Evgeni Malkin spanked his team after the opening game of the season which was a flat loss to the Buffalo Sabres. While Sidney Crosby is not one to publicly air his grievances, is anyone going to ignore one of the all-time greats when he issues a challenge or demand? As the Pittsburgh Penguins have managed to win more games than they’ve lost despite a roster which has been beaten up by injuries, they have recently been on a comeback streak.
The Penguins trailed Boston 3-0, the New York Islanders 3-0, and the Chicago Blackhawks 2-0 before rallying to tie the game. The Penguins beat New York and Chicago in overtime and the shootout, respectively.
For a team that relies on hard work for offense far more than they used to, the comebacks were especially impressive. The locker room universally credited leadership for laying the foundation for the rallies.
“We know we’ve got great leadership in the room. When it comes to Sid [sic] and Geno [sic], those guys give it to us straight up,” acknowledged Jared McCann. “They don’t mess around. They’ve been in the league for a long time, and we try to listen to them.”
That’s true. Crosby and Malkin have been around. They’ve lifted three Stanley Cups since 2009 and been through the ups and downs of expectations, success, and failure. The pair could coast at this point in their career, but there is a renewed purpose in the locker room this season.
The Penguins also have some bigger comebacks in mind.
The words which have echoed in the locker room since September may not be dramatically different than the past iterations, but the emphasis and conviction are different. From Malkin feeling the burden of his battles with father time and the changing NHL game to Crosby’s terminal need for success, the Penguins renewed purpose to correct recent failures has been a no-nonsense charge.
“I think it shows a lot of character in this room that we’re able to battle back,” Bryan Rust said of their recent wins.
The character was also on full display without five of their top nine forwards, when Malkin, McCann, Rust, Nick Bjugstad, and Patric Hornqvist missed games, and the Penguins still won games. The patchwork desperation led by Crosby is 10-6-1, but Crosby may be the latest to be out with an injury, too. Crosby left the game Saturday, and the Penguins said they might have more information today.
“Obviously, he’s our leader. He’s the best player in the world, so if he’s out, we’ll miss him for sure,” Penguins goalie Matt Murray said of Sidney Crosby.
More about leadership.
The Penguins are attempting to climb another hill which has not been climbed in the salary cap era. They’re trying for a third act with the same core, and they’ve undergone a stealth shift to a gritty, speed game with a young and deep roster instead of a top-heavy talent pool.
But the old guys are still leading the way.
“The last two games, we’ve really shown our character, coming back in both games and strong third periods shows a lot of resiliency,” Murray said. “In both of the last two games, the second periods didn’t go our way, and we didn’t let that deter us. It’s awesome to see.”
It might be just Malkin leading the locker room for a while, and the plethora of significant injuries may eventually do more than keep the Penguins in the middle of the Eastern Conference. But if the Penguins stumble because Crosby is out of the lineup, a comeback doesn’t seem out of the question.
And if needed, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin can give it to them straight.