With the NHL 2007-08 regular season nearing the midpoint, I thought it might be a good time to assess how the team has played so far. I have rated the current team roster in a number of areas and then given each individual player a score along with a short assessment.
Overall Team: C-. Were it not for the fact that the Penguins have managed to stay right in the mix of the Atlantic Division points logjam, I would have likely rated them a bit lower. The team, as a whole, has lacked consistency so far this year and played below their potential and pre-season expectations (which were set too high in my opinion). Offensively, while the Penguins have out-produced 18 of 30 teams in the NHL with 103 “Goals For”, the scoring has has arguably been concentrated amongst too few players. Within the Eastern Conference, the Penguins have the fewest number of players to have scored a goal; 15 Penguins have found the net versus an Eastern Conference team average of 17.8 players. Defensively, only 7 of 30 NHL teams have let in more goals than the Penguins (108 Goals Against). The team’s inconsistency is underscored by the fact that it has only put together 3 “winning streaks” in 36 games. In one streak they put together 4 consecutive wins, and twice they have put together 3-consecutive wins. Perhaps the most troubling is their record within the division at 4-10-1. If the Penguins have any hope of making it into the playoffs, they will need to vastly improve their record against Atlantic Division rivals. The good news is that the team has been improving and is 10-5-0 since its win against the Ottawa Senators on Thanksgiving Day, including 4 shootout wins. Unfortunately, key injuries to Marc-Andre Fleury, Max Talbot, Ryan Malone and now Marc Eaton will likely take their toll on the team’s play and force Ray Shero to look at trade options a little more closely, and perhaps a little more quickly.
Forwards: Overall, the forwards get a C. Individual scores follow:
- Sidney Crosby: A. Sidney Crosby has continued to play very well and is in 4th place in the NHL scoring race, 5 points behind the leader Vinny Lecavalier. While it is unclear how effective of an off-ice leader the young Captain is, it is clear he is the on-ice leader. Crosby leads the team in Goals, Assists and Points (16G, 32A, 48 Points) through 36 games. He is on a pace for 109 points this season, which is slightly off last year’s production. He has drawn more penalties from the opposition (and media attention) than any other player in the league. Crosby has been shouldering the burden of being the team Captain, the youngest in NHL history…or any professional sport for that matter. It is unclear if his inexperience in that role has had any affect on the team’s inconsistency in the early going.
- Evgeni Malkin: A-. Evgeni Malkin has matured tremendously over the last year, showing an immense level of confidence and skill on the ice. His slapshot is phenomenal. Malkin is second to Crosby on the team in Goals, Assists and Points (14G, 26A, 40 Points) in 36 games. He is on a pace for 91 points which would beat his 85 points of last year, but is off that pace given that he only played 78 games last season due to injury. His defensive game needs improvement.
- Ryan Malone: B+. Ryan Malone has had a good season on Sid’s wing. His aggressive style of play and improved conditioning in the off-season are paying dividends. Hopefully the leg infection won’t set him back.
- Petr Sykora: B. Petr Sykora has been slipping of late. He had a pretty good start to the season, but has lapsed a bit offensively and defensively over the last several games. He needs to bump it up a notch.
- Tyler Kenney: B-. Tyler Kennedy has been effective at bringing energy to the team, and has contributed 10-points in 23 games as a rookie. He has been a good call-up for the team.
- Georges Laraque: B-. Georges Laraque has been playing much better than expected this season. Given that his value is as an enforcer, he has shown that he can cycle the puck well and contribute on the scoresheet. He is certainly not a top line player, but he has played effectively so far.
- Colby Armstrong: C-. Colby Armstrong has been inconsistent. He has had a few really good games separated by a lot of mediocre ones. His chemistry with Crosby is notable, but he lacks the skill to be a long-term Crosby linemate. The coach sat him undeservedly for too long in my opinion before dumping Rex.
- Erik Christensen: C-. Erik has had a rough season, being moved around a lot. He did not make a successful transition to the Wing. In the last few games he has been playing 3rd line center and flourishing. If he can stay there, he will improve.
- Gary Roberts: D+. Scary Gary fought an extended illness earlier in the season and has not yet returned to form. It is questionable at his age if he can return to his prior form. Hopefully he will be able springboard off from his recent 3-point game and show improvement down the stretch.
- Jarkko Ruutu: D. Jarkko Ruutu has been missing in action on the scoresheet, but you always know when he is playing. As the resident team agitator, he has done a good job of playing that role. Nonetheless, he needs to be able to contribute the occassional goal and he has not done so.
