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Pensburgh Ups and Downs: December 2016

A look at good individual performances and poor ones for the month of December.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

What an interesting December it was for the Pittsburgh Penguins. They won the first seven games of the month (scoring a whopping 39 goals, 5.5 per game), clicking like never before. Then Kris Letang got injured, obviously causing a bit of an adjustment and the team scored just 1 goal in the next 2 games (going 0-0-2). They'd bounce back though to embarrass the Rangers 7-2, before losing the only regulation game of the month in equally embarrassing fashion 7-1 to a Columbus team that could do no wrong this month on their way to a 15-game winning streak.

The Pens bounced back from that big loss to find ways to win the last four games of the month and end things on a really solid note.

Past 2016-17 Ups and Downs:

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 A great month for Fleury who started 7 games (and played 9 total) with a wonderful record of 6-0-1 with a season monthly-best stats of a 2.59 GAA and .924 save% in December. It's been an unusual season in net, weirder now with Murray's injury but as always, MAF's a good guy to have around to pick the slack back up.
Matt Murray Murray was injured on 12/28 and is "week-to-week", which is a shame since, as usual it was a great month for the Pens talented youngster (6-1-1 record, 2.38 GAA, .926 save%).
Ian Cole Of all skaters on the team only 6 (Malkin, Crosby, Kessel, Schultz, Sheary, Rust) scored more than Cole's 1 goal + 8 assist month. And with the injuries all around, Cole was able to play all 15 games and boosted up to 19:22 per game in December. For a guy only good as a 5/6 guy last year, he's turned into the new Ben Lovejoy to play in a 3/4 role and do quite well. (In fact, Cole the past few months has probably been even better than BL6 last spring).
Trevor Daley Daley's season was clicking on about as normal (a rare fight 12/10 against Nikita Kucherov, a goal 12/12 against Arizona) before an injury knocked him out on 12/16. Luckily he was able to return for the last two games of the month and get back to chewing up important minutes again.
Brian Dumoulin Dumoulin wasn't off to a great month (he did have a season-high 4 assists in December) with his all around-defensive play and he caught a puck to the face on 12/27 against NJD that will have him out 4-6 weeks with a broken jaw. Hopefully he heals up and is able to hit the reset button on a mostly disappointing season so far.
Kris Letang As mentioned at the very top, the Pens were awesome before Letang's injury, and he came back for a 3 assist night on 12/31. 8 games, 0 goals, 9 assists and 26 minutes per night in December, Pittsburgh clicks best with their best d-man back there.
Olli Maatta Missed 2 games (while having to spend 5 days bedridden over the Christmas holiday). Also sick has been Maatta's offensive game this entire season. Though he did get 2 assists (in 13 games), he's got just 0g+3a total on the year and hasn't regained his total game from pre-injury days.
Steve Oleksy 5 games, no points, but 2 fights (including being on the winning side of hockeyfights' 3rd best fight of the year, so far, 12/23 vs NJD). Oleksy has been shielded but not looked far over his head as a depth player who will add some muscle and be able to take a shift or two at the NHL level.
Derrick Pouliot 6 games played in December, no points (and hasn't even on the ice for a goal for all season in the NHL). Several glaring mistakes that ended up in the net, defense-low 14:46 per game, team-worst -3 and demoted back to the AHL before career farm-hands like Oleksy, Warsofsky and Ruhwedel. If this truly is a "make or break" season for Pouliot in the Penguins organization, unfortunately three months in it's trending to heavily towards break.
Chad Ruhwedel Made his Pittsburgh debut on 12/20 and played 5 of the 6 last games of the month, and mostly stood out for good reasons (like a 12/23 goal vs NJD and a great assist on 12/27 against NJD again)..But still showing why he's a bit out of his element in NHL during that same 12/27 game with Taylor Hall burning him 1-on-1. Either way, Ruhwedel's got some experience, can skate well and is an RH shot. Not a bad guy to have around as a 7/8 type guy in the organization.
