Updated Stat Predictions for the Pittsburgh Penguins 10 Best Players

Michael Prunka@MichaelPrunkaCorrespondent IMarch 12, 2013

Updated Stat Predictions for the Pittsburgh Penguins 10 Best Players

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    With just over half the season done, Pittsburgh Penguins rank second in the Eastern Conference. The surging offense of theirs warrants an update to the early-season statistics predictions for Sidney Crosby and company.

    Some players haven’t quite lived up to expectations while others have enjoyed offensive explosions. Yet others, like reigning scoring champion Evgeni Malkin, have struggled with injuries.

    Even without Malkin’s services, the Penguins aren’t having any trouble scoring. They’re leading the NHL with 3.65 goals per game.

    Let’s take a look at midseason stat predictions for the Penguins’ top 10 players.

    Before doing so, feel free to look at my early season stat predictions for these 10 players.

10. Brandon Sutter

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    Early season predictions:

    Goals: 8

    Assists: 13       

    Points: 21

    Brandon Sutter quickly established himself as a reliable two-way forward capable of taking key draws.

    In late February and early March, Sutter was playing between 14 and 16 minutes a game. However, in his last three outings, he’s been on the ice for over 18 minutes.

    The Penguins certainly trust him, but the fact that he’s had linemates rotate in and out has perhaps impacted the amount of time his third line sees.

    Regardless, Sutter is capitalizing on the time head coach Dan Bylsma gives him. He has six goals, two of which were game-winners, and five assists in 26 games this season.

    He’s not afraid to shoot the puck, so he should continue to tally goals throughout the season.

    Updated predictions:

    Goals: 10

    Assists: 9

    Points: 19

9. Tomas Vokoun

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    Early season predictions:

    Games started: 15

    Save percentage: .922

    Goals-against average: 2.36

    Shutouts: 2

    As expected, Tomas Vokoun has been a huge asset for the Penguins. His elite talent has taken some pressure off of starting goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.

    The Penguins have three more situations this season where they’ll be playing back-to-back games. In a condensed season like this, fatigue will be a big factor tied to the performance of netminders in the postseason.

    While Vokoun has helped Fleury by taking some of the workload, he hasn’t quite played like expected.

    Nevertheless, Vokoun has performed fine this season. He’s done the best he can do with what the Penguins defense gives him. He also owns the club’s sole shutout of the season.

    Updated predictions:

    Games started: 15

    Save percentage: .911

    Goals-against average: 2.77

    Shutouts: 1

8. Paul Martin

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    Early season predictions:

    Goals: 4

    Assists: 16

    Points: 20

    Paul Martin is head and shoulders better than he was last season. He’s a completely different player alongside Brooks Orpik this season.

    He’s playing the shutdown role he was hired for, but he’s surprising with his offensive production.

    Martin has been a force from the blue line. He’s averaging just a shot or two per game, but his pinpoint accurate slap shots are finding twine.

    He’s also quite the playmaker from the point. His ability to see plays forming and to dish the puck to forwards down low has resulted in 17 assists—a major contribution to the Penguins’ league-leading scoring.

    Updated predictions:

    Goals: 9

    Assists: 29

    Points: 38

7. Pascal Dupuis

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    Early season predictions:

    Goals: 10

    Assists: 17

    Points: 27

    Playing alongside Crosby has been very beneficial for Pascal Dupuis thus far. He’s already surpassed my prediction for goal scoring.

    That said, the majority of Dupuis’ offensive production has been in the form of goals. With 11 goals in 26 games, Crosby’s playmaking skills have turned Dupuis into quite the sniper.

    He hasn’t even taken a ton of shots this season. He’s averaging just over two shots a game.

    Dupuis doesn’t get the puck in the offensive zone nearly as much as his linemates do, but he doesn’t seem to mind it too much. With two expert scorers skating with him, he isn’t needed to fill that role.

    Even so, expect him to light the lamp a few more times and notch a few more helpers before the end of this shortened season.

    Updated stats:

    Goals: 18

    Assists: 11

    Points: 29

6. Chris Kunitz

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    Early season predictions:

    Goals: 23

    Assists: 19

    Points: 42

    Chris Kunitz has absolutely erupted this season. His chemistry with Crosby has made him one of the league’s top scorers and the tandem is one of the most fearsome in all of hockey.

    His previous record was 61 points in 82 games last season. At this point, he’s poised to surpass that point total in just 48 games. After all, he has four multi-goal games this season—three in this month alone.

    As offensively loaded as the Penguins are, he isn’t getting any less time with the puck.

    That said, he can’t continue at this pace for long. He’s currently scoring on 28.8 percent of his shots. During his two 60-point campaigns, he was scoring on less than 14 percent of his shots.

    With Crosby’s playmaking talent, expect Kunitz to continue scoring. However, he won’t continue to have so many multi-goal games throughout the season.

    Updated predictions:

    Goals: 29

    Assists: 34

    Points: 63

5. James Neal

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    Early season predictions:

    Goals: 24

    Assists: 19

    Points: 43

    James Neal has kept up the pace he set during his breakout season in 2011-12, even without Malkin by his side the entire time.

    Part of that is due to his prowess on the power play. When Neal is on the ice for the man advantage, his teammates know who to get the puck to to finish the play.

