Should all acquaintance be forgot. For some reason, we humans use an arbitrary point in our revolution around a gaseous star to take stock and purge the worst of ourselves. Some of us have more purging than others. But if we do an accounting of the good things, we can get some good answers, too. To that end, Pittsburgh Hockey Now asked a simple question of Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan, forward Evan Rodrigues, and others chimed in, too, about the ride of 2021.
What is the one thing you like about this year’s Pittsburgh Penguins?
“I think I just like the resilience of the group. I think that–for me–is the most valuable attribute that this group has shown. You know, day in, day out is just their willingness to embrace any challenge that comes our way,” Sullivan began. “And there’s been a fair amount of (challenges)…And I think because of that, we’ve been able to find ways to win games through some difficult challenges.”
The Penguins are no longer alone in missing significant talent. COVID has been throwing haymakers across the NHL, though no significant illness has been reported in the league, with only one unvaccinated player.
Believe it or not, the Penguins are also getting players back from injury too. Evgeni Malkin looks more like himself every day. Friday at practice, he used his near-patented move to go around defensemen when he pulled the puck between his skates and kicked it back to his forehand.
Bryan Rust is back at full participation, as is Jake Guentzel. Both are probable for Sunday. Malkin is likely the only player on the injured list when the Penguins hit the ice on Sunday against the San Jose Sharks.
Editor’s Note: Jason Zucker is out week-to-week, too.
On Thursday, Evgeni Malkin said he would not be ready for another seven to 10 days. Still, like you, I’m also wondering if the length of the Penguins COVID protocol list (eight players) might force him to move up his timetable for limited minutes.
That would be another emblem of the Penguins resilience. That or winning with less than 18 skaters. The Penguins currently have only five defensemen, even with the practice squad.
“And for me, that’s one of the things that I’ve always loved about this group of players that we have. We have tremendous leadership. No one ever looks for excuses. It’s a next-man-up mindset, and we believe that we have what it takes to win,” Sullivan said. “And the expectation is–regardless of who’s in our lineup, on any given night that we have–we have what it takes to win, and then everybody needs to live up to that responsibility and what it means to be a Pittsburgh Penguin.”
Pittsburgh Hockey Now also posed the question to Evan Rodrigues. We’ve asked him similar questions in the past, such as–what is different this season that is allowing him to unlock the potential?
His answer has consistently been “confidence and opportunity.”
We turned the question a little differently on Friday. What has he liked about his game and the team this season? Rodrigues, 28, skipped the individual part of the answer and went right to the team.
“I think as a team, just our next-man-up mentality that we’ve had from Day One through either COVID or injuries or whatever it may be. We’ve had guys step up all year, whatever position they’re put in. Guys have embraced the challenge and embraced the role they’ve been put in,” Rodrigues said. “And you know, that’s something I think that’s led to the success we’ve had so far.”
“We’re getting healthier now, and guys are starting to come back, and we have to just continue to do our job and start to make make a serious push here.”
The Penguins would appear to have a lineup capable of a serious push. With a revolving door at the top of the lineup, the Penguins pushed to within the equivalent of a couple of games of the top of the Eastern Conference and the top of the Metro Division.
I don’t think a serious push is out of their range. Last year’s first-round playoff loss is probably unfairly lumped with the previous two failures. Yes, any first-round loss for this team is a failure, but they played their best series in three years and should have won. With a year and some experience on Tristan Jarry’s resume, yeah, you can go ahead and open the door to possibility.
This same website said on Jan. 1, 2016, the Pittsburgh Penguins had something special cooking, and it was worth 34 pounds of silver. Yes, we missed last season, but a little something is cooking this season, too. They’re better (deeper, grittier) than the Washington Capitals and maybe a bit better than the Carolina Hurricanes, too.
Mark it down.
Pittsburgh Hockey Now Readers:
So what do readers, who didn’t know what Mike Sullivan or Evan Rodrigues said, have to say? Sorry, we couldn’t include everyone’s response, but thanks for the dozens of Twitter responses:
— J🍩ey Bag 🍩f D🍩nuts 🍩 (@joeybagovdonuts) January 1, 2022
depth scoring and commitment to team defense
— David B (@D_Bischoff) January 1, 2022
— Nick Robertson (@NickRob1087) January 1, 2022
Their depth at forward.
— David Thomas (@DavidTh73302788) January 1, 2022
— EE (@eeisenman) January 1, 2022
Their team defense and stellar goaltending, especially the rebound from Jarry.
— Swearengen (@Swearengen95) January 1, 2022
— 𝙹𝚘𝚑𝚗 𝙷𝚊𝚗𝚜 (@Johnhansjr) January 1, 2022
And close to Jim Colony’s heart:
— Jim D. (@JimD54220320) January 1, 2022