The Pittsburgh Penguins remained completely intact this week. As their rivals shipped away prime players at the NHL trade deadline, like Jakub Vrana from Washington to Detroit, and valuable assets like first-round picks and young NHL players, the Penguins swapped a couple of mid-round picks to add one player because they believe they already have part of the magic formula.
The Penguins believe they have a special chemistry.
From the general manager to the head coach, to the new players who have spent just 43 games in a Penguins sweater, the refrain was the words to the same song.
“The word chemistry is a big part of all this. And the chemistry that this group has right now, and has had the entire year, is special,” GM Ron Hextall said. “…I really like our chemistry. You can argue five of our top forwards have been out and for extended periods of time. And we’ve just kept winning games and guys are stepping up.”
Frederick Gaudreau, Radim Zohorna, and even Colton Sceviour have recently put a few pucks in the net. Sceviour was waived last Saturday. He cleared waivers on Sunday. Then netted his first two-goal game since 2017.
Their chemistry was a protected asset at the NHL trade deadline.
Who’s to argue? Hextall has a Stanley Cup ring from his work in Los Angeles, in which he was largely responsible for the wealth of young talent that put LA over the top in 2012. That same young talent carried LA to another Cup after Hextall got the Philadelphia Flyers GM gig in 2014.
Those LA teams dethroned the Chicago Blackhawks, who themselves won three Stanley Cups. The Philadelphia transplants, Hextall, Jeff Carter, and Mike Richards, were part of a tight group that also relied heavily on depth and young players.
Head coach Mike Sullivan has a pair of Stanley Cup rings, and it was arguably his handiwork to remold the mentally soft Pittsburgh Penguins and redevelop their chemistry in 2016 and 2017.
Sullivan sees it too.
“(At the trade deadline), we talked about what we felt the team needs were and how we could improve the group. We talked at length about the chemistry of the group and the importance of that. We really like how the group has come together this year, Sullivan said. “We think we’ve got really good chemistry in our dressing room. And we’ve all been cognizant of the fact that we don’t want to be disruptive to that. So that’s an important aspect, I think, of becoming a team in a true sense of the word.”
Before Thursday night, the Penguins scored four or more goals in six straight games. The franchise record was seven set from Dec. 1-14, 2016. The Penguins lost Thursday 2-1 in a shootout after a three-day layoff, which was admittedly a factor.
That 2016-17 Pittsburgh Penguins team was an experienced Stanley Cup winner that began to recover from their Stanley Cup hangover. At the 2017 NHL trade deadline, those Penguins uncharacteristically stayed quiet, too. As questions about the 2017 team’s fitness for a repeat Stanley Cup mounted, they flexed their muscle long enough to remind everyone the road to the Stanley Cup still ran through Pittsburgh.
The 2020-21 team is in a much different spot. Battered not by physical opponents but by injuries, the team has rallied around each other.
Come full circle to chemistry.
“I think the one benefit of us being in our own bubble here, whether it’s at home or on the road, I think it’s brought us even closer together than a regular-season would have … (In normal seasons), when you’re on the road, most guys are going off into different directions for dinner in smaller groups and things like that,” Penguins defenseman Mike Matheson said. “This year, we’ve been lucky enough to have a little lounge or a common room or something like that at the hotel when we’re playing on the road. Everybody’s just been hanging out there through the day and then ordering dinner together, eating dinner together. So it’s I think it’s been great in that sense.”
Hanging out. Hanging together. Chirping each other in the media. Those things are nice, but winning is the required result, or all of the bromances in the world won’t matter. This season, the Penguins have earned the Ws in part because of their chemistry. Hextall wouldn’t mess with it. Sullivan sees it. The players are enjoying it.
Maybe, just maybe, fans will get to enjoy it this summer, too.