Heading into the two-game road trip at Winnipeg and at Colorado Wednesday and Thursday, the Pittsburgh Penguins knew it was going to be a tall task going against two of the league’s top offenses without the services of guys like Patric Hornqvist and Justin Schultz.
But after topping Winnipeg 4-3 to snap an 0-7-1 stretch this season when trailing after two periods of play, it seemed like a turning point in the season for Pittsburgh. However, a slow start Wednesday in Denver against the Avalanche seemed to nullify that, at least until Sidney Crosby willed the Pens back from a 3-0 deficit to score a natural hat trick, knotting the game at 3-3. Granted, the Pens ended up falling 6-3 to the Avalanche, but this two-game road trip seems to have the Pens back on track.
Following the slow start in altitude against the Avalanche that saw the Pens go back to their sloppy ways of bad area passes in their own zone and a lack of effort trying to win loose pucks, Crosby’s run of stellar play snapped the Pens back into a disciplined, hungry mindset that has them playing like a force to be reckoned with at times.
Wednesday’s loss marks the first regulation loss against one of the league’s top teams. Prior to Wednesday’s defeat, the Pens went toe-to-toe with teams such as Boston, Buffalo, Winnipeg, Dallas, and Columbus, taking 8 of a possible 10 points without that regulation defeat. When the competition level is high and the lights are bright, the Pens look like a Cup-caliber club.
Turn that around though and the Pens have lost to teams such as New Jersey (twice), the New York Islanders (twice), Vancouver (twice), Montreal (twice), and Ottawa. They’re playing good hockey against great teams, yet seem to coast against poor teams, leading to some bad losses.
Which leads us back to the two-game road trip against two Western Conference powers. The performances remind me a lot of the Canada road trip in October when the Penguins looked like world beaters, rolling through the likes of Toronto, Edmonton and Calgary. What Pittsburgh failed to do after that was maintain that level of commitment and want-to at both ends of the ice. The key after this two-game road swing is to return home and keep it rolling against the Philadelphia Flyers.
The fourth line finally showed up against the Jets, scoring two goals, while Crosby has the top line clicking at a ridiculous pace right now. Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel are playing solid two-way hockey at the moment, but they just aren’t seeing results offensively. The chances are there, though, make no mistake.
With the way Crosby has the top line rolling right now, and a steadying presence in net with Casey DeSmith, the time is now for the Penguins to get on a roll. Pittsburgh has three straight home games starting Saturday against the Flyers before the Avalanche and Islanders come to town Tuesday and Thursday. If this group wants to get going, there’s no better time than now. The arrow is pointing up throughout the lineup, and the confidence and swagger seems to have returned.