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Penguins November Ups and Downs

Which players for the Pittsburgh Penguins trended up, and who didn't fare so well during November? We look at the performances and dish out some kudos and bronx cheers in the latest Pensburgh Ups and Downs.

Is Brooks Orpik deking backhand on Jeff Zatkoff here?
Is Brooks Orpik deking backhand on Jeff Zatkoff here?
Joel Auerbach

November for the Pittsburgh Penguins came in like a lamb and out like a lion. After an initial sweep of Columbus in the first two days of the month, the Pens lost 4 of their next 5 in the next two weeks before a hectic schedule allowed them to rebound and salvage a 9-5-1 record on the month after three consecutive wins at the end of the month. Against their fellow Metropolitan foes, the Pens were just 4-3 this month (tacking on wins against the Islanders and Caps to go along with the two Columbus wins), compared to 3-1-1 mark against the new Atlantic division and a 2-1 record versus the mighty, mighty Western conference.

Keep in mind, role and relative expectations are judged here, as well as results. The team played pretty well, if uneven, so more ups than downs for this month. It’s also possible for a lower line player to earn an up arrow, despite having a lesser month than a top-line player who didn’t fulfill his role as well. You can click here to look back at this feature for October.

Goalies Performance Comments
Marc-Andre Fleury Fleury’s play in November seemed to be reflective of the increase in injuries the Penguins defense suffered through. MAF’s save % for the month (.909%) was down from last month and his 5-5-1 record wasn’t as good as it normally is. 2 shutouts on the month were huge, but he also surrendered 3+ goals five times.
Tomas Vokoun A trip to Florida had Vokoun get to see the team for a day. He’s not thinking about returning to the ice yet, and it sounds like decision day from the doctors might be coming next month as to whether or not he can attempt to play competitive hockey again and be able to manage his blood clot condition.
Jeff Zatkoff I’ve given Zatkoff flak, so I’ll give him credit for some awesome November numbers (4-0-0 record, 1.60 GAA, .944 save% and 1 shutout). Not a bad month for a guy who hadn’t even won a NHL game yet at the beginning of the month. Still, Zatkoff only started 3 of the 14 games this month, and ideally I’d like to see the Pens have the depth to have a capable and trusted goalie that they’re willing to give a little more of the workload to than that. But, maybe with another month of stats like these will go a long way towards earning him some more starts.
Robert Bortuzzo Bortuzzo has gotten jumped on the Pens depth chart and now finds himself on the outside looking in. He only played in 1 game after November 13th (and none since 11/23) and was a -4 in his last four games of the month, where he took 2 minor penalties as well. Add in zero offensive contributions in his games this season, and the Pens are very clearly looking towards other young defensemen to see what they can bring to the lineup.
Simon Despres Even though it took a couple of injuries, Simon Despres played in the last three games of the month, and seems to have an increased focus on his defensive play. He hasn’t proven yet that he belongs in the lineup as a full-time player, but Despres is well on his way to working towards getting out of the doghouse if he can keep up the focus and attention to detail defensively that’s been lacking in his game in previous NHL stints.
Deryk Engelland He’s back and he’s a defenseman again. By hook or by crook, coach Dan Bylsma just can’t quit penciling him into the lineup. For Engo’s sake, he brought some hits (27) and blocked shots (14) to the table this month, to go along with a goal and an assist. His limitations are what they are, but as a buried, sheltered 3rd pairing defenseman, he can bring a little physicality to the table and hopefully not see the puck goes in his net too much.
Kris Letang Ehh, Kris Letang doesn’t trend up or down, he just kind of does his own thing. On any shift he might have a great offensive play to generate a scoring chance, or a tremendous brain fart resulting in a chance against. Sometimes he can even pull both off in the very same shift. Letang’s season has been uneven, unsteady and again characterized by having many different partners and being in different roles. If stability (and health) can ever come to the defense, it’ll likely do Letang a world of good. Which will do the team a world of good. Until then, buckle up.
Olli Maatta Maatta’s stats from month to month were remarkably consistent (2 assists, +1, 2 PIMs, 22 blocked shots in each of October and November with 7 hits vs. 8 as well and 17 shots vs. 21 from month to month). Maatta eclipsed his October high of ice-time (16:51) a fairly remarkable nine times in November, and he’s creeping onto the short-handed unit more in recent games as well. He’s starting to play a larger role on the team, and so far he’s quietly done what’s been asked of him with ease.
Paul Martin Unfortunate broken leg for Martin, who was playing his best hockey of the season in all 3 facets (ES, PK and PP where he had just taken a spot on the top unit). Luckily though, it won’t require a complicated surgery and Martin should be back sooner than later.
Matt Niskanen His possession numbers are solid, but down somewhat slightly from a terrific October. Nisky’s stat-line for November isn’t that overwhelming: 15 games, 0 goals, 3 assists, +3, all decreases from last month, as were blocked shots (17 down to 9) and shots on goal (23 down to 17, despite 2 more games). Niskanen’s play isn’t unacceptable, but it isn’t really standing out that much either.
