It doesn’t take high-end math skills to make the call. Nothing much more than a calendar, actually. The days of the Pittsburgh Penguins claiming that the season is still young are over. Or they should be.
That comes from a highly credible voice. Pittsburgh Hockey Now on Monday pointed out to team captain Sidney Crosby that it was very nearly one-third of the way into the schedule, and asked him – it’s not early anymore, is it?
“No,” Crosby said definitively. “It’s not.
“We’re in December now. It goes by quick, but I wouldn’t say it’s early anymore. That’s over.”
At 10-10-5 riding a two-game losing streak going into a game Tuesday night against the Colorado Avalanche, the Penguins have spent a majority of the season trying to push, pull, tug or will themselves to the level of play associated with a team that has won two Stanley Cups in the past three years.
“We’ve just got to find consistency,” Crosby said. “We’ve got to find ways to not hurt ourselves in games with big mistakes, and if we do make them, we’ve got to find a way to bail each other out of those mistakes – get some big plays or big goals, whatever it is.”
General manager Jim Rutherford has made two trades, and more could be on the horizon if the team doesn’t pull above that flat line that the horizon represents. It should be noted, though, that Monday’s move to acquire Marcus Pettersson from Anaheim for winger Daniel Sprong probably was more about Sprong’s no-man’s-land status than the team’s play.
Defenseman Brian Dumoulin thinks playing the high-flying Avalanche is good timing for the Penguins, despite the fact that in a game last week in Colorado Crosby’s natural hat trick erased a three-goal deficit, only to have the Avalanche pull away for a 6-3 win.
“I think it helps playing teams like Colorado,” Dumoulin said. “They’re a structured team. For us to beat them, we have to be structured, too. If we do that and we play hard against these guys, then it could lead to follow-up games and us playing well again.”
The biggest challenge, of course, is slowing Colorado’s top line of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen. A three-headed monster, in Penguins terms.
Colorado’s top three forwards are also some of the top players in the NHL. They have combined for 36 goals, 118 points. Rantanen leads the league with 45 points, MacKinnon is second with 43 points, and Landeskog is in the top 20 with 30 points.
“They’ve got speed. They’ve got skill. They’re strong,” Pittsburgh defenseman Brian Dumoulin said of the top Avalanche line. “They’re hard on pucks. They’re a dynamic group. If we can shut them down, that goes a long way.”
In the game last week, MacKinnon had a goal and three assists, Landeskog a goal and an assist, and Rantanen two assists.
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said that line is good enough that he and his staff invest time in coming up with ways to counterpunch, as opposed to simply coming up with a game plan for the Penguins.
“That was something that we talked about (last week),” Sullivan said, but he used also the opportunity to get in a plug for the Penguins.
“We’ve got some pretty good players on our team, too. They’re just not all on the same line.”
No, as of right now the Penguins’ top three forwards – Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel – are on three separate lines.
Crosby is the only one of the three lately who is producing as a commensurate level. He has six goals, 10 points in six games since returning from an injury.