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Pensburgh Ups and Downs - December 2014

Another month in the books, another check-in to see who's trending up, down and who gets the dreaded band-aid.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Check out the previous ups and downs:

And let's get started on this one. Mumps and injuries definitely took their toll as the team posted their worst record of the season (just 7-4-3) and saw their lead on the division evaporate. But with injuries come opportunities, and we saw that with a whopping 6 players making their NHL debuts. The path from Wilkes-Barre to Pittsburgh (and back) was well traveled. It was a rough month for the power play, which shuttled some key contributors in and out, had no chemistry and only went 3 for 51.

Goalies Performance Comments
Marc-Andre Fleury The anchor of the team right now. In a positive way, that is. Started 12 of 14 games in the month and still put up his best save % of the season for the month (.935%) and had a really nice 7-2-2 record. All that despite a frequently changing and patchwork set of skaters in front of him. Fleury's off to a career season and has been either "good" or "really, really good" in pretty much every game.
Thomas Greiss Only played 2 games, going 0-1-1 with a .897% save percentage, then got the mumps after a lengthy time trying to diagnose it. Might not even be all his fault to get the red arrow, but Greiss's stock is down from this time last month, so he'll take it nonetheless. With Fleury playing so well, Greiss's impact on the season might be less than most thought.
Jeff Zatkoff Despite the fact the Pens played 4 games in 6 nights (including a back-to-back), they elected to start Fleury for each one rather than play Zatkoff. JZ got his first NHL minutes of the season in relief for MAF on 12/23, and was pretty good (16 saves on 17 shots) on the ice. We'll dock him the red arrow, just because the team doesn't have faith in him to play. Zatkoff's stock as an NHL player ain't great.
Robert Bortuzzo Got suspended for 2 games for his hit in a 12/3 game on Jaromir Jagr. 7 games played and not much offense (0 goals, 1 assist, even plus/minus) but decent physical play (23 hits) made for a decent month.
Simon Despres Despres had a landmark month. In addition to being one of only two defensemen (along with Scuderi) to play every game in December, and he also played 18+ minutes 9 times this month (including each of the last 8 games). Despres played 18+ minutes 0 times in Oct & Nov, showing that he's growing into a core, key member of this team, and deservedly so with his strong play.
Brian Dumoulin The good: first NHL goal on 12/15 vs Tampa. The bad: -2 (with 3 goals being mostly his fault) back on 12/8 vs NYR. Also has now emerged as the current low man on the totem pole of the next wave of prospects, which currently looks Pouliot-Harrington-Dumoulin which means a yo-yo from WB/S to PGH when injuries strike.
Christian Ehrhoff Suffered injury and only played in 9 games this month (1g, 1a, +1) with that goal being a huge slapper GWG on 12/6 to beat Ottawa. Ehrhoff seems to be getting more comfortable in Pittsburgh. Shots per game by month for Oct/Nov/Dec: 1.33, 2.29, 2.75. More of that, please, Herr Ehrhoff.
Scott Harrington We'll be generous and grade on a curve here, since Harrington made his NHL debut this month, but when pressed into bigger duty (like serving as Letang's partner vs. Washington on 12/27) he was a -3 in a 3-0 loss. And a -6 overall in his first 5 NHL games. Harrington also showed some encouraging flashes but still is very green and needs more time until he will become the type of player that his potential indicates.
Kris Letang Returned from injury on 12/12 and played the final 10 games of the month, but still scored 4 goals (2nd most on the team) and added an assist. He's also been a horse, playing at least 23:52 in all 10 games of the month, and 27+ 4 different nights. If MAF is the team's stabilizing anchor, Letang (along with 2 certain forwards) have clearly been the team's engines.
Olli Maatta November Maatta had cancer, December it was mumps, and apparently dodging another shoulder surgery. Which seems great, but hopefully he can return and just be a healthy, normal guy.
Paul Martin Missed the last six games of the month, and wasn't that great in the 8 he played, getting only 1 point (assist) and having an even plus/minus. Martin's presence has been missed, but it's given the youngsters a chance to earn their stripes at the NHL level and possibly give fans a taste of the future if PM7 departs as a free agent in 2015.
Derrick Pouliot His future's so bright he has to wear shades. Pouliot made his NHL debut on 12/20 and played the final six games of the month, ending up on the #1 PP unit, scoring his first goal in his first NHL period and also added 2 assists on the month. He's far from a finished product defensively, and you can see him learning how to make decisions and adjust to NHL-level competition every game, but he's also growing every game and has usurped his fellow prospects now as a #1 unestablished guy. When Maatta and Martin return, is there still a place for Pouliot in the lineup?
Rob Scuderi A quiet but effective month for Scuderi, who as mentioned above was one of a few Pens to play every game in December. He chipped in 3 assists, had a season high month of 14 blocked shots and played very effectively in front of the net on the PK; using his stick to take away lanes. Very close to up arrow territory, really. Scuderi is still slow and has no puck skills - he's a limited old man, but he's playing with a lot of confidence and, unlike last year, isn't a complete liability out there.
