The first 24 games answered some questions that were raised prior to the season's start; however, the games played have raised more questions pertaining to the next 24 games.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have been the best team in the league at putting the puck in the net this season. The Pens are currently averaging an outstanding 3.63 goals per game.
They have not relied entirely on their big guns, but rather on a more balanced attack. With all of the offensive talent on this team, there is no reason to believe they can't keep on scoring at this impressive rate.
The Pens offense looked great during the first half of the season; however, the defense was mediocre at best.
Kris Letang has played fantastic, but the overall defensive corps seems to lack chemistry and tenacity. This is reflected by the Pens 2.89 goals against average.
The defensive corps is not entirely to blame, however. The forwards need to be more responsible defensively and be more aggressive on the back check.
If the Pens want to make their offense count, they must improve defensively.
The Penguins penalty kill has been dismal. They are currently ranked 25th in the league with a 78.2 percent penalty-kill rate.
To put things into perspective, the Penguins averaged an 87.0 percent penalty-kill rate over the past two seasons. This team must regain it's composure on the penalty kill and force teams to beat them five-on-five if they want to make a playoff run.
Contrary to the Penguins penalty kill, the power play has been excellent. The Pens currently convert on 24.8 percent of their power-play chances, good for fourth in the league.
They are getting the puck up ice, moving the puck well in the offensive zone, and putting pucks into the net. With the offensive prowess on this team, they should be able to maintain their success on the power play.
Chris Kunitz has lit up the National Hockey League this season. The veteran's tenacious play combined with playing on the same line as arguably the best player in the world has produced some intriguing results.
He currently ranks first in plus-minus, second in goals scored and third in total points. Needless to say, the veteran's play has been a major factor in the Penguins' success thus far.
Thus far, Kunitz has given me no reason to believe he can't continue to perform at this level, so I'm just going to sit back and hope he continues to surprise us all.
Coming into this season, Marc-Andre Fleury's goal was to bounce back from a horrendous playoff series against the Philadelphia Flyers and Tomas Vokoun's job was to provide solid backup goaltending and push Fleury to succeed.
So far, neither have completed their tasks. Both Fleury and Vokoun have struggled in net as they have posted 0.901 and 0.896 save percentages, respectively.
These two goaltenders must improve their play if the Pens hope to make a Cup run.
Penguins GM Ray Shero
Prior to the season's start, the Penguins were actively searching for a top-tier winger. The recent play of Chris Kunitz has quieted those who believe they needed another great winger; however, Kunitz cannot be counted on to produce at this rate for this season and beyond.
Rob Rossi, a reporter for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, claims that the Penguins are pursuing Jack Johnson and Jarome Iginla. A trade for the talented Corey Perry does not seem far fetched either after the Anaheim Ducks signed Ryan Getzlaf long-term.
The Ducks need defensemen and would probably like to move Perry to a team in the opposite conference, if he were to be traded at all. Pittsburgh fits the bill as they have a surplus of talented defensive prospects and are in the opposite conference of the Ducks.
Penguin's GM Ray Shero has cap room to work with and a few targets, so expect the Pens to be busy at the deadline.
The Penguins have been plagued by injuries over the past couple seasons. This year, they seem to have done a good job at avoiding the injury bug, although Evgeni Malkin has gotten a little banged up as of late.
Although the team has played well when missing one of their top guns, they are a much more dangerous team with Malkin in the lineup. This team has all the components to be successful, hence they only need to keep the team healthy to achieve success.
Over the past few seasons, the Penguins have not been able to maintain consistency, especially down the stretch. They have stumbled into the playoffs two years in a row and have suffered two consecutive first-round exits as a result.
The team must fight through the pressure of having to make the appropriate changes to their game and continue to win games regularly, especially near the end of the season.
Nothing is more dangerous than a team that comes into the playoffs hot.
The Penguins came into the season boasting one of the top lineups in the league, and they have certainly proved to be one of the best teams so far.
They possess talented scorers, resilient grinders, skillful defensemen and play a great system of hockey under the watchful eye of Dan Bylsma. With a few adjustments and a little luck, this team can definitely go all the way and win their fourth Stanley Cup.
Have any questions or comments? Please post them in the comment section below or contact me via Twitter @ryan_tactac.