Before the season I took the cowards way out when it came to making predictions on what the Penguins could do, basically shrugging my shoulders and saying I had no idea.
I had questions, I had concerns, but they weren’t necessarily bad questions or concerns. They were just unknowns. A lot of players and situations that seemed like they swing in either direction and determine whether this team would still be a contender, or if the postseason appearance in April was a sign of things to come. How would Marcus Pettersson do in a full season? How would middle-six players like Jared McCann, Nick Bjugstad, Patric Hornqvist, and Alex Galchenyuk perform? What about the freaking defense?
All of that stuff added up.
Then, once the season actually began, we still didn’t really have anything to go by because the injuries immediately started to pile up and we never actually saw the Penguins as they were supposed to look.
Now that we have in recent games, there is a lot of reason to be optimistic.
I know the results over the past two games haven’t been there, losing an overtime game to Edmonton and then losing a wild game in Boston, but how can you not like the way the Penguins played in those games?
The Edmonton game was their best all-around game of the over the past week, a stretch that included them winning games against a suddenly white hot Dallas Stars team and Philadelphia by a combined score of 10-1. They shut down the Connor McDavid - Leon Draisaitl line for 60 minutes, controlled everything about the game, and just ran into a hot goalie.
On Monday, they went toe-to-toe with the best team in the NHL so far and outplayed them for the majority of the night only to lose because of an off night by the goalies.
The results weren’t there this week, but the process has been incredible. And that is very encouraging for the big picture.
By pretty much every statistical measure the Penguins have been the best team in the NHL over the past two weeks, sitting near the top of the league in shot attempt differentials, scoring chance differentials, expected goal differentials, and yes, goal differentials. And it’s all been with a team that for the first time all season has started to get healthy. Even though the injuries have returned with Hornqvist and now Kris Letang being banged up we have at least seen what this team is capable of when everyone is there.
It’s a small sampling, obviously, but just look at the past four games:
Corsi Percentage: 60 percent, tops in the NHL. Next closest team was at 55 percent.
Scoring Chance Percentage: 61 percent, tops in the NHL. Next closest team was 56 percent.
High Danger Scoring Chance Percentage: 68 percent, tops in the NHL. Next closest team was at 62 percent.
Expected Goals Percentage: 67.5 percent, tops in the NHL. Next closest team was at 62 percent.
Looking at a larger sampling for the entire season, they legitimately have been one of the league’s best defensive teams which is a development I did not see coming over the summer. With healthy forwards back in the lineup all of that territorial edge is also finally starting to translate into goals. It has not even been a quarter of the season yet so there is still a ton of hockey ahead of them, but the early groundwork has been put in place for what could be a pretty good team in the long run because a lot of those variables are starting to swing in a positive direction. You can not sweat every individual game result over an 82-game season because sometimes you are going to play really well and lose. It happens. As long as the right process is in place and they stick with it the results will eventually go their way. Right now, the right process is in place and it only seems to be getting better.