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Friday musings: Crosby and Rakell, big wins go bad and the forgotten man

Giving Sidney Crosby more praise, the Rakell connection, why winning big might not always be good and how the Pens have a forgotten player waiting in the wings..

NHL: New York Islanders at Pittsburgh Penguins Mark Alberti-USA TODAY Sports

Random little takes bouncin’ around on a Friday...

—As written in the recap, the Penguins have an issue on defense. It’s not a red alert, major problem, but the output from Mark Friedman and Marcus Pettersson can’t be that satisfying right now. There could be something of a forgotten solution (or maybe “solution” if you’re skeptical) waiting in the wings.

Nathan Beaulieu’s acquisition by Pittsburgh is flying under the radar right now, and for good enough reason. He is hurt and only recently getting his legs back under him on the ice, and is stashed on LTIR. The team has no salary cap room to activate him until the start of the playoffs.

They also have no room right now to bring up Pierre-Olivier Joseph or another minor league defender, even though I tend to doubt just how much they would think an AHL player would be the answer to the NHL lineup this time of year.

Friedman only played 10:18 last night. Overall, in April, Friedman is averaging 12:55 per game in four appearances. Pettersson is a little over 15 minutes this month, also in four games. Could the Pens get 13-15 minutes out of Beaulieu in the playoffs in a sheltered third pair role? Don’t be surprised if they try to find out.

Did the Penguins’ 11-2 win over Detroit on March 27th actually...hurt them?

Sounds weird, but that offensive outburst might not have been the best thing. The team went 1-4-0 in the next five games against tougher competition.

As I often say, the Pens and Washington Capitals can be mirror images to a frightening degree, perhaps more than either side would be comfortable acknowledging. A similar situation has played out recently in Washington as what the Pens went through. The Caps bashed the Flyers 9-2 on Tuesday night. They followed that up with a terrible 7-3 loss to Toronto last night. This quote caught my eye.

In Pittsburgh’s case, bad habits developed in a blowout win doesn’t seem apply as much as the step up in competition factor did. It was jarring to go from a Detroit team that quite literally couldn’t make a save on them, to then playing Igor Shesterkin and Darcy Kuemper in four of the next five games.

But there could be something to the ebbs and flow of the way a team plays when they bask in the unusual glory of a huge win that makes it difficult to move on, subconsciously or otherwise, when the next game(s) are against much better teams.

That’s not to say teams shouldn’t try to win big, but in today’s NHL where parity largely reigns and it is incredibly difficult to win by huge margins, when it happens that could present a natural challenge moving forward.

The Pens have used Rickard Rakell with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and though it took a Bryan Rust illness, they have really found a developing fit in the Jake Guentzel, Crosby and Rakell line.

As Danny also pointed out, the Pens have scored nine goals in just 40 minutes with Crosby and Rakell on the ice at 5v5. At a certain point that kind of production becomes undeniable, much like in the spring of 2016. Carl Hagelin and Phil Kessel actually were playing with Evgeni Malkin before Malkin got hurt. Nick Bonino was seen as a temporary fill-in for Malkin, but the HBK trio was playing too well to split. Guentzel-Crosby-Rakell is getting to that same point now.

This is a win/win for Pittsburgh, because it means that Malkin’s “consolation prize” is getting to play with Bryan Rust, a point/game winger. Don’t think Geno has had that since the halcyon days of James Neal a decade ago.

Rakell has been such a great addition to the team. The production is there, the style of play is tailor-made to ride with a Pittsburgh elite center. It just so happens that, once again as we’ve seen so many times in recent history, it’s not with the center that it was probably intended to be upon the time of acquisition.

Sidney Crosby sits 20th in NHL scoring right now, 10th in points/game. That won’t generate a lot of league-wide buzz in the MVP race where Connor McDavid already has 110 points and Auston Matthews is knocking on the 60 goal door.

But Crosby’s play in the last week has shown that he’s as valuable as anyone in the league. With the Pens floundering on that four-game losing streak, Crosby responded with eight points (3G+5A) in the last three games and the Pens are 2-0-1 in that stretch and seemingly back on track.

As mentioned above, Rakell and especially Guentzel (with seven points in the last two games) are big factors as well. But with Malkin suspended, Rust sick and the team in dire straights, it’s been Crosby to step up and lead the way. That’s not a surprise by any means, as he’s had a career of excellence. Doesn’t mean one can’t take a second to step back and marvel over just how impressive it has been though.