The Pittsburgh Penguins (14-12-2) have now played 28-games or just over 1/3 of the season so far and it appears that they have finally hit a turning point in their season. They have won 6 of their last 7 games since their character-building shootout win over the Ottawa Senators on Thanksgiving Day. After a very inconsistent start to the season, the Penguins seem to have found their groove of late. What a difference a 7-games can make! So where do the Penguins stand in comparison to this point last season? Lets take a look.
First, I ran a comparison to see how the team fared in the first 28 games last year versus this year. The following table presents the data that I culled from the Pittsburgh Penguins website to include record (overall, home, away, and against divisional opponents), total points (overal and against divisional opponents), and goals for/against:
Interestingly, despite the inconsistent start, the Penguins are a point ahead of where they were at this time last season, largely due to the rough stretch they hit from 22 Nov – 9 Dec 06, and their recent winning stretch in the current season. The Penguins actually have 2-more wins at this point over last year, with last year getting the benefit of more points coming from the OT session than this season. So far this season, they have been slightly more productive with 84 goals scored (3.0 goals per game) compared to 82 at the same point last season (2.93 goals per game). Also, despite the early issues with goaltending and defense, the Penguins have given up fewer goals this season (79 goals against, or 2.82 goals per game) as compared to last season (90 goals against, or 3.21 goals per game).
A glaring difference between this season and last remains how the team has fared against its Atlantic Division opponents. The team has only won 3 of 11 Division games this season versus 9 of 16 at this point last season. In a Division as tight as the Atlantic Division, where 4 teams are separated by just 2-points at a third of the way into the season, the Penguins must improve. Last season, the Penguins owned the Philadelphia Flyers, going 4-0-0 against them in their first 28-games. This season, the opposite has been true with the Penguins going 0-2-0 against the reborn Flyers.
I also took a look at scoring by Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Sergei Gonchar at this point in the season. Overall, Sidney Crosby has scored 1-more point so far this season, but has played 3-more games due to injury last year. Through this point last season, he had averaged 1.56 points per game, whereas this season he has averaged 1.43 points per game. Evgeni Malkin has 6 more points this season, but has also played 4-more games this season than at this point last season due to injury. He has averaged 1.21 points per game this season, slightly ahead of his 1.17 points per game at this point last season. Sergei Gonchar is 3-points ahead of his pace at this point last season, despite playing 3 less games this season due to groin injury. He has averaged 1.0 point per game this season, well ahead of his 0.79 points per game at this point last season.
Lastly, I took a look at Marc-Andre Fleury’s record of last season in comparison to this year and despite his early struggles, he has been improving his game of late. In comparison to last season, he has given up 0.3 more goals per game this season, and his current save percentage at 0.902 is just slightly lower than last year’s 0.905 at this point in the season. He had played more games by this point last year, whereas he has shared the load more this season with backup netminder Dany Sabourin.
So, in summary, the Penguins are fairly close to where they were at this point last year in terms of points. While they only lead last year’s point total by 1-point, they have experienced serious shortcomings against divisional opponents to date. The biggest reversal of fortune has been against the much improved Philadelphia Flyers. Penguins key players have produced relatively on par with last season. While Crosby is lagging slightly in his per-game production, he experienced a career high points streak and is just 2-points out of the league lead in ponts. Evegeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar are ahead of last season’s performance.