All things considered, the Penguins recently completed five-game road trip was a good one. The Pens earned 6 out of a possible 10 points, going 2-1-2. Pittsburgh did more than tread water away from home – the team played well overall and actually gained ground on division-leader Philadelphia in the process. After a disastrous 4-1 loss in Carolina to kick the trip off, the Pens earned a point in the next four games. They got three out of four against two of the hottest teams in the entire league.
So, how’d they do it? Well, the Pens got outstanding goaltending from Brent Johnson Saturday in New Jersey and from Marc-Andre Fleury Sunday in Boston. They got a herculean effort from their defense in those same games. (Paul Martin’s 35:26 of ice time against the Devils was one of the most impressive individual performances of the season.) And they also got a couple of great offensive games from unlikely sources – namely Matt Niskanen in Toronto March 2 and Dustin Jeffrey against the Bruins.
But, most importantly, this team may finally be coming into its own without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. You could see it against New Jersey and Boston. Both the Devils and Bruins were red-hot, but the Pens were not outplayed and were not intimidated. In both games, Pittsburgh overcame adversity. They were forced to play over two periods in New Jersey without Kris Letang. Then they had to deal with blowing a lead in the final minute in Boston.
When the regular season winds down, we might be able to point to this road trip as a turning point for the Pens, particularly those last two games. The Pens have a favorable schedule coming up with home games Tuesday against Buffalo (eighth in the East), Saturday against Montreal (sixth in the East) and Sunday vs. Edmonton (last in the West) before traveling to Ottawa (last in the East) next Tuesday. With the Flyers losing four straight and holding a slim two-point lead over the Pens, albeit with two games in hand, now is the time for Pittsburgh to put together a successful home stand.