Craig Adams An unheard-of trip to the IR cost Adams increasing his all-time franchise best iron-man streak (that he set in December) and on the ice he was nothing special, aside from 12/13 vs. CBS when he hacked a puck while short-handed up for Sutter to score a SHG.
Beau Bennett An equally unheard-of month in which Bennett doesn't get a band aid! Bennett was sensational with 2 assists vs CAR on 12/31, but he just has to stay in the damn lineup now. Hopefully the kid gets a break and doesn't break anything for a change.
Blake Comeau There's no way at the beginning of the season anyone would have known the loss of Comeau (who's out a couple of weeks after likely breaking his wrist on 12/22) would be a devastating blow. But it is. Hockey's funny like that.
Sidney Crosby A month to forget for Crosby, who registered a career low in points (2g, 3a in 11 games) and had the mumps after a lengthy diagnosis. Still,if the Penguins have 99 problems, Sidney Crosby producing ain't one for me. His underlying stats are still good, he just needs to finish and hopefully keep some consistent wingers to get him headed back in the right direction.
Steve Downie 7 points (2g, 5a) in 9 games on the month for Downie, before getting sat down with a case of the mumps. His crazyman actions on 12/20 will go down as the stuff of legends for taunting Gudbrandson after standing up for a teammate. Nice to know that this year if an opponent takes liberties, they have to answer the bell.
Pascal Dupuis "Well, well, get well soon, we want you to get well!" --Elaine Benes
Andrew Ebbett Not really good, not really bad, just kind of there. For now with all these injuries, anyways.
Bobby Farnham Has lived up to his minor league reputation as a Tasmanian Devil on skates, and unlike some other nameless minor league-level forwards who also never score, Farnham showed a lot of energy, drew 6 penalties in his 9 NHL games and was always noticed. That said, there's a reason he's a 5-6-7 minute a night player, even on a skeleton crew and the team will be better when they get their players back and can send Farnham back down to the AHL.
Marcel Goc Point production just isn't his thing (0 goals and his only 2 assists of the season came in 13 games in December) but Goc does chip in a bunch of little things. He plays PK, he eats minutes, he takes a lot of faceoffs (and won 53.9% on the month). But still, a little more production sure would go a long way in a month that the team needs to find offense somewhere.
Patric Hornqvist "Saw Patric Hornqvist tonight. Left the dressing room with a protective boot and on crutches. Won't be skating for a little while." Seth Rorabaugh 12/31. It's a shame that injuries keep derailing what was a very promising season for PH72.
Rob Klinkhammer The trade acquisition on 12/5 fit in pretty well, has good size, but was also made a healthy scratch on 12/31 when the team wasn't really all that healthy. Klink is a decent player, but not an indispensable one, will be interesting if he can carve out a niche in the lineup if/when more of the lower line players are also back.
Chris Kunitz Kunitz only played 6 games in December, posting 4 points (2g, 2a) including a big two point night to close the month on 12/31. He's back just in time, the Pens need his skill up front.
Evgeni Malkin Good month for Malkin, who led the team in goals (5), assists (7) and ratcheted up his shots big time (53 in December from 39 in November in the same number of games). Malkin's played center, wing, point on the PP, up on the wall on the PP, he's been flexible and generally productive.
Jayson Megna Got 8 games in December and didn't make the most of it (0g, 1a). In a month riddled with injuries and mumps, Megna had a chance to grab the brass ring, but he fell short being as the lasting memory of the month will probably be skating to the penalty box 4 times on 12/12 vs CGY and then being banished to the minors until 12/27. Now in his 3rd professional season, the clock is ticking on Megna making a full-time jump to the NHL.
Bryan Rust Made his NHL debut and scored a goal in his 2nd game on 12/15, but didn't find the scoresheet in any other of his 9 NHL games, despite ending the month with a few games on Crosby's wing. Rust has shown some good flashes of potential in just his first year as a professional, but his game is far from complete and it's obvious he needs more time in the minors ASAP. Hopefully the team's health will allow him to get it.
Zach Sill Hey, whaddya know, he scores as many points on the IR as he does in the lineup.
Nick Spaling Spaling had a pretty good month (3g, 4a in 14 games) but also was a -2 which meant more pucks were going into the wrong net than the right one. 12 blocked shots in 14 games is pretty good for a forward, and Spaling has also been a good piece to slide all around the lines and usually give a decent performance.
Brandon Sutter Only 2 goals (even though both were flashy) and 2 assists in a month that he also was held out for a case of the mumps that he didn't have. Sutter had a rocky go of it, but hopefully can build upon his 12/31 GWG vs CAR to help the team into 2015.
Dominik Uher Congrats to Uher, winner of the 2014 Carl Sneep Award for "holy crap, the Pens were so injured they had to play WHO in the NHL?".