lineup with his most recent play? Finally, what does Pittsburgh plan on doing with Eric Tangradi, Dustin Jeffrey, their boatload of talented prospects, and the trade market? We hope to answer some of these in the near future as the Penguins continue to solidify their roster, but that doesn’t mean we cannot speculate either. As for now though, enjoy some hockey and be glad we didn’t lose this season.