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Penguins Up and Downs: October 2013

Who had a good month and who needs to step it up? We talk ups and downs for the 9-4-0 Pittsburgh Penguins.

Justin K. Aller

Hard to believe, but the 2013-14 NHL season is almost a month old now. With the calendar turning to November today (believe it or not), it makes for a good point to pause and look at the individual performances through the first 13 games of the season to see who’s pulling their weight and which players need to step up.

Keep in mind, role and relative expectations are judged here, as well as results. The Pens sported a 9-4-0 record in October, which means a lot of players played well- so there’s going to be more green than red, as more stocks are up than they are down. If they would have finished the month 4-9-0, there would have been a lot more red than green, as you’d expect, since it means more players were down than up.

Goalies Performance Comments
Marc-Andre Fleury Not many players in the entire league had the pressure of opening the regular season as Fleury did, who had to bounce back from a bad playoff and without having his normal backup for the team to fall-back to. Fleury’s been great so far, sporting a tidy 1.81 GAA and .927 save percentage. Who can say how the story of this year will end, but for the first month MAF’s arguably been the 2nd best player on the team, which is a definite plus.
Tomas Vokoun Forget returning to hockey, for now we just all hope that Vokoun gets a clean and clear bill of health for a long time to come. Vokoun’s treatment of blood thinners have him on the shelf recouping with his family in Florida until January…At the very earliest.
Jeff Zatkoff It’s not close to all his fault, but an 0-2-0 record to go with a GAA north of 5 and a save percentage of .818 has forced the Pens to push a very heavy workload onto Fleury. Auditions for unproven NHL backup goaltenders can be brief and unmercifully quick, so we all hope that Zatkoff can pull together some sturdy performances that’ll earn some confidence and trust from the coaching staff to be able to get even a slightly bigger workload.
Robert Bortuzzo He’s played low minutes and is #7 on a 6 man totem pole, but it’s worth noting that Bortuzzo leads all Penguin defensemen in Corsi On and Relative Corsi measures. Throw in a couple of fights, and the fact he’s looked like a cool and calm influence playing mainly with a teenage partner, and Bortuzzo is off to a nice start. He deserves to play more, and hopefully his role on the team will increase as the season progresses.
Deryk Engelland As a defensemen, it’s stock down for Engelland. He’s been passed on the depth chart by Maatta and Bortuzzo and only used as a defenseman in extreme injury scenarios. With a host of promising players in the minors, Engelland has probably played his last as a defenseman for the Pittsburgh Penguins…Luckily for him, his stock appears again on this list as a forward, as he attempts to make a switch and keep himself as a useful member of the lineup.
Kris Letang Gentlemen’s dash for Letang, who has returned from injury to play in just the final four games of October.
Olli Maatta Despite sheltered minutes and zone starts, he’s 19 years old and doesn’t look out of place in the NHL. Maatta played well enough to have the Pens burn the first year of his NHL entry level contract and keep him with the club for at least the next few months. The team believes playing him at the NHL level gives them the best chance to succeed, and that’s definitely worth a green arrow. But if they’re going to keep him, it’d be nice if they started inching up his workload if he continues to show he can handle it.
Paul Martin With Letang out much of the month, Martin played the most minutes and toughest ones on the team. It’d be nice if he could get that even-strength goals against a little lower than the 2.73 per 60 that it currently is. And Martin wasn’t as good on the power play in October as he was last season. But, all in all, he carried a heavy workload and helped to keep the team afloat, freeing up others to take on lesser competition. In other words, exactly what his job is.
Matt Niskanen With almost overlapping injuries to Letang and Scuderi, Niskanen has been playing as the #4 defenseman all season, and he’s been playing very well. He has a defenseman team best 3.95 GF/60 at 5v5 to go with also a team best 1.13 GA/60. Great things are happening for the Penguins when Niskanen has been on the ice, and he deserves a lot of credit for his part in that, with 8 points in 13 games to go along with it.
Brooks Orpik Other than Fleury, no player has probably rebounded nicer from this season compared to last than Brooks Orpik. Naturally, he leads all defensemen on the team in hits (34), tied for best with Martin with 33 blocked shots and Orpik’s cut his GA/60 to 2.60. Toss in a goal, 5 assists (many on crisp stretch passes) and Orpik is also more than chipping in offensively. October is a good month for free candy, after all.
Rob Scuderi A broken ankle led to surgery which will lead to a long time before The Piece is mended and back in the lineup.
Craig Adams 3 goals in a month for CFA is unusual, the typical “skate through a wall if that’s what it takes attitude” was also there (26 hits, 12 blocked shots, 4 takeaways and a fight). Damn fine month for a grinder.
Beau Bennett Well, at least he’s back to skating on his own and should be the quickest of all the injured players to return, which means this could be the first time some Sunshine returned Western PA in a November.
