Fantasy NHL

The other Penguins

By Jesse Pantuosco, Fantasy Sports Writer

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - I am aware that there are 29 other teams in the NHL.

Trust me, I know all about them.

I see you, Columbus Blue Jackets.

Hockey in the desert? Live your dream, Phoenix.

Winnipeg playing in the Eastern Conference's Southeast Division? It's not practical (or geographically accurate) but I suppose I can allow it.

The Kings, the Rangers, the Maple Leafs ... I understand the need for all of them.

But are any of them as fun to watch as the Pittsburgh Penguins?

Not a chance.

When you see a 7-6 score making its way across the bottom of the TV screen, you know the Penguins had to be involved somehow.

Indeed, they were.

That's the score Pittsburgh won by Saturday night in Montreal. The game featured three lead changes, five ties and of course an overtime game-winner. Overall, 20 of the 36 players (not including the two goalies) involved in Saturday's contest registered at least one point.

The two teams combined for 75 shots on net, an average of one shot every 52 seconds. Five of those shots came off the stick of Sidney Crosby, who scored his 10th goal of the season with 9:36 left in the third period.

All my readers are thinking the same thing right now. Here comes another boring, cliche, done-to-death article about how good Sidney Crosby is.

Well, not quite.

See, I'm not here to put Crosby on a pedestal. As superhuman as Crosby may appear (he does lead the National Hockey League in scoring with 34 points this season), he's not the only reason why Pittsburgh sits atop the Atlantic Division.

He's just one of the many reasons.

Take Saturday's game for example. The Penguins wouldn't have won without getting key contributions from Brandon Sutter, Matt Cooke and Chris Kunitz. All three players netted at least two goals in the win.

This Penguins team might be the deepest in all of hockey. Twenty-five players have notched at least 20 points this season. Pittsburgh's high-powered offense has accounted for four of those 25 skaters. Tampa Bay is the only other club with more than two 20-point scorers.

Maybe some of that has to do with who's holding the clipboard. Head coach Dan Bylsma, a right wing for the L.A. Kings and the Anaheim Ducks during his playing career, has always had a mind for offense. The Pens have never finished worse than 13th in scoring in any of Bylsma's five seasons as coach, averaging 3.13 goals per game over that span.

When Evgeni Malkin went down with a concussion last week against Florida, the injury was supposed to deliver a death blow to Pittsburgh's offense. Instead, Chris Kunitz has produced at a level so similar to Malkin's you'd swear they were twins.

If you're filling out your Sunday crossword puzzle and you come across a clue that reads, "six-letter word for elite scorer," go ahead and pencil in Kunitz' name. This looks like it will be the year Kunitz finally outgrows his "very good" label in favor of the more suitable "superstar" distinction.

Kunitz' 1.23 ppg average this season is nearly identical to Malkin's 1.17 ratio in 2013. In case you've forgotten, Malkin was the NHL's MVP last season. So yeah, Kunitz is in pretty good company.

That leads us to right wing James Neal, the Penguins' second-leading scorer from a season ago (81 points in 80 games). His chemistry with the recently promoted Brandon Sutter (Sutter was playing on Pittsburgh's third line prior to the Malkin injury) has been stellar. The two hooked up on Sutter's game- winner Saturday night, giving the duo a combined seven points in the team's last four games. For the season, Sutter (21 points in 22 games) is scoring about a point per game.

As a connoisseur of all things fantasy, I compare NHL defensemen to catchers in Major League Baseball. Catchers usually don't hit very well and most blue- liners can't score a lick. They're not all useless but the good ones, at least for fantasy purposes, are few and far between.

Any time a defenseman picks up a point, fantasy owners should have nothing to complain about. When they score two in one game? Well, that's just icing on the cake.

So what do we call Kris Letang's four-point outing (four assists) against Montreal on Saturday? Double-icing on the cake?

Letang is one of the few defenders in hockey who can contribute offensively on a nightly basis. His 19 points in 19 games (three goals, 16 assists) are the most by any blue-liner in the NHL this season. If this were a full season, the 25-year-old would be on pace for 79 points. That would be the most any defenseman has scored since Detroit's Niklas Lidstrom collected 80 points in 2005-06.

Who says you can't have your cake and eat it too?

If you're in the mood for a scoring frenzy, you might want to tune into Pittsburgh's game Monday night against the Lightning. Tampa Bay is the only team in hockey averaging more goals per game than the Penguins this season.

When these teams squared off a week ago, they racked up eight goals on 52 shots.

Marc-Andre Fleury and Mathieu Garon must be asking each other, "So, why did we want to be goalies again?"

03/03 14:36:39 ET