by Tony on 11/03/13 at 04:56 PM ET
Coming up on 20% of the regular season in the books for your Pittsburgh Penguins and honestly, there haven't been a whole helluva lot of surprises:
- They currently lead the Eastern Conference with 22 points.
- Sidney Crosby leads the league in scoring.
- And yes, Marc-Andre Fleury is off to an excellent start.
To those that follow the team closely, things have pretty much fallen into place as it was thought that they would:
- While it's widely acknowledged that the Pens' early season schedule has been relatively weak, they've handled most of those weaker teams fairly easily. They've already beaten Carolina and Columbus twice, in addition to struggling teams such as Philly, New Jersey, Buffalo and Edmonton. There has been the painfully familiar loss of focus game on the road (Florida), but for the most part, when the Pens have played inferior opponents, they've taken care of business. Combine that with the fact that 9 of their first 15 games have been at home, the schedule will be getting harder, with a lot of those games on the road.
- As has been the case in recent years, young, fast and hard-working teams like the Islanders, Toronto and Colorado have presented challenges for the Pens. But let's not forget, dates with the Penguins on opponent's schedule get circled league-wide, as it is when high profile teams as Detroit, Boston and Chicago arrive.
- The Penguins offense keeps humming along, albeit with mounting injuries. It's been affecting Evgeni Malkin the most, undoubtedly. Geno has been snake-bitten lately, only scoring three goals in 15 games to date. It's clear that he misses his linemate James Neal. Malkin has been playing musical linemate, with the exception of Jussi Jokinen. I think a lack of continuity in linemates affect Malkin much more than it would Crosby, for whatever reason.
- One area of critical need coming into the season was the Pens defense. Thus far, they've done an outstanding job overall. Statistically, they're among the top handful of defensive corps in the league. Primarily, they've collapsed their defensive system to better protect their goaltender, and so far it's working. They've had to overcome the injury to Kris Letang and now a broken ankle to returning Pen Rob Scuderi. But that has also been weighed with the arrival of 19 year-old Olli Maatta, who has made the team at the very least until the Pens 40th game of the season, when the Pens will have to decide again to keep him on the roster.
- And that leads us to Fleury. Once again, I've been saying it all summer, I fully expect Fleury to flourish in the regular season. Of course I'm happy for him, and of course, I hope he continues to shine THROUGH the postseason. But I simply do not agree with those (like a certain Penguins TV announcer) who claim that Fleury has been "unfairly bashed". He fully deserves the legitimate criticism for his postseason failures, and until he turns that around, this guy needs to see it in the playoffs first.
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Originally at Blogspot, then at MVN, TheConfluence has over 1500 articles reporting Penguins news as well as jumping on my soapbox to opine constructive Penguins criticism.
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