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Pensburgh Ups and Downs: October 2015

See which players' stocks are up, and who are trending down based off a 7-4-0 record for the Pittsburgh Penguins in October 2015.

John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Penguins had a somewhat unsettling and unexpected first month of the 2015-16 season. Built this year for offense, the team was unable to fill the net, and saw themselves frequently out-shot. After losing the first three games of the season, the Pens reeled off 7 wins in 8 games at the end of the month to salvage a 7-4-0 record. That's a good result and some momentum to build upon for the upcoming trip to Western Canada this week.

The team is a work in progress, and needs to continue to gel and build chemistry and get better results as the season goes along, but let's dive in on the individual performances.

As a reminder, the criteria is sort of like the stock market. We judge on performance, relative expectations and where the player is perceived now, compared to where they were at the beginning of the season. A 4th line player could get a green arrow up, a 1st line player could get a red arrow down, and that certainly does not mean the former is a better player than the latter, just that he is living more up to the expectations of his role right now.

Goalies Performance Comments
Marc-Andre Fleury The term MVP gets thrown around a lot, but Fleury's truly living up to the meaning of "valuable". Without his 1.71 GAA and .942 save percentage, playing in 10 of the Pens 11 games this month, this team probably would have gone 1-9, instead of the 6-4 record that Fleury's stolen for them. As always with Fleury, the question is consistency. No one should expect him to carry a .942% forever, of course, so some regression seems to be coming sooner or later. Regardless, his contributions can't be dismissed or ignored.
Jeff Zatkoff After sitting the first 9 games of the season, Zatkoff got tossed in the fire against a game Buffalo team that tossed 53 shots on net. Even though few were dangerous, that much rubber on the net is insane. Zatkoff was up for the task, stopping 50 of them in a win.
Ian Cole 11 games, 0 goals, 0 assists and a -5 on the month (2GF, 7GA at 5v5) The Pens made a big ask of Cole putting him as first pair player late in camp, and he hasn't been up to the task. Not really a knock on him (he's played 21:46 per game this year, compared to 18:39 last season) but he's been sinking so far in top-pairing minutes. The problem is that the team has no other realistic options to play next to Letang. With those first pairing minutes, Cole has only been on ice for 2 Goals For. Yikes. In the plus column, Cole has 30 blocked shots (far and away most on the team), the effort is there but he's clearly in too big of a role right now.
Adam Clendening Never really got a chance to establish himself, playing only 1 game (Oct 15 vs Ottawa) and getting just 13:16 of ice-time in that game. Clendening took 2 minor penalties- but even Coach Johnston admitted that was more on the refs than player. Firmly established as the #7, but it's a distant #7 where only the top 6 play.
Brian Dumoulin The good: Dumoulin was only on ice for 3 5v5 goals against in October. The bad: Dumo was only on the ice for 3 5v5 goals for in October. Dumoulin had zero goals and 1 assist (on Oct 31 in Toronto), and goes into his second month in his first full NHL season playing a defenseman low of 15:47 per night. They're not asking much of him, and he's not delivering much either. But at least isn't making too many mistakes.
Ben Lovejoy Lovejoy is the de facto #3 defenseman on the team right now, playing 18:09 per night (3rd behind Letang and Cole). That's a bigger role than he should ideally have, but the old Reverend had a solid month (7 GF, 3 GA at even strength) and had a highlight night Oct 29 against Buffalo, recording a goal and an assist (his only points all month) in a 4-3 win. He also held his own Oct 28 in Washington, matched up often head-to-head with Alex Ovechkin, who did not score. Less would be more in the big picture, but for now Lovejoy is definitely coming through.
Kris Letang Letang's carrying more weight than anyone on the team not named Fleury, so it's tough to say his stock's just even, especially considering a seamless return from a March concussion that ended his 2014-15 season. But there's still room for improvement (especially on the anemic power play). Letang's playing 26:18 per night (5th most in the league so far) which probably isn't sustainable. But again, the Pens have no other options, they have to ride their workhorse and Letang's the only defenseman in the stable. He was only on-ice for 3 5v5 goals for in 11 games, which is impossibly low.
Olli Maatta Early in training camp Maatta was playing first pair, by the end of the month he's on the 3rd pair with the Scudanchor. However, there's signs of hope, Maatta's minutes have ramped up later in the month and probably had his best game 10/29 vs. Buffalo where he played a season high 19:28, and had an assist after making a heady play, and he ends the month with 2 assists in 3 games (which makes him sadly one of the higher-producing defensemen on the team). Maatta's heading in the right direction, but he's very much looking like a young player who's missed a lot of time last season.
Rob Scuderi It's been real, it's been fun, but it hasn't been real fun. Scuderi has made visible mistakes with the puck on his stick in his own end, but he also has 3 assists in 10 games (after only recording 9 helpers in 82 games last season). He's been on ice for 10 GF at 5v5, second best among defensemen, which defies logic since he does little to nothing tangible to help the other 4 teammates. Surprisingly, Scuderi only has 14 blocked shots in his 10 games, a very low number for him. The pucks aren't hitting him, and that's a bad sign, but for now he's surviving, which is about as much as one could expect.
Beau Bennett In the most Beau Bennett move ever, Beau Bennett hurt himself celebrating a goal on Oct. 13 vs Montreal. That pretty much sums up his whole career; play a little and do something good, but then get a fluky injury. Bennett's been solid when he's played, but as is always the case he just hasn't been able to keep himself in the lineup enough.
