by Tony on 03/07/11 at 10:46 PM ET
If you would have told me on Feb. 4th, when Evgeni Malkin had his knee blown out vs. Buffalo, with Sidney Crosby already being out of the lineup a month, that the Penguins would be a mere two points away from not only the Atlantic Division lead but the Eastern Conference lead, I would have told you that you were out of your frickin’ gourd.
Yes, as of today the Flyers have two games in hand over the Penguins, so it’s not quite that close most likely. But the fact that the Penguins have not only kept their collective heads above water while their depleted roster slowly but surely gets healthy, they’re within at least striking distance of gaining additional home ice advantages in the playoffs.
And they’ll be getting even healthier in the next few weeks, with Chris Kunitz, Arron Asham and Brooks Orpik due to return. Of course, Mr. Crosby remains the penultimate wildcard. If he comes back, I’m not sure I’d like the Penguins as my playoff opponent. I’m not really sure I’d like them in the playoffs as is right now, in fact.
But here’s the question: How the hell are they doing it?
Well, in all sports, not just in the professional ranks, but all the way down to the little tikes, there is a certain intangible attribute that makes a significant impact during the course of a game. Quite often it doesn’t get mentioned, getting overlooked by the flashy aspects of the game, like home runs, touchdowns, goals, etc.
After all, scoring the most points is the object to win the game, no?
But when the teams are fairly evenly matched, or even when one team is more talented but isn’t inspired on a given night, often it comes down to that intangible: Who wants it more.
Right now, with not only Crosby and Malkin out of the lineup, but Kunitz as well, goals are certainly at a premium. But the Penguins have been staying in most games because of their absolutely impressive work ethic. Their combination of speed and hustle is making life difficult for their opposition. They often don’t get a clear opportunity to get the puck out of their zone, the Penguins’ forecheck is simply relentless. They’re out-working teams to gather in loose pucks and using their speed to put the defense on their heels.
They may not be able to generate that many goals, but their stifling defense, great goaltending and hustle among their four lines nearly overcomes the lack of offense.
Their recent acquisitions of James Neal, Matt Niskanen and Alex Kovalev have improved their play in the opponent’s zone, although they haven’t lit the lamp with very much frequency just yet. But with the Penguins garnering points in seven of their last nine games, they’ve held their own in remaining in the #4 spot in the Eastern Conference standings.
It’s going to be interesting to see how the Penguins will fare with this tenacious group when Neal starts putting those hard wristers to the back of the net instead of just missing. When Kunitz gets back in the lineup and seeing how he fares somewhere on the first two lines with a center not named Crosby. When the defense gets completely healthy in a couple of weeks upon Orpik’s return. And finally, the obvious one, how this team will perform if and when a certain #87 returns.
If Crosby doesn’t return, chances of a long Cup run naturally get diminished. But the Penguins’ work ethic ensures that while they may not have the horses to score multiple goals every game, and in the end they might not win the playoff series, they’re gonna make sure that you work your ass off if you do win.
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Welcome to The Confluence, a Pittsburgh Penguins blog since 2006.
Originally at Blogspot, then at MVN, TheConfluence has over 1500 articles reporting Penguins news as well as jumping on my soapbox to opine constructive Penguins criticism.
I am blogger- credentialed with the Pittsburgh Penguins. My posts are regularly linked by hockey websites such as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh Tribune Review, Yahoo!‘s Puck Daddy, and I’ve done numerous guest blogger spots on such websites asthe New YorkTimes. I am a retired U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer.
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