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Pensburgh Ups and Downs: December 2015

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An individual look at which players performed well and which ones did not for the Pittsburgh Penguins in the month of December 2015.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

December 2015 was a very turbulent month for the Pittsburgh Penguins, who fired their coach and were ravaged by injuries and the end of a career. Mike Johnston was removed from his post as head coach after a Dec 11 shootout loss to LA, after going 2-2-1 in the 5 games he coached in the month, with the team meandering through a difficult season.

His replacement, Mike Sullivan, dropped the first 4 games he coached but has the team's metrics a lot stronger and Pittsburgh ended the month of December with a 3-1-1 record.

In between all of that, the Pens swung just the second trade in the whole league this season, to rid themselves of Rob Scuderi, sadly saw the end of Pascal Dupuis' playing career, dealt with meaningful injuries to their franchise goalie and #1 defenseman. Can't say it wasn't an eventful month.

And you can check out past Ups and Downs for this season:

Goalies Performance Comments
Marc-Andre Fleury Fleury missed the second half of the month, his first extended injury absence from the team since the 2007-08 season. MAF's durability and consistency over the years has really been a blessing for the Pens, hopefully the band-aid doesn't return for him any time soon.
Jeff Zatkoff Zatkoff started a season high 4 games this month and had his worst statistical month of the year as well (1-3-0 record with a 2.77 GAA and a .912 save %), mainly because of a very bad game Dec 18 against Boston. He was pretty solid in the other 3 games.
Matt Murray In his first taste of NHL action, Murray played well going 2-1-1 with a .938 save% and a 1.77 GAA. The future of the Pens net looks in great shape in Murray's hands.
Ian Cole Cole was a healthy scratch on 12/19 for the first time in his Penguin career 12/19, after another tough month in what's been a tough season for him. In the 13 games he did play he was a total of a -7 (and now is the current wearer of the "Green Jacket" which isn't a good thing).
Adam Clendening Sent to the AHL for conditioning, since he can't seem to get any game time in the NHL (only 2 NHL games played in December, 12/14 and 12/19)
Brian Dumoulin After recording only 2 assists in the first 2 months of the season, Dumoulin exploded for 6 in December, while still continuing to play increasing minutes on the ice, against tough competition. He hasn't scored this season but has increased his shot total from month-to-month.
Ben Lovejoy Lovejoy blocked 31 shots in December, equaling combined his total of Oct+Nov. While Dumoulin is becoming the puck-mover of the pair, Lovejoy has been more of the steady defensive-vet. And steady he has been.
Kris Letang Gentleman's dash for Letang, who only played 5 of the 14 games this month. When he did play, he played well with 5 points in those 5 December games (2g+3a), including 3 power play points, let's just hope as always he can stay healthy and be able to play more games.
Olli Maatta Maatta returned ahead of schedule from his November injury and played in 13 of the 14 games, scoring 5 points (2g+3a), jumping back onto the first pair, mostly without Letang, but still staying above water in terms of goals and shots.
David Warsofsky Warsofsky got called up and played 11 games in December, the first of his Pittsburgh career. Despite being heavily outshot and outscored at even strength, he's remained a 6/7 option for most of the month, scoring his lone point of the month (a goal) on 12/21 vs. CBJ.
Beau Bennett The old familiar Beau Bennett injury write-up, after hurting a shoulder 12/14 vs WSH. Expected to be out 4-6 weeks.
Nick Bonino Zero goals and 4 assists on the month, and for the first month of the season was sub-.500 level in the faceoff circle at 47.9%. The Pens need a little more from several players, and Bonino has to be on the list.
Sidney Crosby Crosby had his best statistical month of the season scoring 12 points (4g+8a) in 13 December games. He also fired a personal season high 41 shots on net and was a strong 56% at faceoffs. Those numbers still aren't impressive for him, personally, but in 2015 not many in the NHL are scoring like they were in past years too. More importantly, he's got jump in his step and is playing his best hockey of the season of late.
Matt Cullen One of the bright spots of the season, Cullen had a personal season high in goals (2), points (5) and total faceoffs (178, 56.7%). He even got bumped up to the Malkin line, which while surely not permanent, is a nice reward for a player who is playing very well.
Pascal Dupuis Understandably has faded to the background a little bit recently after his 12/8 retirement announcement as he waits to see what the next step will be in the Pens organization.
Eric Fehr Decent month for his role as a 4th line winger and PK'er (2g+1a), but at this point of the season it's a bit disappointing that is all his role has been.
Patric Hornqvist December was Hornqvist's season high in goals (3), assists (4) and points (7) which iss good, but even those numbers (in 14 games) aren't really where they need to be. 2g+1a were on the PP, which is important, the Pens need their net-front guy to screen the goalie and be a productive member of the unit, and he's starting to look better in that regard.
Phil Kessel The quest to get Kessel on track continues, with 4 goals but only 2 assists in the 14 games this month. All of that came at even-strength too, so even though Kessel has bounced from line to line, he's still been able to be relatively productive, though certainly not in a groove, at even.
Chris Kunitz Kunitz spent all month on the Crosby lined, and pulled his own weight scoring 10 points (2g+8a) in 14 December games. The assists were especially important, since Kunitz had exactly 0 in Oct+Nov.
Evgeni Malkin Malkin again led the team in goals this month (7) and tied with Crosby to lead in points (12), which also matches his production of November. Geno's been incredibly consistent, and important as other members of the team have struggled.
David Perron The good: a season month-high 7 points (1g+6a). The bad: Was a -9 on the month and only 4 points (0g+4a) came at even strength. The Pens can still use a lot more from Perron, who also hasn't settled
Sergei Plotnikov Demoted to healthy scratch for 2 games, Plotnikov went scoreless in December from his 4th line role. While he's a good possession player, big body and not ineffective like 4th liners of the past, he just hasn't been a very productive or effective player with the puck.
Kevin Porter Seemingly the new coach's pet, the 29-year old played 8 games in December and though he only recorded a single assist, the team likes to plug him out there on penalty kills and seems to trust him to make the right plays. He's far from a game breaker or exciting player, but Porter keeps a job by doing little things correctly.
Conor Sheary

The 23-year old made his NHL debut on 12/16 and played the final 8 games of the month in the NHL. His best game, by far, was his 2nd on 12/18 vs BOS where he scored a goal (off a Crosby pass) and also chipped in an assist- to date his only NHL points in those 8 games. It will be interesting to see how long a leash Sheary gets to make his case to play in the NHL, but for now he seems solidly ahead of other established players like Rust/Wilson/Plot