Sidney Crosby He’s back to his place on top of the league’s scoring leaders and is also winning faceoffs, killing penalties and pretty much doing everything asked to be the engine powering the entire team right now. And with six multi-point games compared with only two games of being held off the scoreboard, Crosby’s somehow doing it with relative ease.
Matt D’Agostini LTIR’d for the first 10 games of the season, then got thrown into the deep end for a prime spot with Malkin. The returns weren’t immediate and D’Agostini was a healthy scratch in the last game of the month. Not sure where his role on the team is heading, but it doesn’t seem to be trending in a good direction for right now.
Pascal Dupuis Dupuis has 10 points in the 13 games which is good (only 2 goals, though) and decent all-around numbers. He’s being leaned on more than ever on the PK, which is near the bottom of the league, so attention to details and keeping the puck out of the net there is more important than anything for this first line forward.
Deryk Engelland As a forward, Deryk Engelland’s stock is up. Many fighers (from Eric Godard to Paul Bissonnette) have switched from defenseman to 4th line forward to keep an NHL job. With all the Pens defensive depth and offensive injuries, there’s at least an audition for Engo to try and do the same. As a depth and utility player, his versatility (and cheap contract) makes him a virtual lock to keep a NHL roster spot for the rest of this season, but going forward- either in Pittsburgh or somewhere else, he’s going to have to find something for a niche to earn another contract. And if he can get better at both bluelines as a forward, he just might be the next to make the jump from D to F.
Tanner Glass I can’t believe it either. The much maligned (in fan circles at least) 4th liner had a great month- doubling his modest 1 goal, 1 assist 2013 season. And he led the team, by far, in hits (56) and has been a valuable member of the squad. Glass has been a lot better than last season and it’ll be a big boost if he can keep it going, but for now he’s silenced his critics (this one included) and deserves praise for his solid month.
Jussi Jokinen I don’t know where the Pens would be in the standings without Jussi Jokinen, but it definitely wouldn’t be as good as they are now. His 6 goals are tied for second best on the team, and 2 of them have been game-winners. Throw in a player who can play PP, PK and be the only consistent cog to go along with Malkin, and Jokinen has gone from an exile in Carolina last year to an almost indispensable player in Pittsburgh this year.
Dustin Jeffrey Tough month for Jeffrey. 0 points in limited minutes in 7 games that saw him be a healthy scratch for Engelland to play forward. Oof. If that’s not rock bottom, I’m not sure how much further he can dig. As has been his issue for 5 years, Jeffrey just hasn’t found a niche on this roster. Is he a center or wing? Can he kill penalties? Can he add some production? He’s done a little of everything (emphasis on little) but hasn’t been able to establish himself as a regular. Worse yet, while in year’s past he’s at least flashed or stood out, this year he’s seemed mostly invisible.
Chuck Kobasew Started off great, but got played over his head on the second line for much of the month and then suffered a 3-4 week injury. So it goes.
Chris Kunitz 13 points (6g, 7a) in 13 games, good for second on the team in points- a very crucial contributor and proven point producer in a month Pittsburgh was tested by the injury bug. It might be easy to take Kunitz for granted since he’s not flashy, but he’s very effective, especially on Crosby’s wing.
Evgeni Malkin Frustrating month for Malkin, as we documented here. He’s basically treading water without more skilled linemates. And that’s about that. When Neal returns, the puck will start filling the net. With just 16 goals in 59 games since the start of the 2013 season (including playoffs), Geno’s been in an uncharacteristic goal scoring drought, though it’s not for a lack of shooting the puck.
Jayson Megna In his first three games of the month, Megna stood out with a multi-point performance versus Carolina. With his speed and energy he has brought some fresh air to a banged up forward crew. But with the other 4th liners playing so well, Megna may get squeezed out if all the players are healthy at the same point. Still, that won’t be happening anytime soon, so Megna has the chance to continue to prove himself and keep getting into NHL games. For a 23 year old undrafted player, that’s no small accomplishment. He gets a dash here, because he only played in 3 of the 13 games, but things are definitely trending up for him.
James Neal We miss you, Lazy. And, unfortunately it looks like the Penguins are going to be missing him for at least the next 2-3 weeks as well, given comments made by Dan Bylsma earlier in the week.
Brandon Sutter He’s had a rotating cast of wingers, but 1 goal isn’t going to cut it. But, in the big picture Sutter has been good in the faceoff circle, and is goals against for forwards on the PK is the best on the team for the regular PK’ers. It’d be nice to get a little more tangible production for goals- especially when he’s playing 1:14 a night on the power play, but Sutter does enough little things consistently to get a dash this month.
Joe Vitale Energy, winning faceoffs, killing penalties, making hits, keeping the goals against down, and even chipping in a couple of pretty passes for goals, Vitale did everything you’d hope a 4th line center would do this month. He earns the up arrow for the combination of fulfilling his role plus the added production which probably won’t be consistent every month.