Looking Back on 2011, Ahead to 2012 (Plus Short Devils Recap)

Most dependable player in 2011?

Welcome one and all to the new year. With any luck this calendar will be a bit more positive for the Penguins as we all know they suffered a number of setbacks in 2011.

After the jump, we put 2011 behind us with the Devils recap and look ahead to 2012.

Short and sweet - what is it about the Devils that often leads to disaster for the Penguins? On the bright side it wasn't a shutout, on the downside - well, that's obvious. The Pens lost.

As we flip the calendar to 2012, it's only natural to start considering playoff implications. Granted there are still a good number of games remaining on the schedule, but now is as good a time as any to consider the roster, the opponents and the state of the team as they grind it out toward April.

Losing to the Devils always irks the hell out of me but the timing brings up a whole new consideration. Losing to a division rival is obviously never a good thing, but upon further review it appears as if the Pens are struggling a bit in that department.

Pittsburgh has played nine games in the Atlantic Division so far this season and is just barely hovering over .500 with a 5-4-0 record. Three of those five wins came in the same three-game span back in October (NJ, Islanders x 2). What's more, four of the five have come against the Islanders alone. Not exactly a team that's been riding many hot streaks this season.

The four losses have all come against the Rangers (one), Devils (one, Saturday) and Flyers (two).

Cause for concern? Perhaps. Odds are the Penguins will be looking at one of those three teams in the postseason; provided they draw one of them in the first round of stay alive long enough for the later rounds.

We can chalk it up to injuries, bad bounces, inopportune suspensions or a tough schedule. But let's not forget Pittsburgh was riding a four-game win streak prior to Friday's loss to the Flyers. The rhythm is there. Or rather, it can be there. The team can win without Sidney Crosby because they can win with Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury, James Neal, etc. This is a complete team any way you look at it. It would just be 10 times more deadly if it played at its full potential and health.

When you think of everything that happened in 2011 - literally from January 1, 2011 to Dec. 31, 2011 - it's amazing that this team is still standing. Between Crosby's injury in January, Malkin's injury in February, Matt Cooke's transformation, Brent Johnson's knock-out punch, Malkin's recovery, Crosby's (presumed) recovery, Kris Letang's concussion/broken nose, Zbynek Michale's concussion, James Neal finding his hands once again and Fleury's outstanding goaltending, we've sure seen a lot over the span of 365 days. Odds are I missed a little something in there too, but that just further proves my point. There's been plenty on the docket and the team has skated away from it better...somehow.

I hope you all had a great holiday. Enjoy today's Winter Classic and be sure to keep an eye on the Rangers. They're hot lately and up next when the Pens kick off 2012 on Jan. 6.

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