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How are the Penguins still winning?

Oct 28, 2011, 6:17 PM EDT

Pittsburgh Penguins AP

With the Washington Capitals losing last night in Edmonton, the Pittsburgh Penguins are officially the NHL’s hottest team. The Pens have won five straight and boast an 8-2-2 record heading into Saturday’s game in Toronto. What’s more, they’ve done it all without Sidney Crosby and most of it without Evgeni Malkin. Which begs the question…how?

Here are five reasons:

1. Special teams. We mentioned this in yesterday’s stats post, but it’s worth mentioning again. The Pens have surrendered just one power-play goal in the 37 times they’ve put themselves shorthanded. And if that doesn’t impress you, they’ve also scored three times on the PK, meaning they’re plus-two when they’ve got fewer players on the ice than the other team. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh’s power play is clicking at a respectable 18.9 percent. The man advantage has been a problem area for the Pens in the past. Clearly Crosby was to blame.

2. James Neal. Nine goals in 12 games. And with just one assist, the overwhelming favorite to win the Cy Young. Neal scored just twice in 27 games for Pittsburgh (regular season and playoffs combined) after being traded from Dallas last February. If the 24-year-old keeps it up, the only problem the Pens will have is negotiating the pending RFA’s contract.

3. Marc-Andre Fleury. A 1.86 goals-against average with a .934 save percentage. Fleury is obviously playing very well, but those numbers can also be attributed to Pittsburgh’s commitment to team defense. Just ask Ilya Bryzgalov or Roberto Luongo how much of a goalie’s stats can be attributed to the guys in front them.

4. Jordan Staal. Six goals and three assists in 12 games. Staal is best known as one of the premier checking centers in the NHL, but he’s stepped up on offense this season. “I don’t know if my game’s evolving or not, but I’m definitely feeling good about where I am and what I’m doing out there. I’m happy the puck’s going in for me right now,” he told the Post-Gazette this week. Unless I’m missing someone, Staal has to be the early front-runner for the Selke.

5. Kris Letang. One goal and eight assists in 10 games. Remember when the Pens didn’t sign Sergei Gonchar and everyone wondered if Letang could grow into the top d-man role? Yeah, he’s grown into the top d-man role. The 24-year-old is playing a ton, averaging 26:05 per game. He took a big step last season in Pittsburgh’s first season without Gonchar, and it appears he hasn’t finished getting better.

  1. florida76 - Oct 28, 2011 at 7:41 PM

    Any successful franchise must have a strong organization, regardless of the sport, and the Pens are no different in this regard. From ownership to the front office, this club was making smart moves even before drafting the likes of Crosby. Pens are definitely built for long term success, so the future doesn’t depend solely on one player.

    • icelovinbrotha215 - Oct 28, 2011 at 9:52 PM

      Haha tell that to the NHL. By the way they promote Crosby, you’d think there weren’t any other great players in the league. But you are correct. They have depth. And as a Flyers’ fan, I can tell you that they will be a force to be reckoned with. And they better get use to it because they can’t bank on Crosby with his future still a question mark.

  2. rambodiaz - Oct 29, 2011 at 10:28 AM

    They’re incredibly well coached, and the players are committed to the system. Plus, James Neal being a monster this year doesn’t hurt, either.

    All Pens fans want Crosby back at full health, but like florida76 says, the team’s future isn’t solely resting on his shoulders.

  3. killerpgh - Oct 29, 2011 at 12:22 PM

    # 4 on your list Jordan Staal did not make the trip to Toronto for tonight’s game.

  4. danphipps01 - Oct 29, 2011 at 5:10 PM

    Like the others have said, they’re incredibly well-run. Bylsma won the Jack Adams for a reason, and Ray Shero (and to a degree Craig Patrick, but mostly Shero) was the guy who had the vision to put this team together. They’ve got one of the youngest squads in the NHL, some of its most talented players (and I don’t mean “Crosby’s the best” here, I mean some of the best in their roles – Letang as an offensive D, Staal as a 3C, Orpik as a shutdown man, etc.) and they’ve assembled all this without pulling a Chicago – they can actually afford to keep the team together long-term. Chicago’s basically running two fourth lines to make up for the giant contracts they’ve given their top six guys, and it hurt their record badly last year. Pittsburgh has managed to keep fantastic depth long-term – again speaking to their managerial brilliance. Give credit to their players, absolutely – but recognize the reason they’re all on one team in the first place. Most GMs would have failed to keep this team together.

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