It’s Sunday and the NHL regular season is in session, so you know what that means. Grab your coffee and let’s take a look at the very brief opening standings for the first time this year.
We are happy to report that your Pittsburgh Penguins start the Sunday Standings with the most points of anyone in the division, tied with Carolina. (Just go ahead and please ignore than they’ve played more games than Carolina and also every other team and the fact that the season is only about 1% complete).
In our minds, let’s just call it - the season is over and Evgeni Malkin has won the Hart trophy.
With 2 more points last night, Evgeni Malkin is now tied for the top spot in scoring with six points. You have to "Hart" is his start . Pens return to practice today at noon! @SNPittsburgh pic.twitter.com/vBLq3nqQCQ— Dan Potash (@DanPotashTV) October 15, 2023
Alright, so that fun delusion is just a happy fantasy but after giving up three goals in the third period to Chicago on opening night, the Pens have bounced back by shutting out Washington and giving up two to Calgary (one in garbage time), while putting up nine goals of their own.
It’s going to be a formula that we’ll see how it works in the long-term, being as the Pens’ third and fourth lines and third defensive pair have put basically nothing on the scoreboard with 0 goals and one assist in 24 combined man-games. The only contribution coming from Lars Eller getting a secondary assist after getting out of the penalty box and making a simple pass to a skilled player.
Pittsburgh is planning that their stars can carry the day. That’s worked so far, with their top six-forwards alone combining for 11 goals and 12 assists in the first three games, plus Kris Letang pitching in three more assists of his own. All have pretty much been magnificent - Jake Guentzel’s initial timeline was to miss all of October and he has scored six points in three games. Malkin is the self-proclaimed first week MVP. Geno hasn’t seen what Auston Matthews has done to start the year, but let’s not hold that against Malkin considering he’s been a force. Sidney Crosby is Sidney Crosby. Reilly Smith has fit in flawlessly and hit the ground running, looking like he’s been a part of the team for years and not a few weeks.
And they will surely have more to get out of Erik Karlsson, who only has a single assist through three games but looks close to breaking through for much more likely in the near future.
In essence, and as was pretty evident and pretty much admitted from the front office - the Pens are going to try and play to a draw when 87 and 71 aren’t on the ice and count on their PK and goalies to hold up their end of the bargain.
Then, the big boys need to feast and supply enough offense to win games. Aside from some unfortunate bounces in the opener, the plan has gotten off to exactly the start that was imagined.
Aside from the home squad, what did we see around the league?
—It’s still way early but first impressions that Washington, Columbus and Philadelphia should be the dregs of the division were re-inforced by their opening statements this week. That sentiment could be considered a little unfair to the Blue Jackets, who beat the Rangers last night - but CBJ was also out-shot 42-21 along the way and riding a wave that isn’t going to take them very far.
—For the other teams, it was about as expected. Carolina took care of business with two wins — though they got lucky on the road last night in LA for what once was a 5-2 Hurricane lead that required a shootout to secure the victory. The other division front-runner, New Jersey, wasn’t as fortunate when their third period blown lead against Arizona resulted in a Devils shootout loss. Not much to worry about in NJ, though, Jack Hughes (2G+3A in two games to start the season) looks like he could be cooking up an MVP-quality season of his own.
—The two NYC teams are always important to track and monitor for the Penguins’ perspective to get a sense of playoff positioning, and it’s never too early for that. (OK, OK, it is way too early for that). The Islanders opened up the season strong with a close win over Buffalo. The Rangers beat those same Sabres earlier in the week before stumbling against Columbus.
—Hockey is back, fall is in the air, so here’s to another great season!