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Pittsburgh Penguins thoughts and observations

This week's 10 Thoughts looks in depth at the power play success, the early play of Marc-Andre Fleury, the upcoming schedule and how the new defensive pairings might shake out.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

#1 As our own GoPens pointed out on twitter, the single season record for a power play was set by the high powered 1977-78 Montreal Canadiens team with a 31.88% conversion rating. That team, by the way, won their third straight Stanley Cup and had such names as Guy Lafleur, Steve Shutt, Yvon Lambert, Jacques Lemaire and Larry Robinson under head coach Scotty Bowman.

#2 Through 10 games, the 2014-15 Pittsburgh Penguins power play has entered the conversation by going 18 for 43 (41.9%) with a first unit of Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz, Patric Hornqvist, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang. Just how good have they been? The Pens could go 0-fer on their next 13 power plays and still have a 32.1% rate on the year, ahead of the legendary Canadiens' mark. It's still very early and there is a long way to go before Pittsburgh re-writes history, but it would be difficult to over-state just how good the power play has been so far, because it's been far and away the best PP unit ever so early in the season.

#3: Marc-Andre Fleury has hardly been a shutout goalie, recording only 28 shutouts in 531 career games coming into this season, with a season high of only 5. This early season he already has 3 in 9 games. And Fleury had another shutout in the final game of the pre-season, if you put any value in that. Early season anomaly or is Fleury's focus in this contract year improved? Or is Mike Johnston's system more conducive to better defensive efforts? Some combination of all that and other factors is the real reason why, but it is very interesting that in this contract season, Fleury's been very sharp early. Probably another reason why it's a good idea not to give a goaltender too much term- as well as too much contract. Sometimes being uncomfortable and having something to prove leads to doing exactly that.

#4: Tracking Fleury's performance is always an on-going situation. Last year he also had a very impressive October (9-2, 1.83 GAA, .927 save %) which is, incredibly, virtually identical to his numbers this October (6-2-0 record with a 2.13 GAA and a .926 save %). However, as is seemingly always the case with Fleury, long-term statistical consistency just isn't there. Fleury's November 2013 stats dive-bombed: 5-5-1 record, 2.31 GAA and a .909 save % and MAF wouldn't have as strong of a save % month as he did in October. Will that trend continue again this season? Let's hope not, but hope isn't always a good plan.

#5: And, sure it's early but Fleury's .931 save % is by far the best of the division's starting goalies so far:

  • Cam Ward .885% (ouch!)
  • Sergei Bobrovsky .908 %
  • Cory Schneider .909%
  • Jaroslav Halak .891%
  • Henrik Lundqvist .902%
  • Steve Mason .887 % (lol)
  • Braden Holtby .899 %

Obviously a lot is going to change, and probably in quick order for a lot of those guys as they get it together. Just found it interesting that a lot of teams in the division, especially ones on the outside of the playoffs last season (NJD, NYI, WSH) had high confidence for increased outputs from their goaltending situations this year due to upgrades in net (or on defense). And we really haven't seen that come to fruition yet in the first month of a long season.

#6 One more interesting Fleury stat that popped out to me on Yahoo!

-On 1 day of rest: 4-0 record, 0.75 GAA,  .974 save %, 2 shutouts

-On 2 days of rest: 2-0 record, 1.50 GAA, .932 save %, 1 shutout

-On 3+ days of rest: 1-2 record, 3.69 GAA, .876 save %, 0 shutouts

The Penguins had a lot of early season lulls in the schedule, and that time off didn't seem to keep the team or keeper very sharp. Perhaps then it's fortunate that the upcoming schedule in November is a lot more active. In the 26 days that start with Tuesday night's game, the Pens play 13 games (9 of them on the road). The schedule is set to become a lot more challenging.

#7: After an early schedule that has seen more Western teams (4) than divisional rivals (3) so far, the season is really about to swing into gear here soon. Sure, the Pens go on the road this week for 2 more games against Western conference opponents, then it's 13 straight Eastern opponents.

#8 We won't see the West again until December 4th. And, of those 13 conference games, there are 7 divisional opponents coming up in short order- with 2 games in 5 days against the NY Rangers next week, and then home-and-home's later in the month against first the Islanders and then the Hurricanes the following week.

#9: Under-rated thing about the Penguins season start: roster continuity. They have used the same 18 skaters in each of the first 10 games of the season. Other than shifting Evgeni Malkin back to center once he was back in game-shape, they've basically made next-to-no switches in their lines and roles too. Last October, the Penguins already had an injury to their backup goaltender and used 8 different defensemen and had 16 different forwards in the picture. With Olli Maatta's thyroid surgery on the horizon, this continuity always had an ever-impending expiration date, but it was probably very important for the core of the team to stay consistent as they got to the start of a new season with new coaches and new systems.

#10: Interesting at Penguins practice, Paul Martin jumped up to skate with Kris Letang (a familiar and very effective pairing from last season) and then Robert Bortuzzo and Scott Harrington rotated with Christian Ehrhoff. The "3rd pair" of Rob Scuderi and Simon Despres stayed intact, which it probably should considering they have been relatively successful. Which could mean a huge opportunity for one of Bortuzzo/Harrington to get to play with an established NHL'er like Ehrhoff. Bortuzzo might have the inside track given his size, physicality and NHL experience, but I wouldn't count out what Harrington could bring there. Harrington plays a very similar game as Ehrhoff (and Paul Martin, too) with defensive positioning, gap control, good stick and defensive awareness being the top tools of all three. Would be interesting to see if Harrington can get the chance to fill in for his old former London Knight teammate in Maatta.