Pens Plus-Minus: Kessel-Crosby ’16, the greatness of Conor Sheary and a super hot run

Crosby, Kessel and Murray have the Penguins on top of the game.

NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at Pittsburgh Penguins
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NHL pundit, analyst and podcaster Dave Lozo has some unique thoughts about the NHL. We asked him to share a few about the Penguins each week. We approve this message.

When we last left the Penguins, they were 6-2-1, Matt Murray and Kris Letang were returning and things were looking pretty good as the team embarked on a three-game West coast trip. After returning home for a comeback 4-3 win against the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday night, the Penguins are 9-2-2 and sitting atop the Metro Division.

The Penguins scored 16 goals in their four games this past week and are beginning to resemble the team that caught fire down the stretch last season under coach Mike Sullivan. They’re still not the possession dynamos they were last season but they haven’t played many games at full strength yet.

Sidney Crosby is back and looking like his young(er) self. He had four goals in four games last week and has eight goals in seven games since returning from a concussion. But — teaser alert — he is not the player of the week! Who is? Stay tuned!

The Candidate we Needed

Our long national nightmare known as the presidential election is over. Did your candidate win? Are you happy with the results? Maybe you decided to use a write-in vote for a right-wing candidate that helped put Pittsburgh back on top again — Phil Kessel.

Sure, those “real” candidates promised to inject life into Steel City but only one candidate reached across our nation’s border to work with a left-wing Swede (Carl Hagelin) and American centrist (Nick Bonino) to get the job done. Even though Kessel was burned by the Conn Smythe voting process last season, he’s showing the willingness to embrace the election process. If anyone could claim a vote was rigged, it was Kessel.

Make America Skate Again? I’m out of political turns of phrase here.

Player of the Week

Nov 8, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA;  Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Matt Murray (30) reaches for the puck against the Edmonton Oilers during the first period at the PPG Paints Arena. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

That’s right, it’s not Crosby — it’s Murray, who has looked pretty good in his first three starts of the season. He went 3-0-0 with a 1.33 goals-against average and .957 save percentage, while Marc-Andre Fleury allowed three goals on 27 shots in an overtime loss to the Kings.

Crosby will always be the best player on the team but seeing Murray deliver like this after Fleury’s struggles in October should warm the cockles of your cold Penguin fan heart.

Player of the Weak

Justin Schultz
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Just like last week, we are reaching. This is what happens when a team goes 3-0-1 one week and 3-0-0 the week before. This section will make a lot more sense when the Penguins lose three straight. But Justin Schultz has been sort of meh this year, huh? Not that a lot was expected of a depth defenseman but he has been middling possession-wise and over the past four games, he’s a minus-7 in on-ice shot attempts. He played just 12:08 against the Oilers, his lowest ice time of the season.

One (1) Mailbag Question

This is such a silly question. But considering today, we could all use a silly, obvious question to bring this home.

A lot of people will point to Crosby having 948 points in 714 career games, two Hart Trophies, a Conn Smythe Trophy and two scoring titles. Then people will point to Sheary having 17 points in 50 career games, and … hmmm, he doesn’t seem to have any NHL individual awards in his past.

But that’s the problem with this comparison: living in the past.

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins-Championship Parade
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

In their last one games, the comparison is easy: Crosby has zero points; Sheary has two goals, including a game-winner. Sure, you can say Crosby is better if you want to base it on coasting on past accomplishments, but Sheary is living in the here and now. Sheary has carried the Penguins to their last one victory while Crosby could be washed up based on that one game.

So congrats to Sheary. The torch has been passed. It’s time to trade Crosby.

Dave Lozo is a freelance hockey writer who has worked for, Bleacher Report and The Score. He writes nationally for Vice Sports, Uproxx, The Comeback and is one half of the Nerdist podcast Puck Soup.