During an 82-game season you are not really going to learn much through a random 10-game sampling, and this can be especially true for the first 10 games. There can be a lot of noise and clutter in any stretch and it may not give you a clear, accurate look at what a team has been, currently is, or will continue to be. Slumps happen, injuries can change the way a team plays, and sometimes your luck can be all over the map. In other words, sometimes good teams will play poorly for 10 games, and sometimes bad teams will play really well for 10 games.
All of that is important to keep in when looking at the Pittsburgh Penguins’ start for the 2019-20 season because we really haven’t seen the Penguins yet. At least not the way they were intended to look.
When they lost to the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night they were playing with nearly $26 million in salary out of the lineup (Evgeni Malkin, Brian Dumoulin, Bryan Rust, Nick Bjugstad, Alex Galchenyuk), while that collection of players (plus Jared McCann) has already combined to miss 38 man-games due to injury this season.
That is crazy.
So while it is fair to judge the players that are on the ice and the coaching staffs deployment of those players we still don’t really know what the Penguins are going to look like this season.
So what have we seen from the players that are on the ice?
What I like
— I like the way the Penguins are playing given the circumstances. Overall, I have no complaints with the style of play and think they are doing what they can with what they have. They have beaten the teams they should beat (Dallas, Minnesota, Winnipeg), they have been competitive against the teams that have better rosters on paper right now (they beat Colorado; they could have easily beaten Vegas with a bounce or two in their favor), and the underlying numbers are promising and paint the picture of a team with a good process, even if all of the talent is not yet there. They probably had a stretch of good luck during the winning streak that boosted them up a little, and that luck has run out a bit the past two games and dropped them back down. Their 6-4-0 record is right about where this team should be when everything is taken into account.
— I like the Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel, and Dominik Simon line and I don’t care who knows it.
— I like Sam Lafferty and think he probably has a chance to stick even when everyone gets healthy. If he is in your bottom-six you might be happy with that.
— I like the way the Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin defense pairing has played (when Dumoulin is healthy). They had a slow start in the first couple of games, but they have been great in the games since.
— I like the idea of John Marino, and I like that he was given a look on the top-pairing alongside Letang when Dumoulin went out of the lineup. I still do not know how good Marino is or will be, but I like that he is getting a look and has the right tools to fit the style of play they should be playing.
What I do not like
— I do not like that they left themselves shorthanded at forward by carrying nine defenders, or that they continue to try and force the Jack Johnson thing into existence. It just doesn’t make sense, and I still half-jokingly believe it is out of spite for the people that criticized it.
— I do not like the idea that the Penguins have stumbled onto a “right way” of playing and that Evgeni Malkin, Alex Galchenyuk, etc. have to fit into it when they return. As I said above, I think the Penguins are playing well right now and doing what they need to do given the players they have at this moment, and that is important. But better players are capable of more. That does not mean Malkin and Co. can return and play some sort of renegade back-and-forth style where everything gets thrown into chaos, but what the Penguins are doing right now is great for a undermanned lineup. You still need talent to win and you need to let talent do what it does best and trust it to carry the play.
— I do not like the apparent lack of progress from Zach Aston-Reese and the lack of anything from Dominik Kahun. In previous seasons I always thought Aston-Reese had the look of an NHL player and just needed some better luck and a real chance. But so far I haven’t seen much progress. As for Kahun, well, I really liked that addition because on paper he seemed like a perfect fit for what the Penguins needed and checked all of the boxes for what they should be looking for in a forward — kind of young, pretty fast, cheap contract, decent production in his first taste of NHL action around good players, somebody that might still be able to get better.
What do you like and not like so far?