After an incredible six game win streak, the Penguins were able to enjoy a few days off in between games. This lead them to Thursday vs the New Jersey Devils. Pens fans thought that the Devils were low in the standings, this should be win number seven in a row for their hometown team. Then the starting lineup is posted, New Jersey is starting Wedgewood in net. Scott Wedgewood is a rookie and would be playing his second game ever in the NHL against the up tempo, high scoring, Pittsburgh Penguins. Then fans thoughts went to, “aww that poor kid is going to get lit up in his second game, this will be an easy win.”
But enough of about the Devils and how well they played the Penguins and giving their rookie goalie his first shutout. Let’s talk about how the Black and Gold didn’t show up for this one. There is something about the Penguins locker room, where there is a stigma that involves playing down to weaker opponent’s level. The players have even admitted to this. This month alone has shown what happens when the Penguins play by far inferior teams, with four points lost to Calgary and New Jersey. Those are absolutely four points a playoff pushing team wants to have. Unfortunately, there is not much that Mike Sullivan and his staff can do for those situations. It is a mental and all the coaching staff can do is prepare the team throughout the week and remind them that playing down to a weaker opponent is unacceptable. Remind the team to play Penguins hockey and make the other team play their game. After that it’s on the heads of those 20 guys who put on that black and gold sweater to take it upon themselves to play the right way. It didn’t happen on Thursday and the Devils suffocated the Pens in the neutral zone and keep the shots to perimeter without second chances.
However, the weekend wasn’t done, the Penguins had yet another back to back weekend. Could they make it two back to backs in a row with wins? It was once again one of those Penguins slow start nights. Some sloppy play, poor puck management and missed coverages gave newly acquired Eric Staal his 12th and 13th goals of the season. By the end of the second period it was Staal 2 and the Penguins 2. As the third period went on the exhaustion of both teams showed, as the two teams only accumulated a total of 14 shots. Understandably so for Pittsburgh, they have played a lot of games in the past two weeks. But once again, the Penguins showed some mental toughness and not once did anyone feel like the Pens were out this game as it went into overtime. If there was any better time for find some assertiveness on the powerplay, it should have been now, as Brassard took a penalty with 2 seconds left in the 3rd period. The Penguins would start OT on the powerplay. But once again, showing that Malkin is the glue that holds together the disturbingly talented yet broken powerplay of the Penguins. The powerplay ends and it’s 4 on 4 and you see number 58 Kris Letang’s jersey flying in the wind up and down the ice. If you were anything like me, you were looking at the clock, looking at Letang, looking at the clock, looking at the play and think, “Oh geez! “Tanger” has been out there for almost the entire 5 minutes of OT!” The feeling creeps in that if the Rangers score it’ll because 58 was tired. It didn’t happen. Letang played everything smart with his long extended shift. He’d skate up with the play to create chances, skated hard back into the defensive zone to prevent chances, and then conserved his energy in between. Never once showing weakness or signs of exhaustion. It what you would expect out of a leader and your star defenseman. Finally, a whistle. The OT will move back to its regularly scheduled summer league 3 on 3 play. Eventually Sullivan gets the opportunity to take his timeout and get the star defenseman back on the ice with his captain. And the way I saw it was this, Assistant Coach Rich Tocchet drew up a play on the wipeboard. And if I know Tocchet, and I truly don’t, the described the play like this…Sid’s going to win the faceoff. Then we are going to get him the puck back and let me do his Sid thing (as you can see lines drawn all across the wipeboard like a horrible geometry problem that you never solved in high school). Then he’s going to pass it up high to Letang and go to the net. Once he does that, Kris, you shoot it right at him. Then Sid will redirect it pass Hank, and we can go home. Ready! Set! Break! If that was the plan, well then it was brilliantly drawn up. Hats off to you Mr. Tocchet. But in all reality, Crosby did what he’s supposed to do in OT and that’s takeover. Number 87 in your programs would not be denied. He was going to find a way to leave NYC with 2 more points in the standings.
After the loss to the Devils the Pens took it to heart and that’s a good thing. The next two games they played, were done so with having to battle through injuries, loss of key players, call and non-calls, slow starts, and mishaps. But they battled and that’s the mentally that is needed in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Sometimes is not just the technical details that win or lose games. Sometimes it’s just having the mental toughness to play through the rough spots, not get to high or too low, and play with the heart of a champion. (Cue Nelly music)
Good Talk! See ya out there!