Since we're just past the first quarter of the season, I thought it would be a good time to take a look at where the team is so far, and where they seem to be headed.
Record: 11-8-4, 26 points
The Pens have 26 points through 23 games. Over an 82 game season, that projects to 92 points. We know from last season that will just barely put the Pens in line for the #8 spot in the playoffs. Last season, it took 92 points in the East and 95 in the West. The Pens are close, but they'll need to improve their play to get there.
Goals Scored: 43
Goals Allowed: 42
The Pens have been a decent team at 5 on 5 hockey. They have the ability to possess the puck, and their third and fourth lines have done a decent job of keeping the puck in the offensive zone. The hidden stat here is that the Pens have yet to score a goal in a 4 on 4 situation, while allowing 5.
Goals Scored: 22 in 140 chances - 15.7%
Goals Allowed: 3 (1 short-handed, 2 empty net)
I'd have to say the power play is the biggest area of disappointment for me so far this season. The team is ranked 18th on the power play, at 15.7%. They are ranked #8 in the NHL with 140 chances in 23 games. To me, this is the biggest reason they've been unable to maintain a pace that would put them in the playoffs. They need some consistent scoring from the power play. You can see that they've clearly worked on some things - just watch Gonchar or Whitney at the point take the puck and skate laterally to change the shooting and passing angles. They didn't do that as much last year. Results are what counts, however, and the team simply isn't getting any right now.
Goals Scored: 4
Goals Allowed: 24 in 140 chances - 82.9%
This has been another area of improvement over last year, but they are a different team at home versus on the road. At the Igloo, the team kills just over 90% of their penalties, while on the road, they kill just 74%. To put it another way, at home, the Pens are #4 in the NHL on the PK. On the road, the Pens are #27 on the PK. They (obviously) need to improve away from the friendly confines of the Mellon Arena. Shero's acquisitions have made a huge difference here, as Moore and Eaton (before he got hurt) especially have stepped right into prominent roles on the PK. This has also been Jordan Staal's biggest area of impact.
Overall, this is a very important part of the season for the Pens. They have 14 games coming up in December, and earning points now is critical. This isn't a team that has been in the playoff chase before, so I'd say their chances of making it are far better if they're on the inside looking out at the teams chasing them.
I think they can do it. Do you?