Everyone is so focused on the ugly side of the Penguins 7-5-1 start that they forgot they’ve still done some good things in the early season. Let’s take a look at what has been good early on.
Look At The Metropolitan
The Penguins are only one point out of first place in the Metropolitan as it stands on Halloween. Of course, with most teams only playing between 10 and 13 games so far, there won’t be a ton of parody throughout the standings yet. I went into the year considering only the Rangers and Blue Jackets to be their biggest in-division threat. The Rangers have struggled mightily with only 8 points through their first 12 games. The Blue Jackets are 8-4-0 which is only one point better than the Penguins at this point.
The Blue Jackets are a very loaded team this year and have a great goaltender in Sergei Bobrovsky playing some elite hockey through his team’s first 12 contests. The Devils seem like an overachieving young team currently as they are tied with Columbus for the divisions top spot. The Penguins will find a groove. They don’t even need to win the division to be considered a favorite. If the Penguins snuck in as a wild card, much like their Finals opponent last year in Nashville, who can count them out of any series?
Their Roster Is Far From Complete
Behind Matt Murray, the Penguins have had three goalies slot into the back up position. Currently, Tristan Jarry occupies the spot. The Penguins have been adamant they want him to play. Whether it’s him or an experienced veteran not named Antti Niemi in that spot come playoff time remains to be seen.
Daniel Sprong waits in the wings for an opportunity at consistent time at the NHL level. Mike Sullivan knows he can score and will likely get a good look at him starting around Christmas time. He also has Zach-Aston Reese. It remains to be seen if Aston-Reese will give the impact he has been touted to give as he has struggled at the AHL level so far. Both could have an opportunity before April’s playoffs begin.
The third line center situation is not solved yet despite Jim Rutherford acquiring Riley Sheahan from the Red Wings. Sheahan projects very nicely as a fourth line center and will be a nice complement to Tom Kuhnhackl and Ryan Reaves once the actual third line center is acquired. He doesn’t score enough to be a second line center if the two stars would get hurt. Rutherford has cap space and he will use it.
Penguins Defense Isn’t All That Bad
Okay, Kris Letang has been a dumpster fire. He is still a top-10 defenseman in the league so I have a hard time believing he won’t find his game. With Justin Schultz and Matt Hunwick currently missing time with concussions, the Penguins have relied on other guys to step up.
Brian Dumoulin has been very adequate playing with or without his partner Letang. Ian Cole and Olli Maatta have been very consistent in their play and both have scored at least a goal here in the early going. Chad Ruhwedel has been a beneficiary of playing due to injuries and has looked like a top-6 defenseman in the absences of the injured blue liners. Even Zachary Trotman hasn’t looked completely lost.
A healthy Penguins team is the best Penguins team so when everyone is healthy and playing like they have the potential to do, the Penguins will benefit from it.
Many Teams Have It Much Worse
Neither Arizona or Vegas came into the season with playoff hopes as high as the Penguins. Arizona has been through a rough stretch and just got their first win against Philadelphia Monday night. Vegas has an 8-2 record which is all fine and dandy. They have seen Marc-Andre Fleury, Malcolm Subban and Oscar Dansk go down due to injury. That is three goalies in the span of ten games. Fleury has yet to skate. Subban is projected to miss 2-4 weeks. Dansk just went on IR Tuesday morning. Yikes.
The Oilers, a Stanley Cup favorite heading into the year, have struggled to score and are a bottom feeder in the West currently. Newly-signed Jack Eichel and his Sabres have been equally as bad. Trust me, the Penguins could be in a much worse spot. Remember, they also have won back-to-back championships. Not all is bad.
Through 13 games, it is ludicrous to say that the Penguins are unable to make noise in the playoffs. It is likely, but there are signs of hope on the way. Don’t even begin to count the Penguins out. That is when they thrive the most.