Last season when the Pittsburgh Penguins had to play short handed in the total of 80 man games lost by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin they turned to, well, their short handed unit. Pittsburgh's penalty killing unit was #1 in the league, turning away 86.1% of all power play chances (which is a good thing, being as the Pens also dubiously led the NHL in minor penalties taken).
The PK unit has picked up right where it has left off in the early 2011-12 season, killing a perfect 16 for 16 and chipping in two short handed goals. The rest of the NHL has just two short handed goals...Combined.
So the scene has sounded very familiar. Credit the players, coaching staff and goalies for coming together as a unit and becoming a strength for what was a team weakness in the past for so long.
4 games into an 82 game season is basically embryonic, but here's the stats and trends already jumping out at me:
Kris Letang: 4 games, 1 goal, 5 assists, 6 points, +4, 26:48 played. Letang's been the player leaned upon the most, especially in light of Brooks Orpik's injury, and he's answered the bell amazingly. The second half of last season, playing without Crosby/Malkin saw Letang's production trickle almost to a halt. That hasn't been the case at all in the early part of this season.
Joe Vitale: 4 games, 0 goals, 2 assists, 2 points, even, 61.8% faceoffs (2nd on team in number of draws). As the defacto replacement for Max Talbot, Vitale has been a revelation. He's added speed and grit, has been much better in the circle than Talbot ever was and his puck skills have earned him a couple of assists. He's playing tremendously and starting to earn the coach's trust (and the greater ice-time that comes with it).
Brent Johnson, Marc-Andre Fleury: 116 saves on 125 shots faced for a .928 save percentage. And only nine total goals surrendered in four games (and two over-times). Perfect on the PK. Can't ask for a much better performance from the netminders this early in the year.
Mark Letestu: 4 gp, 0g, 0a, -3. Letestu hasn't exactly stood out in the good way. Only Richard Park and Arron Asham got less ice-time last night than ML10 did. With Crosby and Dustin Jeffrey on the rehab trail, Letestu is going to have to pick his play up or his regular lineup spot- and possibly place on the roster- could be in jeopardy.
No real thoughts here on the Jeremy Roenick Crosby comments. JR is trying to stir the pot, stay relevant and edgy as a commentator and make outrageous claims. Meh. Not worth getting worked up over.
The NHL schedule is always a tricky beast. The Pens have played four games already, the most in the league. Three teams have only played a single game to this point. Throw in Pittsburgh's travel and heavy workload and you'd wonder if that's an advantage or disadvantage.
Take the Washington Capitals, who'll come to town Thursday having played just two games and ought to be rested considering the break between.
But then again, the Pens have the routine of playing (at least) every other day down and could be in better game condition in terms of endurance and in-game recovery. It'll be interesting to see if any notable areas stand out on Thursday night.