Justin Schultz Would have 2 up arrows if physically possible (it's not). Schultz had 6 goals, 12 assists on the month, and despite how you think of +/-, his +16 in 15 games definitely shows the puck was going in the right net all month long. Schultz's 18 points in December were best among ANY dman in the whole league, and in fact even among ALL players only Crosby and Malkin scored more than Schultz in December. Just an unreal, career-best month for Schultz who, somehow, can do no wrong seemingly at this point. The fun part will be seeing how he can keep going.
Nick Bonino Bonino had hist best statistical month of the season (by far) with 5 goals and 4 assists in 15 games, plus carried a 52.7% faceoff percentage and a 50%+ in 9 games on the season. Great sign if he can kick it back into spring 2016 gear.
Sidney Crosby After scoring 11 goals in November, Sid follows it up with 11 goals in December (15 games). Call him a lot of things, but consistent would be one, scoring 20 points (second most in the NHL behind only teammate Malkin). Sid's playing some of the finest hockey of his career so be sure to enjoy it.
Matt Cullen Only 4 points (but 3 goals) on the month in 15 games, but for a 4th line center playing 10 ES minutes a game, that's really not too bad. Cullen's 48.9% in the faceoff circle on the month was next-to-worst among regular centers (only better than the typically weak Malkin). Only 8 total shots in the 15 games is a bit of a concern though, Cullen will need to direct more pucks to the net next month.
Eric Fehr Was a healthy scratch for  5 of the team's 15 games in December, losing his spot in the lineup to younger/faster players like Wilson/Kuhnhackl that are better system fits. Fehr isn't a bad player but his slow, methodical style and big frame doesn't fit on a fast, agile team.
Carl Hagelin A season monthly best of 3g+6a=9p on the month for Hagelin, who started looking more like the playoff version of himself in December, including scoring 5 points in the last 3 games of the month. He's a streaky point-producer so the bye week may have come at a bad time for him personally, being as he was heating up.
Patric Hornqvist Decent production, considering he's a 87/71 linemate and 1st PP guy (4g+4a in 15), could probably stand to do a little more finishing but pucks still flying in the right net at record speed for Hornqvist (+10 on the month), with him usually posted up right in front of it, so good things are happening with 72 on the ice.
Phil Kessel Lost in the shuffle of the Crosby/Malkin/Schultz spotlight was Kessel, who's 17 December points (6g+11a) probably would have been a standout performance in any other month. The Thrill is currently tied-6th for NHL scoring with 38 points in 38 games overall.
Tom Kuhnhackl Missed some time with injury, scored 2 points (1g+1a) in the six games he did dress for, seemed like Kuhnhackl got his footing under him a little more towards the end of the month.
Chris Kunitz Goal scoring woes continue, 1 goal (on just 23 shots) on the month for Kunitz. He was able to pitch in 4 assists on the month but the Penguins really could use more shooting and scoring from a top-6 winger.
Evgeni Malkin Malkin rocketed to the very top of the NHL point leaders with a 7g+14a month. Gene, Gene the scoring machine was especially dangerous on the man-advantage, notching 5 goals (and 8 points) in December. He recorded at least 1 point in 11/15 games in the month and had double the number of multi-point games (8) than zero point games (4). Really impressive stuff.
Bryan Rust A hat-trick on 12/5 vs OTT helped push Rust to a 7 goal, 3 assist month and has earned him an extended look on Crosby's line. He scored those 7 goals on just 29 shots (24.1%) which isn't going to be sustainable for him, but it's nice to see secondary scorers heat up.
Conor Sheary Sheary's solid season keeps rolling along as he looks very comfortable and has been super-productive as Crosby's LW. 12 points (4g+8a) on the month, a great haul for limited PP chances and one big key is shots. Sheary launched 41 SOG in December, only the guys with the big numbers (71, 72, 87, 81) had more.
Scott Wilson Unlike last month, Wilson was able to stay in the lineup every night, so credit to him for avoiding healthy scratches. Production was commensurate with 4th line usage (1g+3a), nothing wrong with that.