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Pensburgh Ups and Downs, November 2014

We recap the month of November for the 14 games that the Pittsburgh Penguins played and judge the players with nice and tidy up or down arrows for your viewing pleasure.

James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Check that calendar, Turkey Day is now in the rear view mirror and believe it or not today is the first day of December. With that, your grades for the Pittsburgh Penguins for the month of November. If you need a refresher, here is the October grades for Ups and Downs.

November, as a whole was a successful month for the Pens, who rocked a 10-3-1 record in the second month of the season and were an impressive 6-0-1 in one goal games in the month. On the injury front though, the bad news started to trickle in after a very calm October the Pens saw Olli Maatta leave the lineup for a couple weeks to deal with thyroid surgery, Pascal Dupuis removed from the lineup after a blood clot was discovered in his lung, Beau Bennett suffer a knee injury and Kris Letang + Marcel Goc missed the last game of the month too with damage to be revealed later injuries.

Goalies Performance Comments
Marc-Andre Fleury We were looking for consistency for Fleury (6-2-0,2.13 GAA, a .926 save %, 2 shutouts in October) who’s rarely strung two months like that together. Well, he did just that in November (7-2-1, 2.23 GAA, .922 sv%, 2 shutouts). Add to that MAF’s 30th birthday AND a four year, $23 million dollar contract extension and you’ve got one of the most eventful months in a long time for the team’s franchise goalie.
Thomas Greiss Four starts (all on the road) and a 3-1-0 record with a .940 sv% is a great output from a seldom used backup. The final 3 starts of the month for Greiss were all on the 2nd night of back-to-back games, when a team can often be tired/worn/sloppy, which makes it all the more impressive. Greiss isn’t being asked to do a lot, but he’s been very sharp when he has been called upon.
Robert Bortuzzo Made his season debut on November 4th but lost his spot in the lineup when the other six defensemen were healthy. Played pretty good (2g, 2a, 28 hits) in 8 games and was on the ice for 3 more goals for than against at even strength, always a good sign for a third pairing type guy. It remains to be seen if Bort can ever fight through the numbers and earn a full-time spot in the lineup even if everyone else is healthy, but with his size, physicality and right-handed shot, seems like a guy that it’s tough to leave out. And hey, he’ll always have this highlight reel goal in Carolina to remember.
Simon Despres Despres retained his grip as the team’s 6th defenseman, but it remains to be seen how much longer. His offense dipped (0g, 4a in October to 1g, 0a in November) and he only exceeded 16 minutes played 3 times in November (and none since 11/15). For a monthly highlight, how about Despres smiling in a fight against Evander Kane, which was..something
Christian Ehrhoff Ehrhoff got it in gear offensively a little more (1g, 4a in 14 November games) and his +8 on the month lead all Penguins defensemen and his usage increased dramatically this month as he integrates in with his new team. Ehrhoff is a very valuable defenseman who does a little of everything right. And even though he won’t make anyone forget about Brooks Orpik, Ehrhoff went from .55 hits/game in October to 1.92 in November, another sign that he’s becoming more comfortable and involving himself more as the season rolls along.
Kris Letang Letang missed the last game of the month with a yet unknown lower body injury that hopefully isn’t too drastic. And it’s a shame too, because the Pens #1 defenseman was starting to get back to his old point producing self after a lost year of knee injuries and a stroke last season. Letang ended the month with 12 points (3g, 9a) in 13 games- with "only" 5 assists coming on the vaunted power play, which shows a significant amount of production while at even strength, especially in terms of those goals. Letang looks like a big beneficiary of the Mike Johnston system that is allowing defensemen to take more chances, skate more and pinch more in the offensive zone. Letang also played 26+ minutes in 7 out of the 13 games of the month, showing he’s back to his workhorse load of minutes as well.
Olli Maatta Olli Maatta beat cancer this month, which is really all that matters. The young defenseman was able to return- quicker than initially projected- from his thyroid surgery. In eight games this month Maatta’s numbers were down (0g, 2a in November) and he had some hiccups in his own zone, perhaps to be expected for a young defenseman. Either way, he’s a trusted and valued member of the team and even getting #1 PP minutes now with Letang out of the lineup. A return to form is likely in the cards.
Paul Martin Up and down month for Martin who only had 4 assists in the 14 games in November. His shots on goal numbers (just 7) are also way down, and might be why Maatta has passed him on the power play depth chart. Defensively Martin’s been good on the PK (where he’s logged the most time of any player on the team so far this season) and his 32 blocked shots in the month by far led the team. As a +3 despite taking difficult competition and meshing with a couple of partners, Martin is back in a role of being a quiet, glue type player for the Pens brighter stars to shine ahead of him.
Rob Scuderi Another reasonably successful month for the graybeard of the Pens defense. Scuderi is playing with a lot more confidence and poise than he displayed last season- where he never really looked comfortable after coming back from injury in December. This year he’s still heavily shielded and seldom used (just 17 minutes a night overall this year) and generates less than nothing offensively, but that’s all to be expected. Scuderi was even in +/- for the month, which is disappointing considering his zone-starts and low quality of competition, but at this point, Scuderi playing even and doing a little on the PK is enough to put him waaay ahead of where he was last season.
