Sunday Scouting Report: 10/20 - 10/26 by @ToonsBrian


Each week, Pens Initiative will look at the upcoming week's schedule for the Pittsburgh Penguins and tell you what to look for in these games. We'll cover trends, player performances and everything else that may impact the games ahead.

   It was quite a week for the Penguins.  Sidney Crosby continued his tear, taking over each of the major scoring categories. Rookie defenseman Olli Maatta got the seal of approval from team management, ending his career as a London Knight. And, of course, the team kept up their winning ways while dispatching the Oilers, Flyers and Canucks. 
   This week, they face three teams sporting a combined record of 16-7-2. That's a marked improvement over the combined 22-39-9 that the Pens have faced so far this season. Here's a breakdown of what to expect in those games:


Game 9: Colorado Avalanche (7-1-0, 14 Pts as of 10/20/2013)
Monday October 21, 2013, 7:30 PM at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, PA 
2012-2013 Record vs COL: Did Not Play


   The Colorado Avalanche finished last season looking, quite frankly, pathetic. Then they won the NHL's Draft Lottery and took Nathan McKinnon with the coveted first overall pick. After an embarassing confrontation with Bruce Boudreau of the Anaheim Ducks in the first week of the season, it seems as though Patrick Roy has added a spark to this team that had been notably absent.
    McKinnon isn't necessarily lighting the lamp, but he is contributing, leading the team in helpers with 6. Matt Duchene has been the one with the scoring touch in Denver. His 6 goals lead the team and he's shown amazing ability to maintain control of the puck when defensemen try to play in tight on him.
    In net, as well, it seems as though the Avs have found a lot of answers. Whether or not Patrick Roy, a Hall of Fame goaltender himself, has had any kind of influence, the fact that Semyon Varlamov and J.S. Giguere are both holding save percentages of .950 or better bodes well for this team. Scoring 27 goals through the first eight games is great for giving you a chance to win. Having goaltenders that have only allowed 12 goals in that same stretch nearly guarantees wins.

Keys to the Game:

Control the Puck - The Avalanche are a speedy team with loads of offensive talent. However, the Pens have a decided advantage on faceoffs. No matter how talented a team is, if they don't have the puck, they can't score.
Shoot Constantly - Goaltenders with high save percentages? Shoot. Shoot. Shoot.
Score First - The Pens and Avalanche are nearly identical teams to start this season, including that 100% rate of winning when scoring first.



Game 10: New York Islanders (3-3-2, 8 pts as of 10/20/2013)   

Friday October 25, 2013, 7:00 PM at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, PA
2012-2013 Record vs NYI:  4-1-0

   The New York Islanders roll into town for the first of 4 meetings this regular season playing roughly .500 hockey. They're beating who they should beat. And that's about it.

  John Tavares leads the team with a respectable 10 points and continues to show great leadership and development. Michael Grabner, Kyle Okposo and Franz Nielsen have added 8 points each. Simply put, the Islanders have two very productive lines. Those two lines, however, are only producing .500 hockey and that could be a concern. 
   As of this writing, it is still unknown if Grabner will be available after delivering a check to the head of the Carolina Hurricanes forward Nathan Gerbe. Gerbe was uninjured, but Grabner does have to meet with the NHL's Department of Player Safety, according to NHL.com.
   In the back end, the aging Evgeni Nabokov has found his form early. Through seven games played, he is carrying a .912 save percentage in addition to his 2.51 GAA. New York does not have depth at the position and if the 2001 Calder Trophy winner has an off night, the team is in the proverbial pickle.

Keys to the Game:

Bottle Up the Superstars - The Islanders aren't scoring a lot, outside of a few of their top players. The Pens should force them to try.
Play Disciplined - Pittsburgh's PK units have not been stellar and the Isles' PP units are more than capable. Stay out of the box.
Big 1st Period - The Islanders do not fare well when trailing after one. Whether that's youth showing or something else, it's something to take advantage of.

Game 11: Toronto Maple Leafs (6-3-0, 12 pts as of 10/20/2013)   

Saturday October 26, 2013, 7:00 PM at Air Canada Centre in Toronto, ONT, Canada
2012-2013 Record vs TOR:  2-1-0

     In the offseason, the Toronto Maple Leafs made a move to acquire Jonathan Bernier from the Los Angeles Kings. That move is paying off early in the season as the team has won 6 of its first 9 games of the season and now trail only Detroit in the Atlantic Division standings.
    Perhaps the most impressive thing about the Leafs' fast start is that the team is getting production from so many players. Only two regulars on this squad, forwards Colton Orr and Jay McClement, have yet to record a point. This was rather unexpected of the team which many believe wouldn't make the playoffs prior to the start of the season. Yet, there they are. Top 10 in goals per game. Top 10 in goals against per game. Top 10 when shorthanded. Top 5 when on the power play.
   This is a team that, to this point, has shown that it may be able to do some real damage.

Keys to the Game:

Faceoff Efficiency - Only one area of the Maple Leafs' play has been lacking this year. They're winning only 45% of draws.
Keep it Even - The Leafs have some of the best special teams in the League right now, but they're scoring 5-on-5 at a 1:1 ratio compared to the Pens' 1.32:1. Advantage Pens.
Solid Defense - Bernier and Fleury have nearly identical numbers so far this season. How their respective defenses play could be the difference maker.
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About Brian Blystone

Now living in Youngstown, OH. Podcasting/Writing from ToonsStudios East for PensInitiative.com, 1-Up.club and whoever else wants to listen. Mistakenly left in charge of visual/web design for PI and owning/operating The 1-Up Club video game site.
Spends free time playing video games, watching hockey, playing hacky sack with son while daughter is warming up for whatever activity she's doing next and wondering how he got such a hot wife.
Some mysteries are meant to remain unsolved.
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