The Pittsburgh Penguins have broken out of their season-long slumber.
All of the troublesome problems from the first half of the season suddenly seem to be vanishing in the rear-view mirror. Lackluster play? Gone. Poor starts to games? Nope. Porous goaltending? Not a problem. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin slumping? Not any more.
This is the shift most Pens fans have been waiting for. It has been obvious for most of the season that the Pens were under-performing. The most common explanation has been championship hangover, loss of a few veteran players, and possibly the untimely injury or two. While those things might have had some effect, it seems that what the Pens needed more than anything was something to fight for, and few pairs of fresh legs.
Sid and the Kids 2.0
I could have sworn I coined the term “Sid and the Kids 2.0” first, but then I heard it on TV so I can’t claim it. At any rate, there is no denying that bringing up Daniel Sprong and Dominick Simon to play alongside Sidney Crosby has completely elevated Crosby’s compete level. Crosby’s desire to lead by example serves him very well when paired with young energetic players. That much is for certain – same thing happened last year with Sheary and Guentzel. This year’s Kids look to have even more potential – this should be exciting to watch.
Perhaps by osmosis, Evgeni Malkin has new energy as well. That one is a bit harder to explain but I’ll take it. This is the Malkin I was waiting for, wining races to pucks, battling, and most importantly FIRING the puck from the slot when he gets a chance. Maybe moving Kessel to the third line forces Malkin to be more of the focus of his line again? I’ll give some credit to Head Coach Mike Sullivan on this one. Whatever has happened is working.
Fourth Line is a Force
I really did expect this for a long time. With the acquisition of Ryan Reeves, you could see the formation of a physical, energy line forming. The main hindrance has been poor play of the other lines, which caused Sullivan to shorten the bench more times than he would have liked. With the additional energy and firepower from Sprong and Simon, now Sullivan has the luxury of spreading the wealth a bit and moving Kessel to the third line to get more balance. The Pens can truly roll four lines and keep the energy level up.
Murray Get Well Soon
I am not sure what is going on with Matt Murray. There are rumors of injury, family problems, fatigue, or just plain bad luck. Hopefully he will get through whatever has been hounding him so far this season. It speaks volumes about the depth in goal, that we can be without the services of two-time Cup winner Murray and hardly miss a beat with up-and-coming Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith. Seems like ages ago when we didn’t even have a quality backup behind Murray.
January Outlook – Winter Storms
I am really hoping this is the turning point of the season. At the time of this writing, the Pens just handled the Wings and the Rangers on consecutive nights – in convincing fashion. I expect some more strong hockey this month, with the Pens re-asserting themselves as one of the true contenders for the Cup.
I always say – the NHL season is a marathon not a sprint. You have to be patient through slumps, and hope your team trends in the right direction. For the time being, the stars are shining again in Pittsburgh, and buzzsaw hockey is back!. I’m loving every minute of it – for Pittsburgh Penguins fans, 2018 is looking pretty good so far.