But then again, the '05-'06 Pens at this same point were 7-9-6, compared to 10-8-4 this year. So for as pitiful as last year Pens' team was, their record is not too much worse than this year's much improved group.
So let's take a gander at my half-assed attempt at grading the Pens so far this year.
Center - This is probably the easiest one (I know, no shit Tony.) With Crosby, Malkin and Staal, they're set for at least a decade (unless free agency rears it's fugly head). It appears that, before the groin injury, Sid was shooting the puck more frequently, and his temper seems to have calmed down some, resulting in fewer penalty minutes. Malkin, with all fairness, is still getting used to the NHL, so I can't honestly judge him too harshly just yet. I would like to see him lay some more checks, though, especially considering that D-men are starting to target him a lot. Also, you can't ask for more production than Staal has given them. He's an excellent penalty killer, and his long reach makes for outstanding puck possessions. Speaking of surprises, the signing of Dominic Moore looks to be a great one. He may not be lighting the lamp very often, but his maneuverability and penalty kill skills are a valuable asset on this team, an asset that was sorely needed. The two 4th line centers, Talbot and Thorburn, are both contributing doing what they do best, agitate the hell out of the opposition.
Wingers - These guys are doing a decent job, but there is much improvement to be done. Recchi has been hot lately, and his constant hussle is setting the example for the younger players to follow. Army needs to get off the schnide, it's that simple. He's played better the last few games, both with his shots on goal (but none have gone in) and his puck possessions. Ouellet has pretty much duplicated his '05 effort, specializing in power play sniping, however he needs to be more consistent. Petrovicky is another Shero signing that looks to be paying off immediately, an excellent checker/agitator with pretty good hands. Malone has only played in a handful of games so far this year due to his broken arm, but in those few games he really wasn't making any worthy contributions to the team as of yet. He may be trade bait once we get closer to the trade deadline. Ekman has done a decent job while he's been flipflopping on Therrien's lines. He's one of the few wingers that actually puts a lot of shots on net so far. Leclair seems to acknowledge what his role is at this point in his career, that being a pest in front of the net and to provide sound veteran leadership. Ruutu performs his agitator role very well, but the Pens need more wingers that can actually put the puck in the net. Finally, Roy has been a scratch in the majority of the Pens' games so far, I'd be surprised if he makes it past the trading deadline also.
Defensemen - With reference to the constant harassing of the D-men group on the blogosphere, I'd have to say that overall, this group's performance has made a significant improvement. Yes, the bad outlet passes still happen, the turnovers still happen, and they still screen the goaltenders, but those errors, relatively speaking, are not happening as frequently as they did in past years. Eaton's injury, at first glance, didn't seem that it would cause such as drastic change in their performance, but it's clear as day now. His solid defensive play, and most importantly, his shot blocking have proved invaluable, and now that he's out until probably the January timeframe, his absence is highly noticeable. Gonchar has done a decent job, at least he didn't get off to the horrendous start that he did last year. He needs to cut down on the "2 minutes for hooking" penalties. I believe Scuderi has improved his game quite a lot in the last year. Sorry to say, I don't think the same applies to Melichar. I'm not sure how long he lasts if the Pens ever get off of their ass and get a righty D-man. Orpik of course missed the first chunk of the season because of his wrist injury, and he still looks to be in training camp with some of those breakout passes he's made. In reference to Whitney, I'm not one of those guys who'll say he's having a good year because of his offensive stats. For as good as he's been in the opponent's zone, he's been easily as poor in his own end. Welch has done pretty well since his callup, and sorry to say, is one of the few Penguins D-men who actually throw checks well. Last, and least, how long does Eric Cairns take up a roster spot on this team ?? The Pens have plenty of agitators who can drop the gloves AND do other things as well. He's another one who shouldn't be a Penguins at the trading deadline.
Goaltending - I think it's fair to say that MAF has won the Pens a handful of games already this year. If he isn't listed among the top goalies in the league now, he's damn close. Yes, he still allows those big rebounds, and it has cost him a few times already, but overall he has played outstanding. Thibault hasn't had the best luck so far this year, although he's had a few occasions where his play behind the net has cost some goals. He's also given his fair share of soft goals.
Coaching - I can understand the need to attempt to get the lines flowing as smooth as possible, but I don't see that happening based on how quickly Therrien is changing his lineups. In the same respect though, it appears that the Pens are really bought into Therrien's system. It has resulted in an improved defense, and they now have several players that are flexible to multiple areas on the ice.
Special Teams - The powerplay has been pretty decent this year, up until the time that Sid was injured anyway. However, they're still relying too much on Gonchar's slapshots, and not enough passes inside. The penalty kill has been maybe the biggest improvement on this year's team. Penalty killers such as Moore, Staal, and Talbot make the Pens quite a dangerous PK unit.