The calendar pages are set to flip to 2019 as everyone reflexively writes 2018 on their checks for the next couple of weeks, and so it seems a good time to look at the PHN Pittsburgh Penguins preseason predictions to brag and to feel shame. It looks like we did fairly well, if we may humble brag before taking a bite of crow on several predictions.
Prediction 1: “With a little help from his friends Rust and Simon, Brassard is more than capable of 50 points. And beneath the waves of the Penguins top-nine attack, Cullen could post 12 goals and 30 points, again.“
Nope, neither player will hit those lofty goals we set for them. Cullen has six points (3g, 3a) in 27 games and Brassard has 12 points (6g, 6a) in 29 games. Cullen has become an invaluable defensive leader as the Penguins have sought to occasionally free Sidney Crosby from guarding the opponents top line. Brassard? The question mark seems most appropriate.
Prediction 2: Guentzel should be able to clear 60 points with ease.
We’ll go ahead and pay off on this one now. Guentzel has 34 points (16g, 18a) in 38 games. He may well crest 70 points, especially if Sidney Crosby keeps dealing.
Prediction 3: Given Kessel’s unique view of life and occasional indifference, 75 points are Kessel’s water level. He will again gobble up power-play points but not stick with Evgeni Malkin. Kessel will find himself playing with Derick Brassard, which is a better fit for him and the team. Brassard’s playmaking skills and speed should fold beautifully into Kessel’s game. Kessel hits 75 points with 40 power-play points and 35 5v5 points. He will challenge for 30 goals.
We’ll call this one a slight win. The Penguins did indeed break up the Malkin-Kessel band in favor of Brassard. And Kessel is indeed gobbling up power play points like my father who annually feasts upon turkey leftovers in November and December.
Kessel’s current 5v5 and power play production should get him close to 90 points, again. Kessel has 24 points (9g, 15a) at even strength and 19 power play points (12g, 7a). However, his proportionally high number of power play points means his pace will fluctuate with the streakiness of the power play. So, 75 to 90 points are still the range.
Prediction 4: Letang will have some fun early in the season as he spreads his wings again. He will be a fantasy hockey star. He will score 60 points and show enough improved defensive play to allow all but the most hardened doubters to be happy.
Winner winner, chicken dinner. Letang is exceeding all expectations with his defensive play, too. Letang is among the NHL leaders in defenseman scoring with 32 points (8g, 24a).
Prediction 5: It is Murray or bust for the Penguins. The truth probably lies somewhere between his bedrock .907 save percentage last season and his .923 mark in 2017. Above .918 and Murray is a winner. Under that mark, and the Penguins may be eyeing a seasoned backup with playoff experience in February.
There is a lot to unpack on this prediction, eh? Murray appears to be rebounding into form. Murray’s save percentage is up to .906, and that seems like a victory for the Penguins. Murray finally looks to be on the right track. He has won five straight games and looked increasingly good doing so.
Casey DeSmith has been a pillar when the Penguins needed him, thus making our “Murray or bust” prediction a total bust.
Prediction 6: Crosby and Guentzel go on a season-long run which will spike their statistics. Crosby does indeed make a run at 100 points and 35 goals. McDavid will win the Art Ross again but not without the hockey world glued to the stat sheets as Crosby pushes McDavid.
OK, maybe Crosby won’t challenge for the Art Ross trophy. He is currently 14th in the NHL despite having a healthy 46 points (17g, 29a) in 35 games. I’m not sure anyone predicted the offensive explosion around the league. Nikita Kucherov is at 63 points with the Colorado kids, Mikko Rantanen, and Nathan MacKinnon right behind.
Prediction 7: Sprong will hang on through November and into the Christmas break. He will be increasingly scratched as the games become more critical, which will put the Penguins in an awkward position of putting Derek Grant on the right wing or waiving him to recall Zach Aston-Reese. If Sprong can accumulate more than 10 points in the first 30 games, that would be a victory and enough to keep him in the lineup.
We’ll take partial credit on this one. Sprong was indeed increasingly scratched as the games became more serious. The Penguins also did waive Derek Grant and recall Zach Aston-Reese, but much earlier than anticipated. Sprong didn’t make it to the Christmas break. Our flow chart was correct, but our timeline was off.
Prediction 8: Riikola plays well and sets off a fan debate and organizational debate what to do next which lasts into December. There are more than a few teams who are desperate for defensive help. Moving one could net a real return, such as a winger with some top-six potential.
We probably have to take the L on this one. Riikola has been a nice surprise but he isn’t pushing one of the Penguins regulars off the roster just yet. Then again, the trade deadline is more than six weeks away.
Prediction 9: Dominik Simon is a 10 goal, 30 point scorer.
With 13 points in 30 games (4g, 9a), Simon is almost exactly on pace to hit our projections. It’s not worth a chicken dinner yet, but we like it.
Prediction 10: The Penguins will be the team to beat in the Eastern Conference
Yikes. We may have been off by a country mile in the first half of the season. The Penguins still have a real chance at the Eastern Conference but Tampa Bay is scary good. The Penguins will need to begin tweaking their roster to compete with Tampa Bay. The Penguins true identity–work hard, work low, with puck possession may be the right formula because the Penguins probably can’t compete with Tampa Bay if they go end to end.
So, our record on the preseason prediction appears to be 5-4-1, with a loser point on Riikola which is still a possibility.
But no one predicted Phil Kessel getting in a scrap in New Jersey, including the officials who were apparently so surprised, they didn’t even dish the five-minute major. Kessel instead got a pair for roughing but we couldn’t help but use that photo again, right?
Happy New year, kids!