Today's the 31st and the Penguins play tomorrow night, so for maximum effect we decided to run this feature right now. In an effort to track the highs and lows of the season, here's a look at how we're grading out the performances of each individual player this month. Expectations are weighed versus role and realistic performance, feel free to discuss in the comments.
Naturally with a 6-2-1 record that puts the Penguins at the top of the division (despite playing less games than others) at months end, you would expect to see a lot more green than red this month.
The Penguins also used the same 6 defensemen and 12 forwards for every game, which has to be some kind of recent record for them. Other than Greiss subbing in for Fleury for one game, it has been the same lineup every night, which is a welcome sight to see, and one that soon will be broken with Maatta's impending surgery.
|Marc-Andre Fleury||6-2-0 on the month with a 2.13 GAA, a .926 save % for Fleury who closed the month in spook-tacular fashion with 2 shutouts in the final 3 games. More of that, please.|
|Thomas Greiss||In a pretty lax opening month, scheduling wise, Greiss only got 1 game and wasn’t super impressive in it. It didn’t help that his team played awfully in front of him in the last few minutes, but those thinking that Greiss might contend for more playing time have to see that his usage is bound to be the normal, lightly played backup early in the season.|
|Robert Bortuzzo||Bortuzzo is close to returning to the lineup after a pre-season injury, and the team could use his size, physicality and right-handed shot on the blueline; three traits in short supply on the defense these days.|
|Simon Despres||Finally getting a chance to play as a regular every game defenseman, Despres has had some ups (like 2 two assist games) and some down (like taking minor penalties in 6 of the 9 games so far this season). Consistency is key for him to find his groove, but when Bortuzzo is back, what is the role for Despres?|
|Christian Ehrhoff||His offensive hasn’t been that impressive (0 goals, 3 assists) but he’s playing some tough minutes and a lot of them (to the tune of 21:12 per game) and is the best on the team with a +6. Which, regardless of how you feel about that stat, it tells you more pucks are going into the right net while he’s out there than anyone else on the team (8 GF, 2 GA at evens). Hopefully as Ehrhoff gets comfortable with a new team and city he can showcase the offense a little more, but this team can use all the steady defensemen it can get.|
|Kris Letang||Letang’s boxcars are good (1 goal, 5 assists) and he’s once again leading the team in ice-time per game (his 24:22 is almost 3 minutes more than the next teammate), but he hasn’t really shined yet in a system that should be suited to showcasing his talents. Perhaps Letang playing within himself is a positive thing, though, but we’d like to see him shoot the puck a little more and really assert himself as a difference maker individually.|
|Olli Maatta||Yeah, there’s the impressive 1 goal, 5 assists month from the 20 year old who’s playing 20 minutes a night and has been promoted to the top PK unit and #2 PP unit. And that’s not bad for a guy who didn’t have much of a preseason due to shoulder surgery that he was able to rehab for in time for opening night. Put all of that on top of the diagnosis he received about his thyroid condition that will soon sideline him, and it’s remarkable. What a human being.|
|Paul Martin||Battling a stiff back lately, Martin hasn’t been that impressive. Defensively and positionally he’s been doing his job, his stats are down offensively (1 goal, 1 assist) and he’s been removed from the power play. It sort of seems like he’s going through the motions, but he still logged the 2nd most minutes of any player this month, and took on tough assignments and has been on the ice at 5v5 for 7 goals for and just 1 goal against, with a new partner well, good enough to salvage a dash for this month.|
|Rob Scuderi||The coaches have been happy with his positioning and leadership brought to the table, and his advanced stats are up modestly from last year. But then again, it would be difficult for them to go down. Scuderi is what he is at this point of his career, and the PK struggled early while he was on the top unit and has bounced back when they moved Maatta/Letang to take the start. Coincidence? We may soon find out with Maatta’s absence.|
|Craig Adams||1 goal and no assists on the month – the goal at least was a really nice one, but Adams has been marginalized so far this year. He’s only played 9:37 a game (last year it was 12:27) and his PK minutes have gone from first among forwards last year to third this year. A 4th line player with limited offense and dwindling special teams play isn’t that valuable, but at least Adams isn’t in a position to hurt the team as much with his play.|
