Final Thoughts: Pens Regular Season

While everyone gets into playoff mode, I figured it would be a good time to take a second and look back at the regular season that will ultimately get lost in the shuffle once Pens-Isles gets underway on Wednesday (7:30pm). After skimming through all 48 postgame thoughts posts, here are some of the qualitative results I found and how players trended through the season

Good, Noteworthy, or Bad

Since I broke every thoughts post into these 3 sections, I went through and added up how many times each player finished in each section. Each section had a runaway winner and a couple of surprising results to look back on.

Fleury impressed me more than anyone throughout the season.

Fleury – 18
Crosby – 12
Vokoun – 11
Dupuis – 10
Kunitz – 10

The runaway winner was Fleury, who finished in this section 18 times. Overall, I included Fleury in 21 posts (18 good, 1 noteworthy, 2 bad). Having made my team MVP pick before looking through these write-ups, it makes complete sense that I went with Fleury in hindsight. Your easy takeaway – the first line and the goaltending were outstanding this season.
The two players who failed to make this section the most: Tyler Kennedy and Tanner Glass with only 3 each despite both playing most of the season.

Letang – 9
Crosby – 7
Kennedy – 7
Niskanen – 7
Malkin – 5
Sutter – 5

Letang takes this one, which makes sense for how often I get on his case about giveaways or hanging his partner out to dry while still putting together good overall games. Crosby had most of his appearances early in the season when he had giveaway problems before he shifted towards perfection. Kennedy was often noteworthy for good plays away from the puck, but certainly nothing with the puck.

It was a promising season for Despres, but there were growing pains.

Despres – 8
Kennedy – 6
Niskanen – 5
Engelland – 5
Jeffrey – 5

I was surprised to see my own result of putting Despres under this column 8 times. He was also under the good column 7 times. It looks like he was very hit or miss whenever he caught my eye for a write-up. Kennedy is no surprise. Almost all of Niskanen’s appearances were when Letang was out (which starts to shift my opinion of Letang) and suggests Niskanen can’t handle crazy minutes quite yet.
The three players who appeared here the least (through the full season) were Martin (1), Fleury (2), and Cooke (2). What a difference for Martin and Fleury from last year and just solid play from Cooke game in and game out.

Player Assessments – Regular Season

Craig Adams (7 good, 4 bad): When he was good, it was on the forecheck. When he was bad, it was in coverage in the defensive zone. The 4th line’s time of possession will be very important in the playoffs.

Beau Bennett (5 good, 1 noteworthy, 1 bad): Bennett had a strong rookie season and impressed me more on the defensive side than the offensive size. He is already showing signs of being a complete player and is ready ahead of schedule.

Robert Bortuzzo (1 good, 2 noteworthy, 1 bad): Bortuzzo was limited in playing time and didn’t do much to keep his spot when he was in the lineup. He’ll have to wait until next year.

Matt Cooke (5 good, 2 noteworthy, 2 bad): Cooke was strong with the puck early in the season and returned to his gritty/pesky self late in the season. Either way, he seems to always find a way to contribute.

Sid was the best player in the NHL at everything except avoiding pucks to the face.

Sidney Crosby (12 good, 7 noteworthy, 3 bad): Unquestionably the best player on the team. Crosby was held to a much higher standard and still exceeded those expectations. His return in the playoffs should be an amazing sight.

Simon Despres (7 good, 1 noteworthy, 8 bad): As I stated above, Despres was very hit or miss throughout the season. It’s the type of year you would expect from a rookie defenseman but also a reason to be a little hesitant with using him in the playoffs.

Pascal Dupuis (10 good, 3 bad): Dupuis struggled at times when he was forced into the center position late in the season but his overall year was fantastic. He won’t have a bad game all postseason.

Mark Eaton (2 good, 1 noteworthy, 3 bad): Eaton was pretty much steady upon his return to the team and did little to stand out either way. Expect more of the same as the defense returns to health.

Deryk Engelland (4 good, 5 bad): I have to admit, Engelland had a better season than I was expecting and was steady enough to earn a regular shift. As the season wore on, he really learned how to properly position himself to deal with quick forwards.

Marc-Andre Fleury (18 good, 1 noteworthy, 2 bad): Fleury put together a great season after last year’s playoff flop and should have doubters quiet entering this year’s playoffs. That being said, it’ll take one bad game before everyone attacks him in the playoffs.

Tanner Glass (3 good, 3 noteworthy, 3 bad): All of his good games were early in the season, his bad ones in the middle, and his noteworthy ones towards the end. Glass had a weird rollercoaster season as a 4th line checker but provides an important physical presence for the playoffs.

Jarome Iginla (2 good, 1 noteworthy): Iginla has completely changed the Penguins powerplay for the better. I will be shocked if you see a bad game from him in the playoffs.