    He led the NHL last season with 18 power-play goals and is tied for first with fellow Penguin Chris Kunitz with eight goals. However, he hasn’t scored a power-play goal since Feb. 20.

    The Penguins experimented with Neal on the point during the power play, but he quickly returned to his regular spot right in front of the net.

    Neal’s ability to adjust to Malkin’s absence has helped keep him among the team’s top scorers. In the two games Malkin’s missed in March, Neal has three points.

    Malkin is only expected to miss a handful of games with his current injury, so Neal will have his partner-in-crime back sooner rather than later.

    Updated predictions:

    Goals: 30

    Assists: 19

    Points: 49

4. Marc-Andre Fleury

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    Early season predictions:

    Games started: 33

    Save percentage: .911

    Goals-against average: 2.55

    Shutouts: 3        

    Marc-Andre Fleury has struggled with consistency throughout his time with the Penguins. Part of this was because he took on such a large portion of the workload.

    Having Vokoun to take some of the pressure off Fleury should have fixed that, right? Not quite.

    At the half-way mark of the season, his consistency is deteriorating. In his last five games, he’s been pulled twice and allowed a total of 16 goals.

    Even so, he’s tied for third in the NHL for most wins.

    It’s worth mentioning that the Penguins’ defense, often times, doesn’t give him much support. The team is very offensively-minded, so he and Vokoun frequently struggle.

    As the playoffs get closer, the Penguins will need to adjust their game so they’re not giving up three or four goals a game. When that happens, Fleury’s stats should reflect it.

    Maybe then he’ll record his first shutout of the season!

    Updated predictions:

    Games started: 32

    Save percentage: .910

    Goals-against average: 2.64

    Shutouts: 2

3. Kris Letang

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    Early season predictions:

    Goals: 11

    Assists: 29

    Points: 40

    Kris Letang remains one of the most potent offensive defensemen in the NHL. The scoring skill he brings to the Penguins’ blue line is a major factor in the team’s league-leading scoring.

    As expected, Letang leads his team in time on ice with an average of over 26 minutes a game.

    He also brings an extraordinary capacity for playmaking to the table. In five games in March, he has 11 assists.

    The downside is that he hasn’t scored since Feb. 3 against the Washington Capitals. His slapshot from the point is as dangerous as they come, so it’s hard to see why he only has three goals on the season.

    One possible reason for Letang being cold when it comes to goal scoring is Martin’s increased responsibilities on the power play. Letang has lost some time on the man advantage due to Martin’s performance.

    It’s good for the Penguins that another defender is stepping up. All it means is that Letang’s numbers, especially in goal scoring, will dip a little bit because he isn’t seeing as much time on the power play.

    He’s still playing top-two minutes, so his production shouldn’t dip too much. Of course, that all depends on him staying healthy, which has been a bit of problem this season and in the past.

    Updated predictions:

    Goals: 5

    Assists: 36

    Points: 41

2. Evgeni Malkin

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    Early season predictions:

    Goals: 22

    Assists: 39

    Points: 61

    It wouldn’t be an NHL season if a Pittsburgh Penguins star wasn’t struggling with injuries.

    Just a few weeks ago, Malkin got a concussion following a hit from Florida's Erik Gudbranson that sent him careening into the boards.

    He came back and showed no signs of a concussion when he weaved around Tampa Bay’s defense to score a goal.

    Less than a week later, Malkin was sidelined for a week or two with an unrelated injury. None of these injuries are as serious as the ACL and MCL tears he suffered two years ago, but they’re keeping him off the ice nonetheless.

    Because of that, he won’t approach the predictions I had for him earlier in the season.

    When he returns, and if he stays healthy, he’ll resume the success he’s had playing with Neal. Until then, Malkin will remain the most recent victim of the shortened season’s injury bug.

    Updated predictions:

    Goals: 16

    Assists: 28

    Points: 44

1. Sidney Crosby

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    Early season predictions:

    Goals: 26

    Assists: 43

    Points: 69

    Tallying 69 points in a 48 game is a lofty prediction for any NHL superstar. “Sid the Kid” has managed to blow those expectations right out of the water.

    Just beyond the halfway point of the season, Crosby has scored an astonishing 45 points. He has 14 in the first five games of the month alone!

    He’s scoring goals at about the same pace I predicted he would, but his chemistry with Kunitz and Dupuis, along with his power-play production, have made him the NHL’s single best playmaker.

    Through his first 26 games of the season, Crosby has totaled 33 assists. He’s propelled Kunitz, who is in second place for goal scoring, into the race for the Maurice Richard Trophy.

    His 13 power-play assists have also played a part in the Penguins’ top-tier power play. He’s helped make Neal and Kunitz among the most lethal scorers on the man advantage.

    “The Next One” has been scoring at an unbelievable pace, even by his standards and has been consistent in doing so. He’s notched a point in all but five games this season.

    It seems nothing can slow down the Crosby-fueled Penguins. At this point, he appears to be a clear favorite for the Art Ross and Hart trophies.  

    Updated predictions:

    Goals: 23

    Assists: 58

    Points: 81

    Michael Prunka is a Bleacher Report Featured Columnist. Stay up to date with him by liking his Facebook page and following him on Twitter.