If you've been watching hockey long enough, you know the way a team looks in early November does not necessarily have any bearing at all on how it will look in June. Ask the 1991 Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins. They started the season 12-16-3. Or the 1992 Penguins. They were still at .500 through 62 games. The 2009 Stanley Cup team? 10th place in the conference at the all-star break.
The current Penguins team is far, far worse than the sum of its parts right now. This is a work in progress. The defense pairings we saw last night really haven't played together at all, we still haven't seen Jordan Staal, and Lola Dupuis was born yesterday, an event so emotionally distracting that Eric Godard, Deryk Engelland, and Mike Rupp all forgot they were supposed to stick up for their teammates. So does it really even matter that the Pens had their worst performance of the season? Well, it matters to us. GTOG Nation understands the big picture, but we don't have to like what went on in Dallas. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. Let's take a clear-eyed look at this situation after the jump...
- The Stars simply overwhelmed the Pens on every level in the first period. Zbynek Michalek was sucking wind out there, and he was on the ice for the first two Dallas goals. In time, he will be the player we thought we were getting this off-season, but he picked the wrong night to try to work his way back into the lineup. The Pens had no answer for the Brad Richards-James Neal-Loui Eriksson line, which is easily one of the best in the league. More on Eriksson later.
- We knew Brent Johnson's hot streak would end eventually, and here we are. BJ looked shaky from the get-go, and he was practically cowering inside of his net when Richards stuck a one-timer under the crossbar for the Stars' second goal. Thank you, Brent, for your service in a time of need. Time for Marc-Andre Fleury to start earning his money, beginning Friday night in Anaheim.
- The Penguins were outshot in the first period 12-4. Outside of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, no forward aside from Tyler Kennedy - who was evidently possessed by Gordie Howe last night - is putting the puck on net with any kind of consistency.
- I view the fact that Kennedy, Crosby, Kris Letang and Chris Kunitz felt compelled to drop the gloves last night with some mixture of pride and disgust. Pride that these guys were willing to stick up for themselves and their teammates. Disgust that they thought it was necessary. Godard, Rupp, and Engelland, three guys who are in the NHL largely, if not exclusively, because they are well equipped to fill that role, were nowhere to be seen. This may not be entirely their fault. They probably asked Steve Ott, Jamie Benn, and those jokers to dance, and the Stars' players probably declined. But on a night like last night, you don't take "no" for an answer.
- Matt Niskanen, welcome to the small but esteemed club of "Smallish Players Treated Like a Rag Doll by a Frustrated Sidney Crosby." Charter member Brett McLean welcomes you.
- Mike Comrie doesn't belong on the team right now. He doesn't battle, and he's careless with the puck. That was Comrie who gave the biscuit away at the tail end of one of the most pitiful two-man advantage power plays you will ever see. Then he followed that up by taking a penalty.
- GTOG contributor Eloquence says it best about the power play: "You know the PP is bad when your dad emails you: 'Where is Mike Yeo when you need him?' Sadly, this happened to me this morning." One obvious problem touched on by Steiggy and Errey last night: Alex Goligoski and Paul Martin do not have the Gonchar-esque ability to hit Malkin in his wheelhouse for the one-time slapshot. Uh, guys, you might want to work on that in practice.
- What is the over-under at this point on goals for Geno this season? 25? Fewer? He has 3 in 13 games.
- Two players who continue to impress me are Kris Letang and Mark Letestu. Even though he's injured and had a terrible giveway leading to Eriksson's second goal last night, Letang does not shrink in the face of adversity. He tries to play even bigger. He has heart. Letestu, even when he's not scoring, does not take a shift for granted. He's putting the body on guys out there and has good hockey sense.
- Finally, a quick word about Loui Eriksson. Back in 2003, the Pens had the 2nd pick in the second round of the draft, and Eriksson was sitting there. I'd never seen him play, but the scouting reports said he was a left winger who could score goals. Seemed like a good fit to me. The Pens took Ryan Stone. Eriksson went to Dallas with the next pick. Now, I don't know anything about 17-year-old kids who I've never seen play. But I think the moral of the story here is, sometimes if it just seems like a good fit, it's a good fit.