Just what are the Pittsburgh Penguins building – or building toward? It’s a question they have pondered. They like their answer, although they aren’t all keen on discussing it at length.
With captain and team heartbeat Sidney Crosby back after sports hernia surgery, with the team sitting fourth in the NHL after 46 games, having gone 13-3-1 in its past 17 games, perhaps it’s time to admit the club has something special happening.
Certainly, that seems to be a popular public sentiment.
The Penguins have dealt with significant injuries all season. Crosby, in his return Tuesday, had a goal and three assists in a 7-3 win over Minnesota. That seemed to accentuate the public sentiment that this club has the makings of a strong Stanley Cup contender.
Defenseman Jack Johnson was up front about it. His evaluation went something along the lines of, heck yeah.
“We’ve felt that since the beginning,” Johnson said Wednesday after practice at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex and before the team flew to Boston for a game Thursday against the Bruins.
“There might be a groundswell of it now that (Crosby) is back, but we felt that months ago – knowing that this team is capable of doing something special.”
Winger Patric Hornqvist was a little more cautious but is just as much of a believer.
“We feel it in here,” he said. “We’re playing the right way over and over. It doesn’t matter who’s in or out of our lineup. We play hard for each other, and I think that’s a big start.
“We still have a long way to go, but I like the way we are playing and the way we continue to be better. As we know, it’s a long road ahead of us … but we like what we’ve got right now.”
Apparently, for a couple Penguins, the first rule of Cup club is you don’t talk about Cup club.
“We try not to,” winger Bryan Rust said. “I think we’re just having fun, taking things day by day.”
Rust, however, couldn’t help but expound on what is special about the Penguins.
“You can see off the ice we’ve become such a close team. I think everybody’s close to everybody. We all come to the rink. We all have fun. We all have smiles on our faces,” Rust said.
“That’s the start, and then we go on the ice and everybody’s working for each other, doing their job. It’s not just for one or two nights. I think we’re doing it pretty consistently. That’s the mark of a good team – to be able to bring that consistency. You see in past years, the teams that do that toward the end of the year, down the stretch and into the playoffs. If we can continue to do that, it will be easier to have the most success.”
Forward Jared McCann was better able to stay true to the idea that it’s safer not to ponder the team’s potential, no matter how great it might seem.
“No, we’re just taking it one game at a time. I know that sounds kind of cliché, but that’s the way we’re going to look at it,” McCann said.
“There’s been times in the past where teams let it go, so we’re not going to be one of those teams. We’re going to keep moving forward, keep trying to get better.”