No fancy introductions, just a list. Let's hope 2012 is better for the Penguins for a number of reasons, including, most importantly, the first item on the list ...
1). A Clean Bill of Health for Everyone
The story of the last 365-plus days for the Penguins has been health. Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, Kris Letang, Paul Martin, Zbynek Michalek, Brooks Orpik, Dustin Jeffrey and, most importantly, Sidney Crosby have all missed long periods of time due to a myriad of injuries.
Despite this, the Penguins have learned how to win with some of their best players missing, often several at the same time. When the Penguins lost four of five from Dec. 5 through Dec. 16, it looked as though their shortened bench was beginning to take a toll once again.
And then a funny thing happened. A Festivus miracle, perhaps. The Penguins stopped losing, and ended the pre-holiday schedule with a three-game winning streak characterized by an outpouring of offense. Even shorthanded, these guys can win.
But even seeing that, we all know how much better the Penguins can be with a full, healthy lineup. Their ability while down a man or five simply underscores that fact. For their sake (and, to a lesser extent, the fans') it'd be wonderful to see a fully-loaded Penguins lineup in 2012.
2). Consistency for James Neal
Neal has been nothing short of excellent to start the season. Tied for second in goals scored in the NHL, and only a single tally behind Marian Gaborik, Neal has provided a power forward option that we've only been teased with and seen glimpses of in other, less formidable players.
The problem for Neal is a consistency one, and it's one he's faced his entire career. As I detailed earlier in the season, Neal has had a nasty habit of suffering from a severe decline in production in the second half of the season. He has done nothing to show that that will be the case this season, and his production has continued along its impressive early season trajectory.
Here's to simply hoping that Neal keeps it up. He doesn't need to be a 40-plus goal scorer to have a successful season ... but that wouldn't hurt either.
3). Continued Sportsmanship for Matt Cooke
Cooke has 12 penalty minutes. That's 354th in the NHL. Last year, his 129 PIM was ranked 21st and his 37 minor penalties were tied for 4th in the league. Of the ten players accumulating the most minors, he had the highest average of minor penalties per game. This season, he's on pace for 14 minors. Total.
Few NHLers in recent years were more likely to find themselves on Santa's naughty list for their on-ice deeds than Cooke.
In the offseason, he said he was going to change. He seemingly has. Let's hope he keeps it up as a gift not only to the rest of the league, but to himself as well.
4). A Scoring Title for Evgeni Malkin
In the preseason, Bodog offered Malkin up at 25-1 odds to win the scoring title. Not the most confident of offerings from oddsmakers.
Right now, he's third in the NHL in scoring, and has played fewer games than the top 90 scorers in the league. That may have caused the hesitation from the oddsmakers, a worry that Malkin would have a difficulties recovering from the knee injury that caused him to miss the second-half of last season.
In terms of production, Malkin is quickly rising to the top of the pack, with only Claude Giroux showing a similar level of dynamism.
For a man who climbed back from a difficult injury and has shown renewed vigor on the ice, a scoring title would seem to be nothing less than he deserves. As long has he earns it, obviously.