Nick Bonino A jack of all trades, the Pens have used Bonino as their 3rd line center, and plugged him all over the place on the 2nd PP, top PK. Bonino has taken the 2nd most faceoffs on the team, and at 54.1%, he's been 2nd best on the team there too (behind only Crosby's 55.4%). His boxcars of 2 goals and 1 assist aren't eye popping, but not many players stats are. Bonino's done a lot of the little things right, and has been very consistent in his game-to-game output.
Sidney Crosby This just in, Sidney Crosby isn't perfect. He's human! He only has 5 points (1g+4a) on the month, and has been held off the scoreboard for 9 of the team's 11 games. A very un-Sid-like open of the season. No one's held to higher standards than Crosby, and there's no doubt he's in a rut right now. However, fortunes can and will change over a long season, and Sidney Crosby is still Sidney Crosby. Deep breaths, everyone.
Matt Cullen Cullen has 4 points (1g+3a) in 11 games, a respectable 52.8% in the faceoff circle, and has added some valuable PK minutes (his 2:40 per game is the most of the regular forwards). As the oldest player on the team at age 38, Cullen looks much younger than most the squad with his excellent skating ability. Since he was a 1st/2nd liner for much of his career, he's good with the puck as well. Been a really long time since the Pens have actually had a good 4th line center that can control play and be dangerous with the puck. Or even be half-decent. Cullen's been more than that.
Pascal Dupuis Returns from a training camp knee injury to make his season debut on 10/22 vs. Dallas, plays in a new-ish left wing position on the first line, still doesn't look out of place. Despite being 36 years old and having a blood clot condition that has to be monitored, you'd never know by just watching the games. This might be a nostalgic green arrow, but then again Pascal Dupuis just might be Superman.
Eric Fehr Coming off of an off-season elbow surgery, Fehr returned at the earliest possible game from being placed on long-term injury reserve, and scored a short-handed goal and added an assist in the 10/31 game vs. Toronto. Can't ask for anything better. The Pens need Fehr's size, goal scoring ability and PK minutes up the middle, and now that he looks healthy, he should be up to the task.
Patric Hornqvist After scoring no goals and adding just 1 assist in the first 9 games of the season, Hornqvist has come on strong recently, scoring 3 points (2g+1a) in the last 2 games of the month. He looks much more comfortable and dangerous playing with Crosby, whose style of game fits Hornqvist very well. He's gotten back on track lately but needs to continue to produce points as a top-line winger.
Phil Kessel A tied for team high 4 goals, Phil has been as advertised; dangerous with the puck on his stick, not very good at winning it back consistently and prone to losing the puck in the offensive zone . He's shown flashes of greatness and skills that only a handful of players in the league have, and better yet has been recently has been building chemistry with his new center Malkin. More of that, please!
Chris Kunitz After starting the season with 7 scoreless games, Kunitz at least has scored 2 goals in his last 4. Zero assists on the month, which is troubling because being a sneaky good playmaker has been a staple of his game. Kunitz now finds himself on the 3rd line and away from Crosby. Can he produce? Will he be back in a scoring role? Lots of questions abound. The mind is definitely willing, but the legs and hands don't look like they are there any longer at age 36 and with a lot of tough "miles" under his belt.
Evgeni Malkin Malkin's leading the Pens with 10 points (4g+6a) in 11 games, he's been the best and most consistent forward, getting at least a point in 7 of the team's 11 games, in a month when not many are scoring. With so many others (including most of his wingers) struggling mightily, Malkin's been the main driver of the offensive engine that's powered the Penguins to wins in the second half of the month.
David Perron 0 goals, 2 assists in 11 games, despite ample time in a scoring role. Perron's been a major disappointment early in the season. The effort and attention to detail is certainly there, but he's snake-bitten right now and not getting results. Hopefully his luck turns soon, Perron is too skilled a player to be the non-factor offensively that he's been in the early days of this season.
Sergei Plotnikov An occasional healthy scratch, Plotnikov only played 8 games, recording no goals and 1 assist. A bit disappointing since he performed very well with his countryman Malkin in the preseason, but he definitely came back down to Earth when the games counted. As a rookie (and a stranger in a strange land) it's not the worst thing in the world, but now with a crowded and healthy field of forwards, Plotnikov is struggling to establish his fit and place right off the bat.
Kevin Porter The 29-year-old flew under the radar when he signed this summer, but has quickly become a favorite of the coaching staff as a reliable 4th line forward. He was demoted to the AHL on 10/30 to make way for Fehr, but is expected to be the next forward recalled in case of injury. With 214 career NHL games, it's apparent that Porter knows what he's doing out there on the NHL ice, and isn't totally out of place in a limited role either.
Bryan Rust Rust got called up from the minors ahead of the Oct 15 game vs Ottawa and played 5 games this month in a bottom 6 role until a Shea Weber slap shot was believed to injure his hand/wrist on Oct 24.There's not much information but a broken bone rumor is out there, so this could be a lengthy band-aid.
Daniel Sprong

Making the NHL at age 18 is impressive. Sprong has mainly been a 3rd liner and not gotten a ton of shifts late in tight games (and all the games have been tight). Do the Pens need him? He's got skill and a youthful burst, but he's a right winger. The Pens have Phil, PH72, Dupuis, Fehr and Bennett all as natural RWs (even though some can/do play out of position). The smart call might be sending Sprong back to juniors for the season before he plays his 10th NHL game (at 8 now) and burning the first year of his contract. However, if he can develop in the NHL in a limited role, the best bet might be to keep him and hope he'll improve more for the future in the big leagues. His future looks bright, but it's very questionable where that immediate future should be at this point.