The Penguins came storming into December.
They had won nine of 12 games in November and a decisive win in Carolina lead many to believe that the Penguins would continue their dominance into December. That wasn't the case however.
Starting goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury went down with an undisclosed lower-body injury in mid-November, and backup Dany Sabourin is now the No. 1 goaltender. John Curry was recalled from the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins to backup Sabourin. Curry, who was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Boston University, made his NHL debut.
The team began to struggle in Fleury's absence. They dropped a heartbreaking shootout loss to Minnesota, dominated by Vancouver and gave up a in lead in Buffalo. The Penguins responded and defeated New Jersey 4-1, but Sabourin began to feel the pressure of being the first option goalie on one of the hottest teams in the NHL.
Sabourin begin to lose control of his rebounds and could not help his team hold on to leads.
After dropping three straight John Curry received his second NHL start and allowed two goals as the Penguins defeated the New York Islanders 9-2. The Penguins received a taste of their own medicine in the always hostile Philadelphia as they lost to their bitter rivals 6-3.
The Penguins received excellent news when Fleury said he was ready to play against the Atlanta Thrashers on Dec. 18. Fleury who went 8-3-2 in 14 games will help his team get back on track. Fleury has the advantage of playing a struggling Atlanta, but it cannot be taken lightly.
The Penguins are far from a perfect team, but they're still one of the elite teams in the Eastern Conference.
Fleury's return helps solidify the Penguins defense, and with Ryan Whitney nearing his return and Sergei Gonchar still a month way, the Penguins are receiving a much needed shot in the arm. They might be 10 points out of first place in the Atlantic Division, but the New York Rangers have played five more games then the Penguins have.
The second half of the season is the most important part.
With Fleury, Whitney, and Gonchar set to return, the Penguins need to address one glaring issue: scoring consistency. The Penguins have noted scorers Petr Sykora and Miroslav Satan, but they need to find a player that can contribute like Marian Hossa did down the stretch. Sykora and Satan contribute, but not on a regular basis.
Satan needs to take advantage of his size and begin to play tougher in front of the net. While, Sykora needs to keep hitting the goal.
Crosby and Malkin deserve to know who they will be playing with on a regular basis. Pascal Dupuis and Ruslan Fedotenko can contribute, but not consistently.
The Penguins are not far from making another run at the Stanley Cup, but General Manager Ray Shero has his work cut out for him. It won't be easy, but with several teams in the NHL struggling in the standings, financially they might be willing to move hefty contracts for little in return.