You have to play the schedule that’s dealt to you, and the Pittsburgh Penguins did just that.

Playing nearly double the games that some of their competitors did, the Penguins escaped a busy and injury-plagued October with one of the best records in the National Hockey League.

Forget the teams that traveled overseas for the annual NHL faceoff showcase, the Pittsburgh Penguins have got to be the most tired team in the league.

A brief respite will be available to the team at the start of this month, but business is going to pick up in a big way as November plows forward towards the holidays.

The Penguins were treated to a few days off between the Toronto loss and the San Jose game tomorrow night, and they’ll get another 6 day layoff before the much anticipated game against the Dallas Stars in November 11, but for the most part, the Penguins will be without rest for the duration of November.

The Penguins will play on November 15, 17, 19, 21, 23, 25, 26 and 29th. That is a simply grueling end to an already difficult month.

October 3 Stars

I came up with a brief three stars list for the Penguins. None of this should be a surprise to anyone that has watched this team play through the first month of the year.

3. Kris Letang

This isn’t about points as much as it’s about ice time and defensive presence. Letang was eating up 29+ minutes a few times early this year, and will likely continue to do so in the absence of Zbynek Michalek.

Letang’s game has continued to evolve year over year. We saw a massive drop-off towards the end of the season and the talk of a potential Norris candidacy was quickly quelled. That being said, Letang is proving he can get it done without his offensive superstars, and it’s been a key and focal point for this team thus far.

2. James Neal

No surprise here. 9 goals in 13 games played. The puck is finding the back of the net, and it’s as simple as that.

It’ll be interesting to watch the progression of Neal as this year continues. Much has been made of Neal’s points-per-game average month over month. Typically, he starts hot, cools off, and eventually bounces back towards the spring.

The key with Neal is the lack of change in his game. He isn’t doing anything differently. Sometimes it’s as easy as the puck having eyes and getting into the net. Bounces are a huge part of hockey.

I don’t anticipate Neal to simply begin taking games off. Were the Stars struggling at the same time he was? What is the true cause for this dropoff? Nothing we’ve seen from Neal has indicated that he’s going to start taking games off.

We’re talking about a youngster that plays the game the right way every night. Bounces come and go, but the goals will stay if Neal continues to invest himself in the manner he has thus far.

1. Marc-Andre Fleury

Fleury is blossoming into an elite goaltender right before our eyes.

We’ve seen Fleury keep his emotions in check, reserve those highlight reel dives and acrobatic maneuvers for emergency situations, and really be the backstop that allows the Pittsburgh penalty kill to have a 93% success rate thus far.

Fleury’s 1.86 GAA is astounding. And he’s quietly been the MVP of this team yet again. For a guy that was vilified throughout points last year, he’s certainly proving that sans Sidney Crosby, the success of this team is going to flow through him.

It’s just been a treat to watch. For those of us that saw Fleury stop Esa Pirnes on a penalty shot back in October of 2003 inside Mellon Arena, we’ve been waiting for this dominance to emerge.