PITTSBURGH –Pittsburgh Penguins players and coaches put a positive spin on many things the Penguins did over the past month. As the losses piled up, the spin sometimes seemed more like denial than positive thinking. And so it must have been with great relief the Penguins 5-1 win over the Dallas Stars Wednesday night required no self-affirmation. The Penguins could breathe, finally, and feel good about themselves.
“Its something to build on. Definitely a convincing one at home, where we’ve struggled a little bit,” said winning goaltender Casey DeSmith. “To get a convincing win against a really good team, it’s going to go a long way…I hope.”
At the bottom of the Eastern Conference, the Penguins were flirting with disaster. If the Penguins struggles continued, or begin again, they could easily find themselves left behind by the pack.
DeSmith’s use of the qualifier, “I hope,” was genuine. It was he who called the win over the Arizona Coyotes back on Nov. 10, “a statement win.” In hindsight the statement was, “not done struggling,” but the Penguins have steadfastly insisted they have been close to breaking through. And now they have finally been rewarded.
Not just with a victory, but a shutdown win and complete 60-minute effort playing the type of hockey their coach has been imploring them to play. The Penguins played simply. Beyond heroics from their captain Sidney Crosby, they cycled the puck and dominated the offensive zone.
“I especially think three of the last four games, we’ve done some pretty good things, you know? You look at the last game, we were in control and made a few mistakes. Prior to that, even against Tampa here at home. We had a good start, a good lead and made a few mistakes,” said Crosby who couldn’t help but confirm the glass-half-full approach the Penguins have been presenting before getting to the heart of the matter.
“We’ve been trying the right way and have to get out of our own way a little bit,” Crosby continued. “I think we’ve done a better job of that and tonight was a good example.”
Wednesday night was more than an example. It was a culmination of the optimism and a nearly flawless display of the Penguins potential. The Penguins are not a bottom dwelling type team. They’ve got far too much talent, experience and carry with them the knowledge how to win the biggest games while dealing with headwinds of adversity.
“It’s certainly a great blueprint for success,” said head coach Mike Sullivan. “I thought we were much harder to play against. The quality of the chances we cut down significantly.”
The win over Dallas was the Penguins blueprint. They conquered themselves and weeks of losing to their worst. They’re professional athletes and also human. Doubt can be denied, confidence can be claimed, but actions speak louder than words. And so a win earned in resounding fashion by consistently executing in all three zones, in all phases, with the Penguins captain Sidney Crosby back in the lineup.
It was getting Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel to maintain pressure in the offensive without getting cute. Only once did that duo commit a costly turnover, and the Penguins limited the damage which allowed that line’s contributions to be entirely positive.
“Sometimes you make mistakes, they’re little ones and guys find a way to bail each other out,” as Sidney Crosby said Wednesday morning.
It wasn’t a statement win. Those come against good teams in big games. The Penguins already squandered their last “statement win” but this game was different. Perhaps losing humbled the Penguins enough to do the simple things. Perhaps their captain’s work ethic was contagious.
The Penguins didn’t let up, didn’t get fancy and they continued to defend.
And perhaps this win was enough of a reward after weeks of looking around the locker room wondering who could be next to go. Perhaps the win was enough of an incentive to maintain the commitment to Mike Sullivan’s “details.”
The win was definitely the blueprint and a huge sigh of relief.