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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Slumps and Streaks by @ExcitedBobErrey

It's a long regular season, and throughout the year teams are going to go through streaks where everything goes right and slumps where everything seems to go wrong.  The Eastern Conference leading Pittsburgh Penguins are far more likely to experience the former than the latter given their talent and high level of play, but even the best of teams can experience a rough patch. Some of the stats after the jump might be surprising, some not, but they'll give a good indication of the current state of the franchise.

- The Penguins have won 3 straight games at Consol Energy Center after a rare loss to the Florida Panthers snapped a 13 game home winning streak. On the year Pittsburgh has an NHL best 23-4-0 home record that would equal an astounding 131 points over an 82 game season. Unfortunately, the team has been less successful on the road, going 17-11-2 (98 point pace) away from CEC, but their 82 total points still leaves them 1st in the Eastern Conference and within striking distance of taking home the franchise's second Presidents' Trophy. Their 118 point pace has them just 1 point behind that 1992-93 Penguins team franchise best 119 points, which was actually set during one of the 2 years the NHL used an 84 game regular season.

- Olli Maatta picked up the primary assist on Brian Gibbons goal Monday in Pittsburgh's 2-1 OT win over Ottawa, and if that's starting to sound familiar it's for good reason. The Penguins have now won 17 straight games in which Maatta has registered a point, making them a perfect 17-0 on the season in games in which Olli Maatta has scored. He was an afterthought coming into training camp at the beginning of the season, but his simple game and high hockey IQ have helped him win a spot in the lineup very few young defensemen have been able to earn under Dan Bylsma. While he's been a bit sheltered (6th among regular defensemen in both TOI/gm and QoC), he's shown himself up to the responsibility of playing in the NHL as a 19 year old and gave a glimpse of what to expect in the future by handling big minutes when a rash of injuries kept most of the regular defensemen watching from the sidelines. While he's unlikely to factor into the Calder Trophy race, his play so far this season (5 goals and 16 assists with strong defensive play) has earned him a well deserved spot on Finland's Olympic hockey team.

- A goal and an assist against Buffalo last night for Sidney Crosby snapped streaks where he had gone 2 games without a point for just the second time this season and 5 games without a goal. Moreover he has been held without a point 5 times in the 11 games since January 11 at Calgary after being held off the scoresheet only 8 times in the previous 46 games. It appears the lack of a capable 1st line RW is starting to take its toll, and if this trend continues it can only increase the pressure on Ray Shero to make a move in order to fill this hole in the lineup. Beau Bennett is the likely in house candidate to play on Crosby's wing once he gets back to full strength, but he won't be back until after the Olympic break at the earliest, and his injury timeline won't give Shero much of a chance to assess whether or not he'll be a good fit for the stretch drive and postseason. Either way, adding another forward to the mix should only help a team that could use the extra depth.

- The Penguins have gone 8 straight games without Kris Letang in the lineup allowing 3 goals or fewer (2.00 goals/gm) dating back to a 4-3 win over Carolina on December 27. During that same time frame, the Penguins have allowed 4 or more goals 5 times in the 10 games Letang played (3.00 goals/gm). For the entire season, the Penguins have allowed 4 goals or more just 3 times in the 23 games Letang has missed (2.22 goals/gm), going 1-2-0, while the Pens have allowed 4 goals or more 11 times in the 34 games Letang has played (2.44 goals/gm), going 4-5-2. While shootouts are fun to watch, they're much less common in the playoffs, and having a defense that's liable to let in that many goals so often could be a big liability in the postseason. It's likely more than just Letang's presence in lineup but a prevailing mindset (and hopefully not gameplan) to open things up defensively, but either way it's something that needs to be focused on by the coaching staff so it doesn't become a problem when it matters most. The Penguins have shown without Letang on the ice that they're capable of shutting down opposing offenses and not exposing themselves in the transition game by forcing things up the ice, and that patience and style of play needs to be emphasized regardless of who is in the lineup or on the ice.

- With both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin scoring against Buffalo, the Penguins have now won 10 straight games in which both of their top two centers have scored a goal and 5 straight in which both have registered a point. Pittsburgh hadn't lost a game with goals from both since January 23, 2013, when Crosby and Malkin scored the only two goals in a 5-2 defeat to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and they're now 24-4 on the year in games when Crosby and Malkin each had a point. Needless to say, when they're both on top of their games and scoring, it's very hard to beat the Pens.

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