|Beau Bennett||If Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is known as the people’s champ, Beau Bennett must be the trainer’s champ. But, finally will Bennett come back..to the lineup? Stay tuned.|
|Blake Comeau||Played well enough to end the month on the second line and a 2 goal 4 assist month from a depth player is a welcome (and new) sight from the past few years support players. Comeau is good on the forecheck, physical and he dropped the gloves in defense of a teammate this month for a solid opening month.|
|Sidney Crosby||7 goals, 8 assists in 9 games. Crosby is amazing and still the finest player on the planet. His wrist injury that plagued him in the playoffs looks long in the past, and he’s a main reason the team’s power play is scoring at a ridiculous 39.5% rate.|
|Steve Downie||25 penalty minutes, 4 points (3 on the PP) in the opening nine games, Downie is living up to his billing as a wild man who will get in the opposition’s faces after they try to take a run at the Pens star players. And while he’s been good on the PP (which really, how long is that going to last?) he hasn’t been so great at 5v5 yet with 2GF, 3GA and a pretty dreadful 41.7% Corsi For rating. They didn't bring Downie in to play Corsi, but they probably need better from him at even strength next month.
|Pascal Dupuis||8 months ago had major knee surgery which he’s completely recovered from and found a new franchise center with the same productive results (4g, 4a this year). Dupuis probably had equal parts good luck and toughness to not miss any time after being hit in the back of the neck with a puck shot into him, but hey, would you expect any less from the guy who’s called Super Duper?|
|Marcel Goc||Not much to speak of offensively (1g,0a) but he is statistically the best Pens center in the faceoff circle so far at 58.1% and has been quiet but not damaging as a 4th liner. He still seems a little slow and methodical on a fast-paced team, but Pittsburgh can lean on the areas that he can help on the PK and faceoff circle as a depth player.
|Patric Hornqvist||You think he’s enjoying Pittsburgh? 5 goals, 7 assists in 9 games, and a team high (by a mile) 43 shots. Hornqvist has been a machine, getting to the offensive zone and firing pucks from dangerous places. He’s also been a revelation on the top power play unit and the new right winger of Crosby.|
|Chris Kunitz||10 points (5g, 5a) in 9 games, good for only 4th on the team in points, but don’t let that fool you. Kunitz is still a very crucial contributor and proven point producer. He can pass, he can shoot, he can hit, he can do a little over everything which has been adding up to a lot of good things so far this year.|
|Evgeni Malkin||Some in the media has alleged Malkin hasn’t "bought in" to the new coaching staff and system. Questions lurk about consistent effort and frustration levels. Malkin did his talking on the ice, scoring at least a point in every single game so far this season, ending the month with 4g, 8a in 12 games. He’s been dy-no-mite on the PP and has looked more engaged since shifting back to the center position that he belongs in. Geno will never be everything to everyone like the other star on the team, but as long as pucks off his stick go in the net, it’s hard to ask for much more.|
|Zach Sill||The good: hasn’t been on the ice for a goal against. The bad: 2 shots on goal in 9 games, not the faintest trace of any offensive ability. And he’s only playing 7:28 per game this year (and unlike last season, nothing on the PK) which makes you wonder what a 4th line player who doesn’t play special teams and literally has 0 offensive ability is worth and how much longer he's needed in the lineup before a better option that can contribute can be found.|
|Nick Spaling||Only 2 points on the month- and they came in the same game. Not a lot else (his 43.8% Corsi For is as unimpressive as the stat guys warned all summer) and only 5 shots on goal of his own, there's room for improvement there. Spaling is good at a little of everything, but hasn’t really stood out as doing a ton right or that he needs to play any more that the 13:28 per game that he’s gotten so far.
|Brandon Sutter||Sutter has done his job well, 2 goals, 2 assists, a solid 54.6% effort in the faceoff circle and a big part of the short-handed turnaround (where he has 1 goal, and also sprung Adams on his breakaway seconds after the penalty ended). He’s pulling tougher assignments and playing with better linemates this year, and the results seem to be more encouraging early.|