When the 2009-10 schedule was released, this stretch leading up to the holiday break stuck out to me as a time where the Penguins would prove themselves.
They haven’t disappointed.
After dropping back to back home games against Chicago and Carolina, the Penguins have strung together five straight wins. Most recently they took care of Philadelphia — which is always difficult given the rivalry — in a home and home series and then traveled to Buffalo and won in a shootout, 2-1.
In one week the Penguins have proven they are every bit as good as last year, if not better. And with games against New Jersey tonight and Ottawa on Wednesday, the Penguins can enter the three-day holiday break playing their strongest hockey of the year.
What’s scary is Pittsburgh has shown they still have a lot of improving to do.
Break it down by position and this week has shown us a lot.
All of a sudden there are six players on pace to put up 20 or more goals this season. Sidney Crosby has already done so with 22 and is followed by Evgeni Malkin (10), Jordan Staal (10), Bill Guerin (9), Pascal Dupuis (9) and Mike Rupp (9).
Those forwards have done mare than score, though. Against Philadelphia, the Penguins displayed their physical presence and showed that they can match up with anyone in that department — see Eric Godard, Rupp and Craig Adams fighting back-to-back-to-back in a 16 second span.
Even the power play unit is coming along. Since changing the makeup of the first power play line, the Penguins have scored twice. And although they went 0 for 5 at Buffalo Saturday night, the chances generated were better than we’ve seen in weeks.
All told, the offense has produced 116 goals — second in the NHL. And if you get these guys in a shootout, good luck. There doesn’t seem to be a more dominant team in overtime and shootout play.
Surprisingly, the only defenseman to have a minus rating is Sergei Gonchar: minus-3. The other starting five combine for a plus-43, which makes up for that.
We’re waiting to hear on Mark Eaton’s status as he appeared to injure his left knee against Buffalo. But we’ve already seen this unit get through mass injuries and having Martin Skoula as your backup never hurts.
Brooks Orpik is second in the NHL in hits and Jay McKee has been at or near to top of the block shots list all season.
The fact that the Penguins are nearing in on almost a month of allowing no more than two goals speaks for itself. It also speaks to the final piece of the puzzle.
Marc-Andre Fleury seems to almost have guaranteed himself a roster spot on team Canada, going 10-1-1 in his last 12 games and flat out shutting opponents down offensively. Tonight might be all he needs if he can outduel Martin Brodeur, who is definitely on the roster along with Roberto Luongo.
And Fleury has dominated in shootouts as well. He has shortened the last two shootouts to just two shooters each, appearing to be the aggressor each time a skater comes down the ice.
His 2.31 goals against average and .911 save percentage are in a drastic free fall.
All pieces are an example of this team’s depth and system. If the Penguins can take care of the Devils and Senators before Christmas, every Pittsburgh fan should be feeling pretty good about this team’s chances.
Chris | PPT