Six random thoughts and musings about what we've learned about the Pittsburgh Penguins and their top six forwards in the past 48 hours:
``Sidney Crosby got called out on his defensive game (even here at Pensburgh), and a general Olympic hangover that had him in a 1 goal and 5 assist slump in the five games after Sochi...And yes, it's a little ridiculous that six points in five games could be considered a slump- but for Crosby it can- when he is held scoreless in two games and only gets a total of 5 shots on goal in the five games.
So how did Crosby respond in facing a rival in Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals in a back-to-back? 1 goal, 2 assist night followed by a goal the next. Throw in winning 69% of his faceoffs on the two nights and some attentive defensive play and it all adds up for a great series for Crosby, who was on the ice for 4 goals for, and none against. Not that a reminder was necessary, but we again saw just who the best player in the world is.
``A key to Crosby's turn-around could be the play of Lee Stempniak. The Pens new acquisition has been the best fit on the Crosby-Chris Kunitz line since Pascal Dupuis got injured, because he shares more attributes and characteristics than anyone who's auditioned for the job. On Crosby's goal last night, Stempniak crashed into the boards and bumped the puck out for Sid to streak up the ice. That's exactly the type of play Dupuis makes, and precisely what the Pens have been missing since he was hurt in December.
Stempniak, in just three games on the top line, has 3 assists. Consider that Brian Gibbons has spent 122 minutes at even strength with Crosby and only has 1 goal and 3 assists to show for all that time. More importantly than how the complimentary player performs is how the star performs with him. Crosby only has 1 goal and 4 assists while Gibbons is on the ice. Sid already has 1 goal and 2 assists with Stempniak, in much less time.
Getting Crosby going at even-strength is a major key for the Penguins future playoff success, and it's looking like Lee Stempniak is going to be the guy to try and do it.
``Speaking of Olympic hangovers, a lot has been made and read into about Evgeni Malkin and his disposition. He's clearly still bothered by his team's failures in Sochi, and that shouldn't be a surprise. It was a big deal and he cared a lot, and he'll always have a bad memory from those games and his inability to turn the tide. But Malkin's play hasn't wavered for the Pens- his steal of the puck directly led to Jussi Jokinen ‘s eventual game winning goal last night. Malkin has a goal and seven assists in the seven games since Sochi, including a current five game point streak.
``And Malkin's accomplishing that without much contribution from his favorite linemate. James Neal has 2 goals and 2 assists in the seven games since Sochi, but only has one point in his last five games. But, with 5 shots last night against the Caps, don't bet on Neal staying cold forever. It's a thin line between a rut and a groove for someone as talented as him.
``One last Caps note that I dug up last night and shared on twitter- Washington hasn't defeated Pittsburgh when Sidney Crosby's been on the ice since the Winter Classic on Heinz Field on 1/1/11. The last nine times Crosby has dressed, he's beaten the Caps. The Pens have a current 8 game overall win streak against them, and he missed a game in the interim.
``Jussi Jokinen, somewhat quietly, has 23 points in his last 26 games. To have a support player that close to a point/game over such a long stretch is a huge testament to him and also the offensive might of the team. Jokinen's 46 points on the season would put him 3rd on the next opponent, the Flyers, for the season. In Pittsburgh, he's 5th. It's important but Jokinen having more assists on the season than Chris Kunitz shows JJ36 is touching the puck a lot and helping contribute to success without a ton of juicy #1 power play unit minutes.
And a question to leave you with- given Jokinen's year, how much is he worth to the Pens to consider keeping around? For a player a few weeks shy of his 31st birthday, how much term is too much? Has Jokinen's performance and production this season given you more reason to think he deserves the money/years it'll take to retain him for next season and beyond? Or are the Pens better off spending that money elsewhere and trying to look for another alternative to fill the spot?
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