The sun did rise in Sunrise, Florida yesterday for the Pens as they ended a 6 game losing streak, winning 4-1 over the Panthers. They are now 2-1 over Florida on the season, winning in the home opener and then losing in an away game in November.
By all accounts, many of the games the Pens lost, the Pens statistically should have won, dominating in shots on goal and hits. In the game against the Rangers alone, the Pens lost 3-1 but out shot the Rangers a stunning 38-21. The opportunities are there, but the puck just wasn’t finding the back of the net. The problems the Pens experienced on ice were more than just missed shots though.
Most of the players looked as though they couldn’t navigate the ice. In addition to some of the most horrendous officiating I have seen in years (and again, I have noticed this is a league wide problem, not a conspiracy against the Penguins), the Pens just were visibly defeated. The heart and motivation wasn’t there. Anyone who plays sports knows that persistent losses are hard to mentally pull yourself up from. It begins to eat at you and psych you out. You want that ‘W’ so bad, but the prospect of another loss eats at you and the loss of focus continues.
But in Florida last night, after a practice in the morning that resulted in the Pens showing a new attitude and rallying around Sidney Crosby, they took the ice looking much like the Pens we saw early in the season. The last game against the Capitals was a step in the right direction. They were playing their game, but the goals weren’t coming. Finally, the hockey Gods stopped spitting in the faces of the Pens and the goals began to rain down on them.
Prior to Steve Sullivan’s goal last night, his first in 8 games, the Pens had another problem: hitting the cross bar and the pipes. Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! 4 times the puck connected with the pipes, but the deflections unfortunately went outward rather than in. Finally, Sully buried one 1:49 into the second period. More followed, ending the scoring droughts of James Neal and Tyler Kennedy as well.
Marc-Andre Fleury was unbelievable in net last night. He has been this team’s rock so many times, and last night was no exception as he displayed the full breadth of his talent. As long as he continues to stay in the crease and the defense has his back, he will be flawless.
Without a doubt, James Neal, Deryk Engelland, and Evgeni Malkin have been among the Pens most valuable contributors on any given night. Even though the wins have not been coming so easily as of late, many of the Pens are still playing a great game. The problem has mostly been playing the game together. Chris Kunitz has been physically dominating this season, full of grit and arguably among the hardest hitters in the NHL today.
As long as they remain confident and stick to their game, the Pens have a chance to save their season and climb out of 9th place in the East. The biggest issue is going to be finding a way to defeat the top teams in their division. The Pens have yet to beat Boston, Philadelphia, or New York (Rangers) this season, and they have plenty more games against those teams in the coming weeks.
They must remain disciplined and stop taking stupid penalties and allowing pesky players to throw them off their game. Geno and Neal are among our players with the highest penalty minutes and this is a problem. They are our biggest goal scorers. They need to remain on the ice at all costs. Geno is very easy to get in his head because he will not hesitate to retaliate if any player instigates him. He needs to play his game and let someone else do the dirty work if it needs to be done.
The Pens play the Lightning tomorrow. Let’s hope the scoring continues!