It’s been a very interesting first month of the National Hockey League season for the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Flightless Birds started out by opening up the brand new CONSOL Energy Center with a disappointing loss to archrival Philadelphia Flyers.
The Pens have also been hit hard by the injury bug. Las Vegas may have bed bugs, but the city of Pittsburgh’s hockey team got the injury bug in a pretty bad way. Jordan Staal was supposed to be back from his foot infection in time for the game against Dallas on November 3, but he now has a broken hand and will be out ‘til close to Christmas. Other notable players missing games this season due to injury are Brooks Oprik, Zybnek Michalek and Arron Asham.
Orpik is arguably the Pens best defensive defenseman, Michalek was a high-priced free-agent signing by general manager Ray Shero this summer to help solidify the defense in front of Marc-Andre Fleury and you can never have too many players like Asham in your lineup. He is very tough, smart and has enough skill to put a few pucks in the net.
Not only have the Pens been hit with the injury bug, they have also been hit with the underachieving bug. Former No. 1 draft pick and Stanley Cup champion goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has struggled mightily this year. His save percentage is below Sidney Crosby’s number (87) and his goals against average is well above three. A lot of Pens fans have hit the panic button when it comes to Fleury.
Mike Comrie has also been a disappointment. He has played in 11 games this year and has exactly zero goals. He started the season playing on a line with Evgeni Malkin and even ended up being benched for a game due to his lack of productivity.
It was also found out that forward Eric Tangradi is not ready for the NHL. The kid has great size and potential, but he’s just not ready yet. He needs more seasoning and polishing at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Even with all of the injuries and underachieving going on, the Pens are just fine. They still find themselves only two points away from the top spot in the Atlantic Division. There have been some nice surprises this month too. Mainly the play of Brent Johnson and Mark Letestu.
The Pens are a great team and nothing exemplifies that fact more than when one player gets hurt or struggles and another player steps up. Johnson has as many wins as Fleury does losses: five. Letestu is tied with Pascal Dupuis with the second-most goals on the team with four, and that only trails Sidney Crosby who has six and is one more than Evgeni Malkin who has three.
The Pens have not set the world on fire this season, but even with all of these issues they are still right in the thick of things. Once Staal gets back and Fleury gets his game on track the Pens will be fine. Come to think of it, the Pens are fine right now, and they will only get better. A crazy month of October is over. Now let’s see what November brings.