Part 1: October 2013
The Pens enter November coming off a loss to Boston and sit under .500 with none of their big offseason extensions -- Dupuis, Kunitz, Malkin, and Letang -- playing at their level from last season. Fans are anxious, wondering not only if Dan Bylsma's head is with Team USA, but also whether Shero made a huge mistake re-signing him this offseason. Fleury remains solidly unspectacular, Simon Despres remains under-utilized (or maybe underwhelming?), and everything is under the microscope. Let's see how November plays out.
Game 14: FRI NOV 1, 2013 BLUE JACKETS @ PENGUINS
Vokoun gets the nod for the first of a home-and-home against Columbus, which naturally results in a shutout and the inevitable dilemma about who should start on Saturday. Chris Kunitz gets a hat trick and James Neal pumps in the other two goals as the Pens chase Curtis McElhinney, who was filling in for Sergei Bobrovsky. Pens win, 5-0.
Record: 6-6-2, 14 PTS
Game 15: SAT NOV 2, 2013 PENGUINS @ BLUE JACKETS
Bylsma sticks with the hot goalie, but really it's the Pens defense and the lack of scoring from Columbus that results in only 22 shots by the Blue Jackets. Estimates of the number of Pens fans in attendance range from 6,000-10,000. Paul Martin picks up three assists to pass Letang in scoring among Pens defensemen; all of the Tribune-Review hockey reporters tweet "Where would this team be without Paul Martin?" at the exact same time in the 3rd period. Pens win, 3-1.
Record: 7-6-2, 16 PTS
Keep reading to find out where this team would be without Paul Martin...
Game 16: WED NOV 6, 2013 PENGUINS @ RANGERS
Vokoun gets his third straight start, but after three full days of rest, he cools off. Beau Bennett snipes Lundqvist while on the ice with the Pens second-PP unit, but a vintage Brad Richards game (1 goal and 1 assist on the PP with another helper at even strength) is enough for the Rangers. Dupuis scores late to make it close, but Dominic Moore seals it with an empty netter. The big news after the game is that Brooks Orpik, who left in the 3rd period after blocking a shot, may have a broken hand. Pens lose, 4-2.
Record: 7-7-2, 16 PTS
|Karma has a long memory.|
Even though there are dozens of replay angles showing that the Del Zotto slapshot from the last game hit Brooks Orpik square on the hand, Dan Bylsma refuses to admit that it's a broken hand; instead, emboldened by being the Olympic coach, he declares Orpik out indefinitely with "an extremity." Bob Bortuzzo gets called up to replace Orpik, a terrible sign for Brian Dumoulin, who remains in Wilkes-Barre. Joe Vitale dresses because he's from St. Louis. The Blues are all over the Pens for much of the game, exploiting the fact that Engelland, Despres, and Bortuzzo are all dressed. Letang plays 29 minutes and we complain that those types of minutes are neither sustainable nor desirable for a guy you need to be healthy for the next 9 years. But Letang skates like the wind the whole time, and ices the game with the shootout winner. It's Fleury's best game of the season. Pens win, 2-1 in a shootout.
Record: 8-7-2, 18 PTS
Game 18: WED NOV 13, 2013 FLYERS @ PENGUINS
This game excites you and disappoints you all at once. Malkin generates 19 shots at even strength in his most dominant performance of the season, but like he does too often, he ends up not scoring a single goal. Kunitz deflects two pucks in the net, but one of them is controversially waved off as a high-stick. Even more controversially, Bylsma is assessed a 2-minute unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for arguing the call; the Flyers tie the game at 1 on the ensuing power-play late in the second period. Max Talbot scores early in the 3rd after inexplicably beating Letang to an icing touch-up then banking the puck in off Fleury's leg from behind the net. James Neal hits the post twice in a row off offensive zone faceoff wins from Malkin. Crosby toasts Mark Streit for a half-breakaway with 90 seconds left. Steve Mason says no dice. Pens lose, 3-2.
Record: 8-8-2, 18 PTS
|Team USA will be well coached.|
David Legwand scores 11 seconds after we make fun of the Predators for the fact that David f'ing Legwand is their best player. On the podcast after the game, Finesse can't stop calling him Damon Legwand. Malkin and Crosby each take deflected pucks to the face and require stitches. Bob Bortuzzo fights Matt Hendricks for like 10 minutes. The Pens are pretty much a no-show for most of the game. Letang misses the net on two point blank slap shots on a 2-minute 5-on-3 power play with 8 minutes left in the third period. A gassed and frustrated group then allows the Preds to score as soon as the penalties expire to take a 2-0 lead. Shea Weber adds one on the PP after a makeup call. Boo birds out in full force. Brandon Sutter scores with 21 seconds left to break the shutout, but really he's just messing with your head. Pens lose, 3-1.
Record: 8-9-2, 18 PTS
Game 20: SAT NOV 16, 2013 PENGUINS @ DEVILS
Is Dan Bylsma coaching for his job? How uncomfortable would it be for Ray Shero to fire him in November, then work with him again in February? Is there a columnist in Pittsburgh who isn't comparing the aging Pens' defense with the aging Steelers' defense? Adding to the team's woes, James Neal is a late scratch with an "upper body injury." No word on whether it's also an extremity. Saving grace for the Pens: Devils are the worst team in the East. Two goals for Dupuis, plus a Dustin Jeffrey sighting. Pens win, 3-2.