Dustin Jeffrey (2 good, 2 noteworthy, 5 bad): Jeffrey’s best games came on the 2nd line and his worst on the 4th line. I think he’s worthy of an NHL lineup, just not this one when it’s healthy. Jeffrey on the 4th line is a square peg in a round hole.

Jussi Jokinen (5 good): Jokinen has crushed any expectations since coming over from Carolina and he has given the Pens a player whose versatility is unmatched. We have yet to see him have a bad game in Pittsburgh.

Does Kennedy even deserve a spot on the bench anymore?

Tyler Kennedy (3 good, 7 noteworthy, 6 bad): TK has been a big disappointment this year as he has missed opportunities to succeed time after time. He started the year strong, fell off drastically, started playing well again, and then fell off drastically again. He may be a historically-noted playoff performer, but that time may be at an end.

Chris Kunitz (10 good, 2 noteworthy, 4 bad): Kunitz had his best games with Crosby and Dupuis, so it will be interesting to see how that matches up as he potentially shifts to Malkin’s line in the playoffs. His worst games were mostly in the first 2 weeks of the season, so you might as well forget that Kunitz ever had a bad game.

Kris Letang (3 good, 9 noteworthy, 4 bad): Much like Crosby, I hold Letang to a much higher standard and he managed to stay afloat in my eyes. He was terrific after his most recent injury return and it made a noticeable difference in how Orpik and Niskanen played as well. Letang is exactly where I want to see him heading into the playoffs right now.

Evgeni Malkin (8 good, 5 noteworthy, 4 bad): Even though Malkin had an injury-filled season and had troubles with bad passes early on, his season was still very solid overall. Getting Kunitz back on his wing should be a big boost to him, even if it isn’t the best thing for Kunitz necessarily.

Paul Martin (7 good, 3 noteworthy, 1 bad): What a turnaround for Paul Martin. He played some of the best hockey on this team when he was healthy and was a steadying force on the blueline. As with Fleury though, one bad playoff game and people will be ready to attack.

Brenden Morrow (4 good, 1 bad): Morrow’s only bad game was his 2nd game with the team. He looked too slow and confused on the breakouts. After he figured out the system and adjusted his speed, he was a terror for opposing teams and put together a nice run of goals. Gary Roberts 2.0.

Douglas Murray (1 good, 3 bad): While Morrow improved as the season wore on in his short Pens tenure, Murray seems to be having the opposite result. He looked much better than expected at first but has struggled over the past 2 weeks with his quickness and ability to get into shooting lanes. Murray may struggle against fast teams in the playoffs.

James Neal (8 good, 2 noteworthy, 4 bad): Almost all of Neal’s bad games were due to his lack of discipline and propensity for taking stupid penalties. As an actual hockey player, Neal was solid this year, even during his goal scoring slump. His inability to focus when frustrated is something to watch as the playoffs begin.

Matt Niskanen (6 good, 7 noteworthy, 5 bad): I was expecting a breakout year from Nisky and it doesn’t look like he’s quite ready for it yet. His best games came when he received powerplay time but was still on a 2nd or 3rd pairing. His worst games were mostly when he played 22+ minutes.

Hopefully Orpik won't be skating away from goal celebrations when he returns.

Brooks Orpik (5 good, 2 noteworthy, 4 bad): Orpik looked great through the first month with Paul Martin and then fell off as the season wore on. He looked especially bad when both Letang and Martin were out of the lineup. He is needed as a minutes eater, but cannot do it all by himself anymore. The days of “the shift” from the Detroit series are long gone.

Brandon Sutter (7 good, 5 noteworthy, 4 bad): Sutter started slow, was the epitome of clutch around midseason, and started to falter down the stretch (likely not helped by TK as a winger). His offense comes and goes, but his defense has been pretty steady throughout the season. The big thing to watch for with him, and a big reason why he ends up in the bad column from time to time, is when he loses a defensive zone faceoff – it seems to end up in the net.

Joe Vitale (2 good, 1 bad): Vitale was pretty much everything you expected when he was in the lineup. He was solid at faceoffs, a good forechecking center, and still able to play well with only 6-7 minutes on the ice in some games. He’s not a necessity, but he’s a nice luxury to have.

Vokoun (11 good, 1 noteworthy, 3 bad): Though he had a couple REALLY bad games, Vokoun on the whole was fantastic throughout the season and the perfect backup for Fleury. He turned out to be a great leader for the entire team and did exactly what he was expected to do when Bylsma wanted to rest Fleury. It will be interesting to see how quickly he may enter the playoffs if Fleury falters.

Player Power Rankings

After averaging out everything through the season, here is how the final player power rankings turned out (click for a bigger version):

Pens Power Rankings

I’ll have the full plus/minus report from all of the goal assessments for the season up tomorrow and then it’ll be time for GAME 1 OF THE EASTERN CONFERENCE QUARTERFINALS, PENS-ISLANDERS AT 7:30PM!!

– @HockeyMeesh