Many wondered–players and coaches included–how the defending Stanley Cup champions would handle the pressure that is attached to opening night and weekend glitter like an umbilical chord to an infant.
A let up would’ve been understandable, if not outright acceptable.
But the Pittsburgh Penguins–a team that has evolved into a resilient, never-say-never bunch since day one of the Sidney Crosby Era–lived up to its reputation two-fold, defeating the Empire State on consecutive nights, beginning with the New York Rangers, 3-2, Friday night and the New York Islanders, 4-3 in a shootout, the following evening.
“It’s not an easy week,” said Dan Bylsma–who is in his first full season as head coach.
But the next few days will be after getting through the first of 16 back-to-back game challenges with two wins and having three days off before resuming play Wednesday night against the financially-troubled Phoenix Coyotes at Mellon Arena.
After just two regular season games, the Penguins have experienced a little bit of everything; hype entering a game (Banner Night and John Tavares NHL debut); holding onto a lead; coming from behind, and winning in a shootout.
The Penguins came out of the first set of challenges unscathed, but the sluggish play for most of the game against the New York Islanders served as an early reminder of the fine line between winning and losing games.
“It’s not often you can play just 20 good minutes and win the game,” defenseman Mark Eaton said.
“We were fortunate to get the win.”
Bylsma shared a similar sentiment.
“We could have mailed it in and said it’s not our night. We put our nose down, went to work as a group and were able to scratch out two points,” he said.
It wasn’t all good against the Rangers or all bad against the Islanders. Skill, depth and experience balanced things out and many positives emerged:
-Captain Sidney Crosby seems poised to break the 40-goal plateau, scoring two goals in as many games–including a shootout winner against the Islanders.
-Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has carried over last year’s superb play into this season, making timely highlight reel saves in both games.
-The Cooke: Staal: Kennedy troika picked up right where it left off from last season as the team’s most consistent line.
-The balance of offensive-minded and defensive-minded defenseman has so far been a weapon; Sergei Gonchar, Alex Goligoski and Kris Letang each have two points after two games.
-Secondary scoring, considered the team’s achilles heal, has delivered. Ruslan Fedotenko, Tyler Kennedy and defenseman Eaton have each scored a goal.
The final exam is months away, but the Penguins have passed their first few tests and quizzes.