NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Philadelphia Flyers
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Pens Plus-Minus: Murray, Letang return; Crosby shines; Fleury trades and a West Coast swing

This week in the Pittsburgh Penguins, from the best to the least best. (They’ve been pretty good.)

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 hope we don’t regret it you like it.

The Penguins begin a three-game California road trip in Anaheim on Wednesday with a 6-2-1 record and the second-most points in the East despite having a minus-2 goal differential. It’s early, sure, and something that should be corrected as the season progresses, but two regulation losses in nine games while being outscored on the season is certainly odd.

Jun 12, 2016; San Jose, CA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Matt Murray (30) makes a save against the San Jose Sharks in the first period in game six of the 2016 Stanley Cup Final at SAP Center at San Jose. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Murray is back!

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, only two of 16 teams reached the postseason with a negative goal-differential. Two seasons ago, zero teams in the red qualified for the playoffs. The Penguins are flourishing despite allowing three goals per game, a number that figures to decline with goaltender Matt Murray back from injury and making his first start Wednesday.

Kris Letang is also expected to return, from an undisclosed injury, when the Penguins play the Ducks. The team went 4-1-0 and scored five power-play goals in his absence. After allowing 35 shots per game with Letang, the Penguins allowed 33 shots per game without him.

This should serve as a reminder that almost every stat through three weeks of an NHL season should be taken with a grain of salt.

An ‘engrave’ situation

Usually sports team content stinks. ‘Here’s our player reading from a cue card in the stiffest way possible!’ There’s also that thing team Twitter accounts do when they @ each other with gifs that makes you wish sports, Twitter and gifs were never invented. But this video of the Penguins checking out their engraved names on the Stanley Cup is actually good #content.

There are a few highlights, and I won’t give them all away, but I like GM Jim Rutherford treating Mike Sullivan like his grandkid with a practical joke that was never going to work. He essentially does, ‘I’ve got your nose!’ to a 48-year-old man that isn’t having it.

Player of the Week

NHL: Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The timing of this works out really well, because Sidney Crosby has been back from his concussion for exactly one week and has four goals and an assist in his three games. The Penguins won all three games, too, so when Crosby accepts The Incline Player Of The Week trophy (do we have that?) he doesn’t have to say he’d prefer getting a win to a goal. We all know that, hockey players. Stop saying that.

Player of the Weak

NHL: Preseason-Chicago Blackhawks at Pittsburgh Penguins
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Get it? This award goes to the least valuable player over this time frame. The Penguins went 3-0-0 last week so it’s not exactly an easy choice, but we’ll go with Brian Dumoulin. He was -4 in on-ice shot attempts last week (like I said, it’s nitpicky) mostly because he got worked over pretty good against the Flyers (-20) on Sunday. It’s been an uneven start to the season for Dumoulin, who has yet to register a point.

Hurry and trade Fleury

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Nashville Predators
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Trading Marc-Andre Fleury was a thing that should have happened over the summer, but GMs in the NHL hate making trades more than you hate that guy in the adjacent cubicle that thinks it’s OK to cut his toenails in the office. In a way, not trading him worked out well for Pittsburgh because Matt Murray got hurt during the World Cup, but then again, Fleury has a .909 save percentage in nine games, and a goalie off the waiver wire could have done that.

There are so many things working against an in-season Fleury trade. The cap. His contract. The potential availability of Jaroslav Halak and Ben Bishop for teams in the market for a veteran goaltender, who are both better than Fleury. It will also come down to how Murray is playing. My guess is Rutherford will want to hold both for a playoff run so he has an insurance policy against injury.

Having both Fleury and Murray worked out last year, didn’t it?

NHL: Stanley Cup Final-Pittsburgh Penguins at San Jose Sharks
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

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

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