Just a few weeks ago, no one was quite sure what to think about the Pittsburgh Penguins.
They got off to a very slow start and were playing like a middle of the pack hockey club. Heck, they may have even been playing like a team that was going to miss the Stanley Cup playoffs.
With that said, if you’ve been following the Penguins the last few years, this should sound like a familiar story. They get off to a slow start and then just like that, they flip a switch and play outstanding hockey.
That is exactly what is happening now for this Penguins hockey club. They are second in the Metropolitan Division with 50 points, which is just one point behind the division leading Washington Capitals.
The club is also now one of the top ten teams in the league as they are currently ninth. Yes, they may be 14 points behind the unbelievable Tampa Bay Lightning, but they are actually just four points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs, who are the second best team in the league.
So, what changed for this hockey club? For starters, they are on an unbelievable tear right now .
The team has won nine of their last ten games. These wins, with the exception of one or two, have come against weaker hockey clubs.
In their nine wins, they beat teams like the Capitals, Minnesota Wild (twice), Detroit Red Wings, Carolina Hurricanes, St. Louis Blues, New York Rangers, Los Angeles Kings, and Boston Bruins. As you can see, only two of these hockey clubs (Capitals and Bruins) are currently in a playoff spot.
Secondly, this team is absolutely filling the net. The team is currently fifth in the league goals scored with 139 goals in 40 games, which means they are somewhat close to averaging four goals a game.
The team currently has five guys with at least 13 goals. Players like Sidney Crosby (19), Phil Kessel (17), Jake Guentzel (17), Patric Hornqvist (14), and Evgeni Malkin (13) are all starting to put the puck in the net with regularity and when you have five players doing that, it adds up to a ton of goals.
Given that their offense is clicking right now, it should not come as a surprise that this team’s power play has been on fire. They are currently fifth in the league with the man advantage as they have converted 27 percent of their power plays so far.
The usual suspects on this hockey club are coming up big on special teams. Players like Kessel (seven), Crosby (six), Malkin (six), and Hornqvist (four) have been huge for this hockey team and come playoff time, they will need to play the same way when scoring goals becomes a tougher thing to do.
Lastly, the team is starting to get good goaltending again. Matt Murray, who everyone knows has a deep injury history, is healthy and has gotten his goals-against average down to 3.07, his save percentage up to .908 and he has two shutouts.
I know I’ve written negative pieces about Murray before, but it should not take away from the fact that he is a good goaltender when he is healthy. Remember, this guy won two straight Cups before he turned 23.
The team’s other netminder, Casey DeSmith, has been absolutely terrific for this hockey club. In 25 games, he is currently 12-6-4 with a 2.40 goals-against average, a .926 save percentage, and two shutouts.
With Murray having missed time and still finding his game, DeSmith, 27, has played like the team’s starting goaltender. Should Murray go down again, this team should be more than fine with DeSmith between the pipes.
Look out folks. The Penguins are on a roll and with the way they are playing right now, who knows if it will stop.
*Photo: 6ABC Action News Philadelphia