First of all, Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.
Thanksgiving is a time to reflect and think about all the things you have to be thankful for in life.
This year, I am thankful for my amazing family and friends who have helped me through thick and thin.
But, a week ago, I lost one of those special people in my life. My grandmother passed away at the age of 97. While I’m still saddened by the loss, I’m trying to keep all the great memories in mind this holiday.
I’ll never forget her and the impact she had on my life. For that, I am truly thankful.
But, enough about me. This is supposed to be a happy day and the Penguins have given us all some things to be thankful for this season.
So, in honor of the day, here are five things I’m thankful for regarding the Penguins.
The Penguins are sixth in the league in goals allowed per game at 2.33. There is no question that the main factor in that ranking has been the play of Marc-Andre Fleury.
In terms of most shots allowed per game, the Penguins rank seventh in the NHL at 30.9.
Ranked ahead of them are Ottawa, Philadelphia, Florida, New York Rangers, Toronto and Winnipeg.
On that list, only Pittsburgh, Ottawa and New York would be in the playoffs if they started today.
That means, those teams are getting solid play from their goaltenders.
Fleury holds an 11-7 record to go along with his 2.24 GAA and .924 save percentage.
He ranks fourth in the league in wins and has faced the sixth most shots of any goalie.
To me, it’s pretty safe to say the Penguins would be in a boat load of trouble if Fleury hadn’t had a great start to the season.
How great is three-on-three overtime? Seriously, well done NHL for implementing the new format this season.
There is so much open ice that you literally can’t blink or you might miss the end of the game.
Take Wednesday’s win over the St. Louis Blues for example. Ben Lovejoy had the puck tied up near the benches, realized Phil Kessel was wide open in space and fed a blind pass to him.
Kessel storms into the offensive zone, springs Evegni Malkin for a mini breakaway and the game is over.
It all happened so fast. The move Malkin put on Jake Allen is as sweet as it gets too.
I don’t mind shootouts, but I still like the idea of settling a game on the ice. This overtime format allows the skill and beauty of the game to be on full display and that’s a great thing.
Pascal Dupuis & Olli Maatta
We all know the stories of Pascal Dupuis and Olli Maatta. Between multiple blood clots, a bout with cancer, etc., these two have had some trying times over the past year or so.
That’s what makes it even more special to watch these two on the ice again.
Both have come back and barely looked like they missed any time. Dupuis has been an integral part of the penalty kill as usual and Maatta has been a steady rock on the back end.
Given how Maatta has played this year, his most recent injury – stemming from a dangerous hit against the Wild – is even more devastating.
Hopefully, he gets back on the ice soon and picks up where he left off.
Sidney Crosby Found Scoring Touch
This might be a little premature, but it was great to see Sidney Crosby shoot the puck nine times last night. Oh, lighting the lamp twice was pretty neat too.
Crosby has taken a lot of heat this season for his production being down. He’s deserved it just like any other superstar in a slump.
Still, he only has 13 points in 21 games, but the signs are there that he’s ready to explode.
Three of his five goals have come in the last three games and he has 10 points in his last 12 games.
But, it’s more than that. He’s starting to command the puck and look more determined with it.
For example, in the first period against the Wild, Crosby went to work behind Devan Dubnyk’s net. Skating back and forth, stopping and starting several times trying to shake a defender. Remember what he did to Jason Spezza a few years ago? He nearly repeated it that night.
Last night, he was clearly intent on shooting the puck whenever he had the chance. It’s a mentality he and the rest of the team need to adopt more often. Pretty goals and gritty goals count the same on the board.
I must admit, I was not entirely on board with the Penguins going after Kessel at first. To me, the Penguins needed more help in the bottom six (which they got anyway) and defensive depth (jury still out on that one).
However, seeing Kessel and Malkin play together is quite fun. We’ve already discussed the OT goal from last night, but those two have connected for several clutch goals this season.
Having a guy like Kessel playing on Malkin’s wing has to give opposing goaltenders nightmares. It’s a matchup disaster for opposing coaches – especially if Crosby has indeed emerged from his slumber.
With seven goals so far, Kessel is certainly making his mark here in Pittsburgh. Let’s hope there are plenty more goals coming from Mr. Kessel.
That’s it for this week. Check back every Thursday for more observations on the Penguins. You can follow Casey Shea on Twitter here!