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Three quick thoughts on the Penguins’ three-game winning streak

Things have quickly turned around for the Penguins.

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Winnipeg Jets James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports

Well now, things certainly escalated quickly around here.

After a pretty dismal start that seemed to show all of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ perceived flaws, they have pieced together three consecutive wins with varying degrees of dominance.

They scratched and clawed their way to a workmanlike 2-1 win over Anaheim, jumped out early in Minnesota then had to hold on at the end, and then completely dismantled the Jets in Winnipeg, returning the favor for what happened in the team’s first meeting in Pittsburgh.

Sidney Crosby put the team on his back, some of the young kids stepped up, and the Penguins seem to be playing a more disciplined, structured game to help get them to 4-2-0 and bring back some optimism. Sure, none of these past three opponents are particularly good (the Ducks’ early record is a mirage, the Wild stink, the Jets have no defense) but you can only play who they tell you to play, and if you want to be a good team you have to take care of business and bank points against the bad teams.

A few thoughts on this recent surge.

  1. They have found some offense without Evgeni Malkin

I know what is coming.

Right now at this very second somebody, somewhere in the city of Pittsburgh is looking at these past three games without Evgeni Malkin and formulating a thought in their head that, DAMMIT, MAYBE THIS TEAM IS BETTER WITHOUT EVGENI MALKIN.

Maybe it is a friend of yours. Maybe it is a relative. Maybe it is your neighbor.

Hell, maybe it is you (how dare you).

Do not allow that to happen.

While it is easy to jump to the conclusion that the team started playing better without Malkin they are still a better team with an all-time great player in their lineup because it is just common sense. To throw a cross-sport analogy into the mix, I liken this current surge to the Pittsburgh Steelers winning a game with Devlin Hodges at quarterback. For one game, or a short stretch of games, you can scheme and gameplan and structure your way to a win with an undermanned team or fill-in player. In the short-term, you can get by. In the long-run, however, talent tends to win out. Heck, just go back to the 2010-11 Penguins. For half of the season that team played without Sidney Crosby and Malkin and won 49 games and went 20-11-4 down the stretch without their two superstars. That is a 102-point pace over 82 games. They made it work, but no sane person was going to argue they were better off without two hall of famers. Eventually, the lack of talent won out when it came down to crunch time and they could not stack up a lot of shootout wins.

The Penguins have shown time and time again over the years that they can get by when one of the top players is out, but every time the longer they are out the more it starts to become obvious that they do, in fact, miss them.

2. The first line works as is

Not going to lie, folks, I was very satisfied to see Dominik Simon score a goal in Winnipeg if only to justify the continued existence of his spot alongside Crosby and Jake Guentzel.

I know, he doesn’t score goals. Yeah, that can be frustrating. Sure, you would like to see your top-line player score goals. But the line as a whole WORKS, and if the line itself is scoring more goals that is the only thing that matters. On top of that, Simon is a good hockey player (and as an added bonus Crosby himself likes playing next to him) that keeps plays alive, is good defensively, and a strong playmaker. By every objective measure they have performed better when they are together than they have when they apart.

There is also this: Not only does the first line play better when Simon is there, but I am not entirely convinced that he is not the best current option the team has at right wing, even with Patric Hornqvist’s early goal-scoring resurgence.

3. The new faces are doing just what is needed

Probably the most important development over the past few games has been the fact that recent call-ups have made a surprisingly big impact.

For as great as Crosby and the top line is they can not score all of the goals while Malkin is sidelined, (and even when Malkin comes back, the top two lines can not score all of the goals, either).

Adam Johnson scored a big goal in Minnesota.

Sam Lafferty has THREE goals in two games.

Zach Aston-Reese, who had a very disappointing start to the season, emerged with a huge game in Winnipeg.

As long as the bottom-six is pieced together the way it is the first thing I want to see from them is to not get scored on and put the the team in a whole. The second thing is trying to chip in the occasional goal. So far, so good.