Roundup: Crosby and Fleury Leading Pens, Maatta's Future

Justin K. Aller

Every Monday, we're going to look at the Pens' previous week and focus on the positives, negatives, and other odds and ends.

Standings

Record: 7-1-0, 14 points

Metropolitan Division: 1st

Eastern Conference: 1st

What's Good

The First Line: Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz, and Pascal Dupuis have always been a stupid good line, but now they're borderline unfair. As a line, they registered 68% of the teams' points in the last three games. Of those 10 goals scored, one of them factored in nine of them. Crosby has been God's gift to his wingers who aren't just some players nearing the end of their prime. Dupuis and Kunitz have had zero interest in letting their age dictate their production which is a direct result of their ability to keep pace with Crosby. Speaking of Crosby, he has a current average of 2.125 points per game. Just absurd.

Marc-Andre Fleury: The Pens have been cranking out the goals, but their record is a direct result of Fleury's strength in net. He put up an impressive 0.931 save percentage and other than Crosby, has been the best player on the ice every game. Much was made of Alex Edler's goal and was gif'ed and reported on within a matter of minutes of it happening. I see why, but it's anything but indicative of Fleury's play. Every goalie will allow stinkers, but the only reason people shudder when those ugly goals trickle by Fleury is because those goals can be the end of his psyche...and the game. So far, Fleury has responded to adversity not by throwing in the towel, but by letting it all slide as if nothing happened. The amount of pressure that takes off the team is tremendous.

Responding: Fleury hasn't been the only one to respond well after a goal. Against the Canucks, the Pens didn't allow their opposition to hold on to a lead for too long. Less than two minutes after Edler's bomb squeaked by Fleury, Crosby tied it up. Then when Zack Kassian put the Canucks ahead with seven minutes left in the game, the Pens bounced back the following shift and Olli Maatta scored his first NHL goals 22 seconds later. There is no better way to respond when Lady Luck deals you a bad hand.

What's Bad (Not-So-Good)

Road games/penalty kill: Echoing what I said last week, it's difficult to complain about much when things are obviously clicking. At the same time, the Pens' road game, which has traditionally been a strong suit, doesn't feel quite the same.

Looking at the penalty kill specifically, the Pens are currently 23rd overall but the kicker is that their home PK is 100% effective. On the road, however, it's a measly 61.5% effective. They've played only three away games but have allowed five power play goals. Those three teams, by the way, aren't all top power play teams. They are currently 11th (Tampa Bay), 24th (Florida), and 28th (Philadelphia) in the NHL.

If the Pens can round out their road game, then the road PK will follow.

Highlight of the Week

This one was easy. Olli Maatta's first NHL goal.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

s/t to Mike Darnay for the gif

Like last week, there were plenty of pretty goals to choose from, but it doesn't get anymore special than your first NHL goal.

After the Canucks took their second lead of the game, Bylsma sent out the Crosby line and they quickly forced a 3-on-2. Maatta, whose center drive attracted the attention of two Canucks defensemen, followed up on Kunitz's pass off the pads and beat Roberto Luongo before he could smother the rebound. Great heads up play by Maatta to join the rush and an even better celebration by him.

You Decide

Easily the most heated debate this season, the time has come for a decision to be made regarding Maatta.

Will he stay with the Penguins for the duration of the season or will he be sent back down to play for the London Knights?

Both sides of the debate can agree on one thing: Maatta is a special talent and proved he can play NHL hockey and belong. But should he?

The Avs game this evening marks Maatta's ninth game, the most games he can play without tapping into his entry-level contract. Pittsburgh Trib's Rob Rossi thinks the Pens will keep Maatta for more than nine games. Deep down, I think most of us want to see Maatta remain with the big boys. After all, he's played out-of-his-mind hockey and added some zip to the blue line. He deserves to be rewarded for what he's accomplished.

On the other hand, playing well doesn't negate the ramifications of burning the first year of his ELC. It's a huge risk both short and long-term for development and cap reasons.

Shero spoke to KDKA and said this:

The first thing is always what’s best for the player long-term and in close order to that is what’s best for the team.

This leads me to believe he will be sent down. Ultimately I think it boils down to this question: Is Maatta's presence crucial to the team's success in the future? I don't think it is. A lot of that has to do with the Pens having a more cohesive group (with the addition of Rob Scuderi), returning players showcasing improved skills (yes, you, Matt Niskanen), and a better defensive approach (merci beaucoup, Jacques Martin). I think people are also concerned with Maatta's development if he's sent back to the OHL. What more does he have to learn there? For what it's worth, if spending one more season in juniors stunts a player's growth, then that speaks louder than anything. True talent doesn't disappear that swiftly.

No matter the decision, there are positives and negatives on both sides and I don't envy Shero's job in the slightest. All things considered, this is a pretty huge first-world hockey problem, if I do say so myself.

What do you think?

Looking Ahead

Today, the Pens will have their hands full against the young Colorado Avalanche. The Pens have seen some weak competition thus far so let's see what happens when a top-tier team comes to town. Remember the Pens have an undefeated-at-home streak on the line.

Go Pens.

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