After eleven games, the Pittsburgh Penguins are in last place in the Metropolitan Division. There are plenty of silver linings to that, though, starting with the fact that there are tons of games left to play, and that the Penguins are still lacking many of their best players. But there are plenty of other teams struggling early in the season:
- last year’s Stanley Cup runners-up, the Montreal Canadiens, have the second-worst record in the League;
- the Colorado Avalanche, Cup favorites of many, including myself, is sixth in the Central Division, just one point ahead of the Chicago Blackhawks;
- the Vegas Golden Knights, also considered to be Cup favorites (especially with the recent addition of Jack Eichel), have also been dealing with health issues and are in sixth-place in the Pacific Division;
- the Boston Bruins and the New York Islanders are tied with Pittsburgh with 12 points, only marginally ahead of the Penguins in percentage points due to having played one less game; they each play tonight
And the fact that the Penguins play in the closest division in the League means that one win could vault them into fourth place. There’s not much to worry about in the grand scheme of things, even if it is annoying as all get out that Pittsburgh refuses to stay healthy for any long stretch of time.
Nevertheless, they are scuffling along with a mediocre 4-3-4 record, with just one win in one-goal games, and their inability to take or hold a lead is also frustrating. Once again, Pittsburgh is among the best teams in the League in all of the major shooting metrics in all situations and at even-strength, they’re just not finishing. That lack of finish is even more apparent when the Penguins are on the power-play, as what is usually a strength is not so much at the moment, and their shooting metrics with the man-advantage are among the worst teams in the League. It is perhaps only by the grace of goaltender Tristan Jarry’s slightly-above-average performance thus far that Pittsburgh is not in worse shape, but Jarry’s numbers are starting to dip a little bit as everyone waits for the offense to produce and the defense to get healthy again.
All this said, the Penguins are playing host tonight to one of the two best teams in the League, the Florida Panthers. Perhaps sensing the opportunity to…pounce…with divisional foes Tampa Bay, Toronto, and Boston all having slow starts of varying degrees, the Panthers are flying high on the strength of two things: first, they have the League’s second-best shooting percentage on the most shots-on-goal in the League, leading to a League-best 52 goals; and second, a rebound season from Sergei Bobrovsky. Undefeated in his six starts, in all situations Bobrovsky has the League’s second-best save percentage, the fifth-beat goals against average, the fourth-best goals saved above average, and the third-best goals saved above expected. With backup Spencer Knight having played and lost both games of the Panthers’ last two games, a 4-3 loss to the New York Rangers on Monday then a 7-3 loss in New Jersey, the chances that Bobrovsky starts tonight is basically 100%.
I would be remiss not to mention that the Panthers are 3-2-1 under new head coach Andrew Brunette since Joel Quenneville resigned as head coach in the wake of the Chicago Blackhawks/Kyle Beach scandal. Time was against me, so I sadly did not get the chance to rail against the Chicago Blackhawks prior to Tuesday’s game. In any event, it will be interesting to see in the long run how changing from one of the winningest coaches in NHL history (with dubious ethics) to a rookie coach will affect the Panthers, but I have a feeling it is early enough in the season that they should be able to weather the impact. Florida is still looking to make their first appearance in the second round of the playoffs since 1996, and if things continue the way they have started out, there may be some hope on that front, and that would quickly discard any thoughts about Quenneville and his tarnished legacy.