by PuckStopsHere on 11/29/11 at 04:48 PM ET
It is easy to imagine that the current first place team might hold onto their lead for a while. They are the Pittsburgh Penguins. They have a 14-10 record with four regulation tie points. Their +18 goal differential places them second best in the league. This record may not be a dominant one, but the impressive part of it is that most of the season so far has been played without their best player Sidney Crosby.
Crosby has only played four games so far, but he has posted a ridiculous nine points and a +7 +/- rating. Those are dominant numbers. He is eclipsing his past scoring rates. It is reasonable to suggest that Crosby won’t keep up that point per game rate over a full season but will likely still have the best point per game rate in the league.
Even with Crosby out, the Penguins had done quite well. The Penguins have the sixth best offense so far this year. James Neal and Evgeni Malkin have been scoring at better than point per game rates. Pascal Dupuis and Jordan Staal are not far below that level. Chris Kunitz, Matt Cooke and Steve Sullivan all provide sold depth. This is one of the deepest offences in the NHL.
On defence, Kris Letang is scoring well and is in the Norris Trophy race. Paul Martin, Brooks Orpik and Zbynek Michalek are reliable, solid players in their own zone.
Marc-Andre Fleury has been a solid goalie. He is a level below the best in the league but an above average starter.
It would be a nice storyline if Pittsburgh stayed close to the top until Crosby came back and then ran away with the league. It would go a long way toward clearly establishing his dominance. I don’t think things will turn out that simply. There is too much parity in the NHL. I think nobody will run away from the league into first place this season. Pittsburgh is a strong team that is a serious contender to win the league, but they are not the only solid contender. Other teams will have their chance to lead the league.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are a top team. They got a significant boost from the return of Sidney Crosby. They sit in first place right now. I don’t think they will run away with the league title, but they may wind up winning it. It is a long season and several other teams will challenge them along the way.
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