Despite the visceral reaction to the lackluster performance on Thursday night, the Pittsburgh Penguins are a wildly different team. They are lightyears better than the team they’ve been in the last two seasons, and without significant players in their lineup, they’ve been better than their opponents. Thursday night in Boston was a bit of a clunker, and those happen.
One of the reasons it happened was Sidney Crosby.
No, Crosby did not display faulty play or gift Boston goals via turnovers. The Penguins underwent a significant change this week. They got their captain and best player back, and it is human nature to take a breath during the adjustment phase.
“They were quicker to second and third pucks,” said Patric Hornqvist, who also engaged in the first real fight of his long career. “You have to give them credit. They were in our faces, and we couldn’t really battle back. I don’t know why but luckier it happens now and get it out of the way. We have a new game tomorrow.”
One thing defining character trait of this Penguins team is they haven’t played two clunkers in a row.
The Pittsburgh Penguins center has been so good this season that he’s drawn comparisons to his 2012 Hart Trophy season. Zdeno Chara and Boston have always presented a unique challenge for Malkin.
Thursday night, Malkin’s decision making wasn’t as sharp as it needed to be. Malkin didn’t get pucks behind the Boston defense, but instead, he tried to carry pucks into the zone. That option wasn’t available as often as he tried.
He was credited with three turnovers and just two shots.
Crosby’s return will be the most significant adjustment for Malkin. Head coach Mike Sullivan doesn’t believe Malkin will drop off now that he isn’t required to save the day. However, historically, Malkin does slip back. It is something to watch.
“I think he will (maintain his elevated play). He’s had a certain drive since Day 1 of training camp this year. He’s really elevated his play through the first part of the season when we’ve had to endure all of the injuries,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “And he’s a huge part of the amount of wins we’ve been able to accumulate to this point.”
“I think Geno and Sid have the ability to be the best one-two punch in the game, or one and 1A, I should say.”
It would be a huge disappointment to see Malkin giveback the gains which he’s made this season. But let’s not sound the alarm over one game, or even a handful, eh?
The defenseman was tabbed as one of their four best D-men in the preseason by Sullivan. However, it hasn’t gone as well this season as it did last year. Perhaps the protracted contract negotiations in which the Penguins weren’t able to find the money they wanted to pay Pettersson, or it’s a young player feeling his way through things, but Pettersson hasn’t been as effective.
One reason he doesn’t appear as effective is his defensive partners. That’s not to blame Justin Schultz or John Marino, but they’re skilled puck movers and skaters. Last season, Pettersson meshed well with and was able to help elevate the play of the stay-at-home bruisers Jack Johnson and Erik Gudbranson. In turn, Pettersson’s defensive partners did the dirty work to keep Pettersson clear.
Now some of that dirty work falls on Pettersson, which is an entirely different game. However, the Penguins don’t have any right-side stay home defenders, so this will be Pettersson’s role.
Two weeks ago, Pittsburgh Hockey Now was able to report contract talks were set to begin and the Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford called the deal a priority. One has to wonder if this season’s play will affect the contract.
A Winger for Sid
Let’s play Devil’s advocate. Does Crosby really need a Jake Guentzel-replacement from the trade market? Can the Pittsburgh Penguins do better than Jared McCann on the trade market?
McCann gives the Penguins leverage in any trade talks because the Penguins don’t need to make a move. They could upgrade the right side, which is currently occupied by Dominik Simon, and if Rutherford chooses that route, the Penguins could make a good old fashioned hockey trade, too. On the right side, the Penguins have only Bryan Rust, who now appears attached to Malkin and Patric Hornqvist, but Hornqvist and Crosby don’t mix.
So, the current right side options for Crosby are Simon, Dominik Kahun, or to break up the Aston-Reese, Blueger, Tanev trio, which has been together nearly all season and put Brandon Tanev on that line.
However, “A winger for Sid” does sound like a Lifetime movie.
(Stick tap to Live Chat viewer Ellen for that joke).
Throughout the nine-day break, we’ll examine every possible winger on the market and some not on the public trade block. But don’t be shocked if the Penguins only nibble around the edges. Dominik Simon does have two points (1g, 1a) in the two games since Crosby returned. And he was one of the best Penguins forwards on Thursday night.