Mumps. Cancer. Blood clot. Beau Bennett walking past a black cat on a Friday the 13th. Plenty of crappy things have happened to the Pittsburgh Penguins this season.
And yet, they're still in first place. Evgeni Malkin is near the top of the scoring race. Mike Johnston has proven to play an interesting, and so far effective system. Sidney Crosby had a great early part of the season. Patric Hornqvist has added a ton to the team. Kris Letang has been near-Norris caliber. And on and on with the positives.
So, I figured what are probably the most unexpected positives?
Loved this portion from Jason Mackey in the Trib:
The rub around the league is that Sutter is a third-line center. He's not. He has proven this season that he's every bit capable of a top-six role, and his does it with his usual, steady style.
Win faceoffs. Play defense. Use your wingers. Sutter also plays plenty on special teams.
"I thought early in camp you could see right away that he can play as a second line center," Penguins coach Mike Johnston said. "He can play as a top line center. He's a guy who coaches trust because he plays the right way all the time."
Johnston also matched Sutter, Nick Spaling and Patric Hornqvist against Tampa Bay's top line of Steven Stamkos, Ryan Callahan and Valtteri Filppula. The final tally: Filppula contributed one assist.
"I thought the team responded well to it," Johnston said. "Sutter responded well to it. He's not afraid to play that shutdown role, but I'll bet you tonight he had three really good scoring chances as well."
I also liked this twitter exchange from Ray Ferraro and John Buccigross the other night:
Who would have thought: Brandon Sutter, value player. Sutter has 7 goals and 7 assists in 30 games this season, a pace of 38 points for the season (19g, 19a), which doesn't stand out hugely but would be a very solid season.
In Elliotte Friedman's latest 30 Thoughts he had Sutter's name mentioned:
The Oilers will continue to look for centres, defencemen and a goalie, and I asked around to see who might be a fit should they decide to try something significant. There were a lot of votes for Pittsburgh, with a plethora of young defenders. One exec said if he was Edmonton, he would target Brandon Sutter, although he added he thinks the Penguins hold on to Sutter until the salary cap makes it impossible for them to do so.
I would think that would be the case. Sutter is playing too well right now- and he's too big a part of the team to trade away. Dealing Sutter in part for a David Perron or even Jordan Eberle would solve one problem (skilled winger) but only open up another- depleted bottom 6 center. And yea, save it with the Marcel Goc talk. He's a decent player, but simply not productive enough to be a third line center on a good team.
For now, the Penguins are good as they are, with Sutter down the middle and helping them win games.
Columbus took note when former Blue Jacket Blake Comeau came back to town last week. From the Columbus Dispatch:
Former Blue Jackets forward Blake Comeau has found a new home and a new role in Pittsburgh after signing a one-year, $700,000 free-agent deal with the Penguins over the summer.
Comeau, a catalyst on the Jackets' bottom two lines last season, has become a fixture among Pittsburgh's top six, most often skating next to playmaking center Evgeni Malkin.
The Blue Jackets got a good look at Comeau's makeover during a 4-3 shootout victory over the Penguins last night.
Comeau got his 10th goal of the season to tie the score at 1 in the second period, when he zipped a tight-angled wrister from 37 feet past goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. It was his first road goal of the season.
"I think Combs is playing really well right now," Penguins coach Mike Johnston said. "It's nice that (Comeau and Malkin), they do have that chemistry that you're starting to see."
Comeau has 10 goals, eight assists, 24 penalty minutes and a plus-7 rating in 28 games for the Penguins. He had five goals and 11 assists in 61 games for the Blue Jackets last season.
"It's great for him," Richards said yesterday morning.
"Having coached Blake and known him, you're happy to see guys have success when they're good guys."
Comeau's hot roll continues, scoring the only goal in a 1-0 OT win last night against Colorado, for his 11th goal of the season.