Three players have looked unstoppable thus far in the Penguins young season: James Neal, Matt Cooke, and Joe Vitale. Each played another exceptional game last night against the Montreal Canadiens.
Not much needs to be said about Neal, as he leads the NHL in goals. Just to reference his production thus far, Sidney Crosby—who was on pace for 64 goals last season—didn’t register his seventh goal until the 14th game of the year. Neal has scored seven goals in eight games this year.
Just as it is obvious with Neal, Cooke and Vitale have each impressed through the early stages of 2011-12.
Vitale scored his first goal the year on a perfect deflection in the second period. At this point, he is virtually un-demotable. His work ethic is off the charts. He is an extremely smart player who knows his limits. He is defensive-minded and has won more than 50% of his draws in five games. Simply put, Vitale is the perfect bottom six forward.
Cooke, while not making the score sheet last night, had another solid outing. The controversial figure is the most versatile role player on the Penguins. He is gifted offensively and can work with players either above or below his skill level. Cooke is also an extremely shrewd hockey player and crafty with the puck when heavily pressured. He plays offense. He plays defense. He can shoot or dish and he grinds. If he can stay out of the press box he should record a career high in points this season.
Add Jordan Staal to the list of impressive early season forwards. Staal has shown quicker hands and more stability when handling the puck this year. Offensively, the 23-year-old has picked up his game. Staal is second on the Pens with three goals and third on the team with six points. His numbers should increase even more when he is no longer focused on as the team’s number one center.
The one complaint that can be made about Staal is his defensive zone turnovers. He appears to be unable to find his teammates when working deep in his own zone. Considering the constant switching of linemates, the problem can likely be chalked up to his rotating wingers.
A couple players who have not lived up to fan’s expectations are Mark Letestu and Steve Sullivan. Continue reading