Record: 9-9-2, 20 PTS
Game 21: MON NOV 18, 2013 DUCKS @ PENGUINS
A classic "our best players are better than your best players" game. The Ducks have a lot of talent, but the Pens have more of it. Malkin and Crosby each have a goal and an assist with James Neal sitting out his second straight game. Simon Despres plays the best game of his career. Pens win, 4-2.
Record: 10-9-2, 22 PTS
Game 22: WED NOV 20, 2013 PENGUINS @ CAPITALS
With Finesse in attendance, stakes are always high. Brandon Sutter scores two goals and Chris Kunitz adds another pair, but Mike Green ties it late for the Caps on the PP. Ovechkin and Crosby each score in the shootout, but Green comes through again as the Caps' third shooter to seal the win. GAME OVER GREEN!!! Pens lose, 5-4 in a shootout.
Record: 10-9-3, 23 PTS
Game 23: FRI NOV 22, 2013 ISLANDERS @ PENGUINS
The Isles are still red-hot and are leading the Metropolitan Division. John Tavares is leading a lot of MVP ballots at the quarter point of the season. Vokoun gets the start and plays out of his mind in the first period, stopping 17 of 18 shots. The Pens are lucky to be down only 1-0. But like the playoffs, the better team usually wins, and the Pens' grunts do the heavy lifting. Dustin Jeffrey picks up a goal and an assist, and even Tanner Glass scores a real NHL goal. Brandon Sutter scores another empty netter. Pens win, 4-1.
Record: 11-9-3, 25 PTS
Game 24: SAT NOV 23, 2013 PENGUINS @ CANADIENS
It's Hockey Night in Canada and P.K. Subban is in full trolling mode. He scores an early PP goal for the Habs, then sends Evgeni Malkin to the locker room on a controversial knee-on-knee hit that goes un-penalized. Kris Letang gets a 10-minute misconduct in the ensuing scuffle. Brandon Sutter scores for the third straight game to tie it up early in the third, but Fleury lets in a softy only 40 seconds later. The Pens can't solve Carey Price. Malkin's injury is not believed to be serious, and he returns for the third period. Pens lose, 2-1.
Record: 11-10-3, 25 PTS
Motivated by an emotional Sunday morning GTOG post titled, "Are the Pens really this mediocre?", the team responds with its best effort of the season on the road. Crosby, Dupuis, and Letang score as the club welcomes back James Neal just in time for him to try to chop down Zdeno Chara. Loui Eriksson scores on a penalty shot for Boston in an otherwise uninspiring performance from the B's. Pens are suddenly 4-1-1 in their past 6. Pens win, 3-1.
Record: 12-10-3, 27 PTS
Game 26: WED NOV 27, 2013 MAPLE LEAFS @ PENGUINS
Uh oh. An ugly collision with Dave Bolland sends Paul Martin to the quiet room in the first period, ruining Artistry's Thanksgiving. PMPM doesn't return. Beau Bennett takes a slash on the wrist and he heads to the showers early as well. Kris Letang steps up in the Prime Minister's absence and takes advantage of a struggling Jonathan Bernier to score twice and set up Crosby for a tap-in on the PP. Pascal Dupuis adds a shorthanded softy. Vokoun with his second straight win. Pens win, 4-1.
Record: 13-10-3, 29 PTS
Game 27: FRI NOV 29, 2013 PENGUINS @ LIGHTNING
Paul Martin and Beau Bennett are both held out, though the speculation is that neither injury is serious. Malkin, who was slowed by a bruised thigh following the collision with Subban, looks to be back at full strength. The teams trade goals to get to 3-3, but Geno breaks it open in the third with a brilliant coast-to-coast individual effort. Sutter and Despres add two insurance goals. Stamkos scores again. He leads the league with 22 goals in only 26 games. Pens win, 6-3.
Record: 14-10-3, 31 PTS
Game 28: SAT NOV 30, 2013 PENGUINS @ PANTHERS
The fans are clamoring for Vokoun -- why mess with a good thing? -- but Bylsma gives the veteran netminder a rest in favor of Fleury. His faith in Flower pays off. Crosby picks up 4 assists, including two that make the SportsCenter Top 10 plays. Pens spend much of the third period trying to get James Neal a hat trick. Pens win, 5-2.
Record: 15-10-3, 33 PTS
Things got hairy for a while, but the Pens end the month on a 7-1-1 streak. Crosby passed Tavares for second in the league in scoring with the 4 point night in Miami, and is now only two back of Stamkos for the league lead in points. The Pens are tied for second in the Metro Division with the Rangers, who have won 7 in a row thanks to a rejuvenated Brad Richards and an MVP-like season from Henrik Lundqvist, who reminds you that he's more than a product of John Tortorella's system. The Islanders still lead the division but don't have a regulation win in their past 5 games. The calls for Dan Bylsma's head have abated for the time being, though the advanced stat community is pointing out that the Pens' puck possession numbers are middle of the pack. Orpik is still about a month away from returning from hand surgery, but Paul Martin is back at practice. God bless the USA.
Part 1: October 2013