The Pittsburgh Penguins (9-11-2) have played 22-games or just over 1/4 of the season so far and in many discussion forums, there is a lot of concern being generated over how they have played so far this season. This is likely the result of unreasonably high expectations set by the various media outlets at the outset of the season that it would be the March of the Penguins to the Stanley Cup. While this overly hyped prediction is still a possibility, there has been a great wringing of hands over how the Pens have fared so far this season. In fact, many are downright distraught and talking as if the season is all but lost. With that in mind, I thought it was important to provide some analysis and perspective to see how bad things really might be.
First, I ran a comparison to see how the team fared in the first 22 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, the Penguins had just 1 more win at this point last year. The 4-point difference between last season and this season was due to this 1 win and 2 more overtime losses in which the Pens picked up a point each. They had 3 fewer regulation losses at this point last season. As suspected, they were slightly more productive at this point last year with 68 goals scored (3.09 goals per game) compared to 63 so far this season (2.86 goals per game). However, the Penguins had essentially given up the same quantity of goals at this point last season (68 goals, or 3.09 goals per game) as compared to this season (69 goals, or 3.14 goals per game).
A glaring difference between this season and last is how the team has fared against its Atlantic Division opponents. The team has only won 3 of 11 Division games this season versus 8 of 11 at this point last season, which represents a 10-point swing. In a Division as tight as the Atlantic Division, the Penguins can ill afford this level of performance. Last season, the Penguins owned the Philadelphia Flyers, going 4-0-0 against them in their first 22-games. This season, the opposite has been true with the Penguins going 0-2-0 against the reborn Flyers. The Penguins have also played and lost more games to the Devils so far this season going 1-3-0 versus last season’s record of 1-1-0. Against the New York Rangers, the Penguins have lost 1 more game this season going 1-1-0, versus 2-0-1 last season. Their performance against the New York Islanders has been equivalent going 1-1-0 during both seasons. The data is tabulated below:
I also took a look at scoring by Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Sergei Gonchar and Mark Recchi at this point in the season. Overall, Sidney Crosby has scored 1-more point so far this season, but has played 3-more games at this point in the Penguins season due to injury last year. Evgeni Malkin has 7 more points this season, but has also played 4-more games this season than at this point last season due to injury. Mark Recchi had 19-points last season at this point versus 8 this season, and has played 3-fewer games this season as a result of being a healthy scratch. Sergei Gonchar is 4-points ahead of his pace 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 as expected you can see that he has been struggling. In comparison to last season, he has given up 0.75 more goals per game this season. As a result, he has drawn the ire of many who believe that his inconsistency thus far this season portends a less than successful season than last year in which he finished with 40 wins and 5 shutouts.
So, in summary, the Penguins are clearly off the mark from last year in a few key areas. While they only trail last year’s point total by 4-points, they have experienced serious shortcomings against divisional opponents and have seen a 10-point swing over last season in divisional play. The biggest reversal of fortune has been against the much improved Philadelphia Flyers and the significantly demised New Jersey Devils. Penguins key players have produced relatively on par with or better than last year with the key exception of Mark Recchi, whose play has demoted him to healthy scratch status of late. The Penguins have also suffered from disappointing individual performance from the talented young goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury who has given up too many goals per game to be effective. With Thursday’s spirited character win against the league-leading Ottawa Senators, we are hoping that the Penguins will close the chapter on a disappointing start and turn the corner into a much improved second quarter of the season. They get their chance to build on that win on Saturday against the Atlanta Thrashers. Here is hoping for some significant strides in the wins column before too much more of the season slips away.