- Jordan Staal: D. Jordan Staal has been in the midst of a tremendous sophomore slump all season. He has had flashes of brilliance at times, but remains snake-bitten. If he can get out of the slump, he could be the most important piece of the puzzle down the stretch.
- Adam Hall: D-. Adam Hall has been missing in action. He hasn’t scored a point in 20 games. He needs to contribute more.
- Maxime Talbot: Incomplete. Maxime Talbot was having a good season, but hasn’t played a game since December 8th due to a high ankle sprain injury. Prior to that, he was a solid B+ playing with determination and contributing on the scorecard.
- Jeff Taffe: Incomplete. Too early to tell. Unfortunately, in 3 games he has been largely unremarkable.
Defensemen: Overall, the defensemen get a C. Individual scores follow:
- Sergei Gonchar: A-. Sergei Gonchar is on a pace for a career season, and is currently 3rd in team scoring with 29 points (6G, 23A). The biggest concern is the groin injury that he suffered at the end of November. He only missed a few games, but one wonders if the injury will reappear as the season moves on. He has been the go to guy on the powerplay for putting the puck in on net. He will need to remain healthy for the Penguins to flourish in the second half.
- Mark Eaton: A-. Mark Eaton won’t show up as a huge contributor on the scoresheet, but he is the defensive backbone of the team with a team leading +6 rating. His ability to block shots and take players off the puck is unmatched on the team. Unfortunately, he will likely miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL after being subjected to a slew foot in a 4-2 win over Boston on December 23rd.
- Ryan Whitney: B. Ryan Whitney is 5th on the team in scoring with 16-points (7G, 9A) in 32 games, but has been challenged defensively with a -5 rating. He needs to tighten up his defensive game, but has been contributing well as an offensive defenseman.
- Kris Letang: B. After losing a chance to make the team out of camp, Kris Letang has made the most of his mid-November callup. Playing with a lot of confidence and showing good skating and puck handling skills, Letang has picked up 4 points (2G, 2A) and has a -3 rating in 18 games. Perhaps the biggest surprise is his 3-for-3 perfect record in the shootout. Kris Letang is a skilled rookie that will only get better with time.
- Brooks Orpik: C. Brooks Orpik is having a good year and has shown good improvement in his game. He has cleaned up his defensive play and is on pace to double his point total from last season. He is one of the team’s best checking defensemen, and will need to play his best with Eaton out of the lineup.
- Rob Scuderi: D+. Rob Scuderi had a pretty good start of the season, but has had a largely forgettable December, especially in games against the Flyers and Islanders.
- Darryl Sydor: D. Darryl Sydor has been the biggest disappointment thus far, aside from poor Jordan Staal. At least Jordan can blame the sophomore slump. Darryl Sydor has struggled to find an offensive or defensive game this year, and has been an occassional bench warmer as a result. He needs to pick it up and contribute, especially with Eaton out of the lineup. His -7 rating is second only to Jordan Staal on the team, and his 2-points (2A) in 30-games is not even worth mention.
Goaltenders: Overall, the goaltenders get a D+. Individual scores follow:
- Dany Sabourin: C-. Dany Sabourin has had some pretty good games as a backup tender, particularly in shootouts. Unfortunately, he has also had some stinkers and has given up too many goals. Somehow his 2.69 GAA and 0.904 save percentage don’t seem too bad for a backup tender, but it is not good enough as he stands in for Fleury for an extended period. Unfortunately, he is a 3.6 GAA and 0.863 save percentage in his last 5 games.
- Ty Conklin: C-. Ty Conklin is getting the chance of a lifetime with Fleury out of the lineup, and has played okay in the few games he has seen, netting 2 wins in 2 starts including soe key saves at important moments. However, his 3.72 GAA and 0.895 save percentage is not good enough to yield a preponderance of wins in the NHL.
- Marc-Andre Fleury: D. Marc-Andre Fleury could get an incomplete due to his injury status, but having played more games than either of the other tenders, I felt compelled to rate him. Unfortunately, at the time of his injury, he was just starting to play his best hockey of the season. He gave up 40 goals in his first 13 games, and only gave up 8 goals in his last 7 games. I have graded him based upon his early inconsistency and struggles that left him with a 3.76 GAA and 0.880 save percentage at the time of his injury. Hopefully the layoff won’t sink his confidence.