With 23 games in the books, the Pittsburgh Penguins (13-6-4) sit atop the National Hockey League standings.
The Penguins are 8-1-2 at the Consol Energy Center and own an overall +17 goal differential, good for second in the league. The dynamic Penguins boast the NHL’s sixth ranked offense (3.04 G/G) and eighth power play (19.1%), while simultaneously owning a top-10 defense (2.35 GA/G) and the number two penalty kill in the league (90.8%).
The Penguins rank just 27th in winning percentage in one-goal games with a 3-4-4 record, but are 5-1 in two-goal games and 5-1 in three-goal games, good for fifth and fourth in the league, respectively.
The team has recorded two shutouts on the season (twice the New York Islanders) and are one of seven to have not yet been shutout.
Now let’s get to some awards.
Offensive MVP – James Neal – Last season’s trade deadline acquisition leads the Penguins with 13 goals (2nd in NHL), 22 points (20th) and 95 shots on goal (1st). Neal is a big reason the Penguins have scored over three goals per game despite playing seven games without Evgeni Malkin and 20 without Sidney Crosby. The Penguins relied on Neal heavily throughout the first quarter of the season, and the 24-year-old was certainly up to the task after scoring just one goal in 20 games with Pittsburgh last season. Neal is more than halfway to the 24 goals I projected for him preseason, and I couldn’t be happier.
Honorable Mention – Evgeni Malkin – 7 G, 13 A, 70 SOG in 16 GP
Defensive MVP – Marc-Andre Fleury – The soon-to-be 27-year-old (November 28th) is a huge the reason the Penguins were able to keep atop the NHL standings in the absence of their two superstars, plus defensemen Brooks Orpik and Zbynek Michalek for much of the season. Fleury ranks second in the NHL with 12 wins, sixth with a 2.02 GAA, ninth with a .927 SV% and second with two shutouts. The 2003 no. 1 overall pick also ranks third in shootout save percentage, stopping 10 of the 12 attempts he’s faced this season.
Penguins defenders – most notably Kris Letang and Paul Martin – have displayed some lackadaisical defensive effort at numerous points in the season, and Fleury has bailed them out on more than one occasion. He’s clearly been Pittsburgh’s best defensive player thus far.
Surprise Player – Pascal Dupuis – This was the hardest decision out of the awards, but winger Pascal Dupuis gets the Penguins’ surprise player at the quarter mark. In 23 games, Dupuis has recorded five goals and 18 points, in addition to a team-best +10 rating. His 65 shots rank fourth on the team. These are all great numbers for a player who has recorded 75 points in 405 games over the last two seasons while usually playing on Sidney Crosby’s wing.
Dupuis’ .783 points per game put him on pace for 64 this season, nearly 20 points over his career high of 48. The 32-year-old should do nothing but improve if head coach Dan Bylsma leaves him on Crosby’s right wing, though that’s not guaranteed.
Honorable Mentionss – Matt Cooke – 10 P, 8 PIM in 23 GP; Jordan Staal – 11 G, 17 P in 23 GP, Matt Niskanen – 5 P, +8 in 22 GP
Disappointing Player – Paul Martin – Whether or not Martin is worth his $5 million contract has been a hot debate among Penguins fans and I’ve been a proponent of Martin’s value to the team, but he’s doing his best to prove me wrong. He’s not the power play quarterback some (not myself) hoped he could be, and his six points (no goals) and -8 rating in 23 games are simply unacceptable for the man making the most money on Pittsburgh’s blueline.
Martin was seen as a good all-around defenseman when signed, but he’s shown limited offensive prowess during his time in Pittsburgh and has been subject to some poor defensive play especially this season.
Honorable Mention – Ben Lovejoy – 1 P, +1 in 13 GP
The top three video highlights from the first quarter:
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