After jumping out to the top of the standings in the Eastern Conference and the NHL early, the Pittsburgh Penguins have come back to earth a little, losing three of the past four games, including a couple of close ones late.
Losing is disappointing, frustrating, and often not acceptable in the NHL. But it's more important to take a look at the big picture.
- Jordan Staal has emerged as a full force and at times has looked like a true man amongst boys, especially last game against the Panthers. With linemates like Matt Cooke and Pascal Dupuis crashing the net with impunity, Staal has found space and the puck has seemingly followed him around- as it always seems to amongst great players. Staal now has 10 goals in 18 games (he had 11 in his injury shortened 42 games last year) and is producing to his promise. Which is very promising.
- Evgeni Malkin has 5 or more shots in five of the last six games. Geno's at his best when he's going to the net and putting the puck to the net and he's doing just that. True, he only has 1 goal in this stretch, but the chances are what matters and it'd be a much bigger problem if the big guy wasn't getting any.
Yeah, just two points to be made, even though other guys like Chris Kunitz and Matt Niskanen are contributing as well. But other than goaltending, the two straws that have to stir the drink right now are Malkin and Staal. And they are carrying their weight, even if the game results haven't been so rosey lately.
The Pens won't and probably can't be first place forever without Sidney Crosby. He's the face of the franchise and league. He's getting closer and closer to returning. Even if he's not as explosive, confident and productive as he was before the concussion, his timing will come back. The talent hasn't left.
Zbynek Michalek's broken finger is on the mend, he'll be back soon and the Pens won't have to lean on Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin so much- which ought to improve all of their performances. Perhaps more importantly, they won't have to shetler lesser defenders from a bigger role or tougher competition than they'd otherwise play.
Stay above water, Pens fans. The team has done a good job of it, in the big picture. Stay the course. It may be Thanksgiving next week, but Hockey Christmas is coming soon when Crosby returns.