Craig Adams 0 goals, 0 assists on the month, playing in every game, because Craig Adams just has to play every game, but at least he’s being seldom used, playing 8 minutes or less in 7 of the last 10 games on the month. Adams is still in the penalty killing rotation, which is important with Dupuis out, but other than that he’s one of the worst forwards in the league. Brings nothing offensively, just kind of gets in the way defensively, and that’s about that.
Beau Bennett Poor Beau.
Blake Comeau Comeau shot 21.4% and scored 6 goals in 13 games this month. I’m not sure how sustainable that is, long-term, but for now beggars can’t be choosers. The Penguins badly need supporting scorers from their wingers, and Comeau is arguably the biggest best pleasant surprise on the team through the first two months of the season. His second career hat trick on 11/26 against Toronto probably makes the end of season top moments reel. Good for him, but let’s see if (read: when) this ride ends before the Pens need to shuffle him out of a scoring role and back into a checking line.
Sidney Crosby 2g+16a on the month for Mr. Sid for a solid 18 points in 14 games. 11 of those points were scored at even-strength, which might be surprising considering all the line juggling that has gone on for him early in the season. Only 2 goals on the month seems concerning (especially after scoring 7g in 9 October games), and Crosby’s shooting has been way down too- only 2.7 shots/game in November, compared with 3.5 in October. Not that Crosby needs any advice but if he shoots a little more, he’s going to score a little more. Regardless, Crosby is generating a ton of chances, leads the league in points and is once again powering the team to first place.
Steve Downie Between the whistles, Downie achieved good results in November, scoring 2 goals and adding 4 assists and being a +5 for the month. That’s all terrific. Some of his underlying advanced stats numbers are starting to teeter- and his PDO is indicating that he’s in for a fall too. There’s also the 54 PIMs on the month, including 8 of 9 games from 11/4- 11/22 where he went to the box are showing that Downie can hurt the team just as easily as he can help. After a publicized "talking to" from the coaches, Downie has avoided the sin bin in the past 4 games, but he’s also without a point in 5 games. The challenge will be for him to play effective and be productive without going over the line and ending up back in the box.
Pascal Dupuis Poor Dupuis. Hopefully he gets well soon for the things that really matter in his life. Dupuis will be on a blood thinner regiment for at least the next six months and can’t play hockey while being treated for the blood clot in his lung. Almost certainly his season is finished, but the bigger picture right now is hoping for his health and sake that one day he can consider making a return to the ice.
Marcel Goc We’ll see how hurt he is- Johnston has said the foot injury is of the minor variety. Goc is in an interesting position- he’s burdened with the 2 worst players on the team at even strength, so his production has been grounded to a halt. Goc has been contributing by being the team’s best faceoff player on the season (by percentage) and leads all forwards on the team in short-handed time per game.
Patric Hornqvist 13 points (6g, 7a) in 14 games is the new normal now for Hornqvist, who’s looked great playing with Crosby, looked great playing with Malkin, and looked great on the power play. Hornqvist will always be compared to James Neal, and PH72 continues to produce at a rate just as great as Neal ever did in Pittsburgh, all the while providing other items (forechecking, hitting, blocking shots, right-handed shot) that has added to the fabric of the team.
Chris Kunitz In November for the 2 games vs. Buffalo Kunitz feasted with 2g+3a. In the 12 other games of the month, Kunitz had the exact same 2 goals, 3 assists, including 11 games without a goal from 11/6- 11/28. The Pens just can’t afford to have Kunitz, arguably their most all-around important forward not named Crosby or Malkin go that long without chipping in. Also is on a current 10 game streak of no PP points. Which is sometimes going to happen, especially for the net-front guy when the others are passing it around the outside, but it just goes to show that right now Kunitz isn’t producing a ton.
Evgeni Malkin 7g, 10a in the 14 games of the month, leading the team in goals, including some dominating efforts late in the month 11/24 in Boston (including the OT winner) and 11/26 against Toronto. Malkin’s had to deal with a revolving cast of wingers and has made the best out of less than ideal linemates, without having his numbers slip. Among the league leaders in scoring now, the Pens always rely on Malkin to come through, and he has been reliably this season.
Zach Sill Luckily, for 3 games the Penguins were at full health with their forwards and able to scratch Sill. Unfortunately, for 11 games this month, they had to play him. 0 goals, 0 assists, of course. Fortunately the Penguins seem to know Sill isn’t going to help them win- they’re barely playing him (including a 6 shift, 3:45 minute night on 11/14 vs. Toronto). Until they can get better players, it seems they’re stuck with one of the worst and most useless players in the league. Can’t score. Not playing PK. Gets killed in possession. Provides not a lot other than chasing the puck around the ice.
Nick Spaling Spaling has been playing top six minutes lately after Dupuis went down and has had decent results with 2 goals and 4 assists in November. As has been the case in his entire NHL career, he’s struggled to generate a lot of shots of his own (had only 17 SOG in 14 games this month), but that number is also up from October, so if you subscribe to him getting used to the new teammates and coach and continuing to improve it, the narrative is there. Either way, the sooner the Pens get Spaling into a support role and out of a scoring role, the better.
Brandon Sutter A solid month of production (4g, 3a in 14 games) highlighted with a 3 point night against Winnipeg that helped the team win, was a +5 for the month and had a good 52% in the faceoff circle. No matter what you use, Sutter put together a very fine month from his 3rd line center position and is quietly having a very solid season.