The Pittsburgh Penguins have played 10 games or 12.2 percent of the 2018-19 season. At this point of the campaign, we are far enough along to get a pretty decent grasp of what this team is all about. But not so far removed from training camp that we can’t reminisce about the many preseason narratives.
Let’s take a moment to consider how some of the Penguins have performed in October versus expectations.
Prior to the start of the season, there were two accepted theories regarding Daniel Sprong: either he was going to have a breakout season, or he was going to become the next Derrick Pouliot. So far the comparison to the former Penguins’ defender has been very unfair. Pouliot was far more successful in a Penguins’ uniform than Sprong has been.
Sprong has the worst possession numbers of any forward and is at the bottom of nearly every other statistical category. Where the Penguins go from here with their “top prospect” is anyone’s guess, but he has a very long way to go to reach credibility in the NHL.
Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel
After last season’s results, many expected the line featuring Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel to score a lot of pretty goals while turning over the puck a lot in the process. So far this season Malkin and Kessel have scored a ton of pretty goals…and have turned over the puck a lot in the process.
Fans should appreciate the magic that these two are creating together. But they should also consider the value that linemate Carl Hagelin brings to the team as he prevents a little bit of chaos every time the Malkin line is on the ice.
Kris Letang was touted as a liability and many called for him to be traded in the offseason. Thus far he has been the Penguins best defender and arguably the best blueliner in the league after 10 games.
Heading into Tuesday night’s game against the Islanders, Letang’s 11 points was the sixth most among NHL defensemen while playing in fewer games than everyone ahead of him. Offensively and defensively, the 31-year old has been a powerhouse.
Jack Johnson and Derick Brassard
Jack Johnson was general manager Jim Rutherford’s latest big free agent signing. Derick Brassard was his most recent big trade. Both had big questions heading into this season, and neither has definitively answered them.
Both have looked fantastic at times and completely lost at others. After 10 games, the acclimation period is over. Johnson signed a big contract in the offseason, so he is not going anywhere soon, but once Brassard returns from injury, he will need to show coach Mike Sullivan exactly how he can benefit the team.
Matt Murray and Casey DeSmith
Despite the passing of more than a year, entering this season Matt Murray was still under the larger-than-life shadow of Marc-Andre Fleury. His shaky start only compounded the concerns of Penguins’ fans. But since returning from a concussion, Murray has been a brick wall and the Fleury comparisons have fallen silent. Being pulled against the Islanders was to shake the team not to punish Murray.
As Murray’s backup, Casey DeSmith has been treated like a placeholder until Tristan Jarry is ready to replace him. In the absence of their starting netminder, DeSmith not only performed as a serviceable backup but as a goalie that could confidently start if needed.
Coming out of training camp there were big expectations for the Penguins, and plenty of questions. At times both the optimists and pessimists have been right. But at the moment, all of the Pittsburgh stars are firing on all cylinders, including Murray. Many of the preseason questions remain, but with a winning record, not many people are complaining.