Brooks Orpik The rock of the defense by default, Orpik played a solid month of November racking up a team high 53 hits in the month. The 3-game stretch we highlighted where Orpik (and partner Martin) shutdown Perry-Getzlaf, Backstrom-Ovechkin and Tavares to 1 goal (Getzlaf’s) was a stroke of beauty and it’s no coincidence that the Pens won all three of those games.
Rob Scuderi Really miss you, Scuds. His timeline puts him about at a Christmas return, making for the best gift that Penguins fans will have for their team at that time.
Craig Adams His production was limited this month, as to be expected, but Adams did his job in terms of killing penalties, blocking shots, throwing hits in the dirty areas that earn him his pay. Just CFA putting in another month of good, hard, honest work.
Beau Bennett Bennett can’t seem to stay off the injury report. It’s a shame considering how talented he is.
Sidney Crosby 15 points in 15 games for Crosby, which is about a career month for any other player on the team. Sid’s faceoff percentage was down to 51.3% on the month too, well off his normal numbers in the circle. After a blistering October, Crosby’s November was a lot quieter, but still had some signature moments like a buzzer beating goal in Boston to earn the Pens a point in the standings, and 3 assists on as many Penguin goals in a win over Tampa.
Matt D’Agostini D’Agostini got injured in training camp and never really seemed to get back on track as a Penguin. It’s a shame, but sometimes how it goes. So he was waived and picked up by Buffalo. So it goes. Pretty disappointing that a former 20 goal scorer got a few cracks to stick with Malkin and didn’t even show a desire or hint of a spark of offense…Or seemingly effort. Oh well, bon voyage.
Pascal Dupuis In 15 games in November, Dupuis put up 1 goal and 2 assists. Not a good thing for a first line winger. To make matters worse, Dupuis only put 30 shots on goal (2.0 per game). Compare that to last season when Dupuis recorded 140 SOG in 48 games (2.9 shots/game). Hard to score when the shots aren’t coming. Dupuis is a fine two-way hockey player, and unlike every other 1st line winger in the league doesn’t play any meaningful power play time, so he can earn his worth in other areas. But when you’re Sidney Crosby’s right winger, you better be able to bring an offensive dynamic to the ice or more changes will be coming.
Tanner Glass A salute and “get well soon” for Glass, out 3-4 weeks with a broken hand after blocking shots for the team. What a turnaround from last-year when Glass was one of the worst forwards in the entire league. Now he’s become a key and core player on the bottom six and the Penguins miss his presence.
Jussi Jokinen A solid, if not quiet month for Jokinen (15 games, 3 goals, 7 assists), who with only 21 shots on goal for the month probably could also stand to put the puck on net a little more. But, to his defense, he plays with Malkin and Neal and there’s only one puck on the ice, so that’s only so many looks for the 3rd wheel on that line to get. Jokinen’s quietly had a solid start to the season, and ought to keep headed in that direction if he maintains health, given that he’s likely to stick with a scoring-champion contending center.
Dustin Jeffrey Free at last, free at last, Dustin Jeffrey claimed on waivers by Dallas is free at last! (0 goals, 0 assists in 3 games to start his time as a Star with just 8:33 of ice-time per game, if you were wondering..)
Chuck Kobasew Didn’t play a game in November, but is back to skating with the team. With D’Agostino and Jeffrey gone, plus Bennett and Glass currently hurt, there’s a space in the lineup for Kobasew to take if he’s up to the task.
Chris Kunitz 14 points (8g, 6a) in 15 games, Kunitz was a very important, and consistent player for the Pens in November. He’s now receiving some real (and deserved) Olympic chatter, so putting together a solid December may just be enough to earn him a trip to Sochi with Team Canada.
Evgeni Malkin A lot was made of his goal-less drought, but when the dust settled Malkin was 1st star OF THE LEAGUE twice this month, behind 4 goals and 21 assists in the 15 November games. Those eye-popping 21 assists represents the most helpers in a month since Wayne Gretzky. Anytime a record is matched by Gretzky, that’s probably something impressive. And it was here.
Jayson Megna Megna got six games in November, in two different stints, recording a goal and an assist up in the show this month. His speed adds to the lineup, and given the lack of depth the Pens have at forward, he’s got a great chance to establish an NHL niche for himself with continued solid play. This time he’s not in a 2nd line scoring role, which may play better to his strengths. No need to be anything more than who he is- if Megna can play a simple game, use his speed and give energy to the game, he’s shown his hands and instincts are decent enough to record some points.
James Neal In the seven games dating back to November 20th at Washington, Neal has 7 goals and 6 assists. His shot is ridiculously heavy and his accuracy is dialed in. He meshes well with Malkin and has the offensive instinct to know where to find soft spots in coverage and play off of the puck. Neal’s in just a sensational groove and is so dangerous right now.
Brandon Sutter Sutter had 4 goals and 2 assists in November, but he also had two separate stretches of 4 game point streaks. His faceoff percentage was a disappointing 48.2%. He’s capable of producing in spurts and adds good two-way play to what’s been an injury decimated third line, but a little consistency would go a long way for Sutter’s overall play.
Joe Vitale Faceoffs (59.8% in November), energy (25 hits, 6 blocked shots in the month), P-K-ing (check) and a little production (1 goal [a game-winner], 2 assists on the month), Vitale added just about everything you’d want to see out of a lesser used 4th line center.