Penguins at a Glance: Early Goings are a Bit Bumpy by @MedinaMarie_PI - PensInitiative | Pittsburgh Penguins Blog | Rumors | News

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Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Penguins at a Glance: Early Goings are a Bit Bumpy by @MedinaMarie_PI

(Photo Credit: Bleacher Report)
The first month-plus of the Pittsburgh Penguins 2018-19 season is in the books. October has been seen as more of a test month. Lines and defensive pairing were shuffled, reshuffled, substitutions were made, and final decisions on whether or not those on two-way contracts should remain on the main roster or be sent back to the AHL (or put on waivers entirely).

For the Penguins, there were significant highs and a few lows to deep to measure within the last 31+ days. Some things worked, some didn't, and some should never be in consideration for trying again unless there is no other option available.

One of these "please don't ever do that again" moments came when Derick Brassard was tested as a winger for Sidney Crosby's top line. It went about as well as using trying to us a newspaper as an umbrella. The experiment lasted all of three games (not in succession) that garnered lackluster results. His best game of the three came versus Calgary on October 25. However, in a game where even Jack Johnson scored a goal, not much could go wrong. While Brassard was tested as a winger, he had zero goals, only three assists (all coming versus Calgary), and broke even in plus/minus.

Brassard is not a winger. He has never played the wing and it clearly is not something he feels comfortable with or can be expected to be good at. Brassard was brought in to be a center. The third line center to be exact. That is where he should stay so that he can build some chemistry in order to get the bottom two lines scoring again. Currently, Brassard is plagued with a lower-body injury so any attempt to find his game and finally fit into the Penguins roster has come to an abrupt, but hopefully, brief halt. However, if the lack of minutes as the third line center is going to cause him to throw a hissy fit, the Penguins have Riley Sheahan and/or Matt Cullen to step into the position while Brassard throws his temper tantrum in the press box.

Another touchy subject is that of Daniel Sprong and Dominik Simon.

Sprong is still being used in a fourth line role with minimal, if any, in game chances on the top line. Verses Vancouver on October 27, it seemed as if Sprong may have finally woken up. He was defending, he was making plays, he was giving puck support, he even got an assist on one of the five goals scored during the Pens victory. It was his most ice time in the last five games. However, one shining moment has not been enough to get a shot on the top line or get him out of Head Coach Mike Sullivan's doghouse.

Simon, on the other hand, is trending upwards and has found favor in the Pens locker room, mostly with Captain Sidney Crosby. He scored in both games versus the New York Islanders and has seen an uptick in his ice time.

Sprong is, as they say, status quo. He still hasn't scored, he really isn't getting many shots away (only 11 shots in 10 games- the fewest of all forwards excluding Derek Grant), and he is no where near as good along the boards as Simon. That is the kind of player Crosby likes to play with and the kind of player that actually compliments his style of play (for more of an in-depth look at that notion, check out Dan Kingerski's article for Pittsburgh Hockey Now). To say the least, something has to change, otherwise, Sprong's name may appear on the trade block sooner than anyone ever expected.

Moving on to a high point, Evgeni Malkin has continued right where he left off last season. He was recently named the NHL's Second Star for the month of October with his six goals, 13 assists and rolling the Penguins to a 6-2-2 record within the month. Coming into November, Malkin rode a 10-game point streak, and on pace to topple is 98-point 2017-18 season. Malkin is a man on a (continued) mission to prove how wrong the NHL was in not including him in their 100 Greatest Players list.

Another man on a mission is Kris Letang. Coming off what was arguably his most unimpressive professional season, Letang has a point to prove.Since the start of the season, Letang is once again back to averaging 22-25 minutes of ice time, his half slapshot is deadlier than ever, and he sits at a 53.7%. With Justin Schultz out of the lineup for an extended period of time due to injury, it will be up to Letang to keep his stats on the positive side to carry a defensive core that could use a good kick in the backside.

If we are going to give October and early November a grade, it's a solid C/B- with a lot of room to improve on both sides of the puck. While Sidney Crosby is back to putting on in-game scoring and skating clinics, the team as a whole is still struggling to find themselves and fit together cohesively. They have lost four straight games since coming back from their trek through Canada and goaltender Matt Murray has been pulled in three of those four losses.

November could prove to be a crucial month for the Penguins as the holidays and the "mid-season judgment point" approaches.

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