The Pittsburgh Penguins had a much needed result last night and I don’t just mean the win. The power play went 50% (2/4), they won two thirds of face offs, and they came alive with 5 goals, including winning the second period 4-0. This allowed them to actually relax in the third and cruise to the end of the game, a luxury they haven’t had since a 4-0 shutout against the Leafs way back on Halloween. And it happened with Sidney Crosby out of the lineup (lower body injury). It was also the first win for new head coach Mike Sullivan.
Those are the positives, but the fundamental problems in Pittsburgh this season haven’t magically changed after one game. This win after all did come against league worst Columbus. The casual fan has been fed horrific one and two paragraph articles throughout the year explaining the “slow” start for the Penguins, citing every reason under the sun. It started with an imaginary rift between Penguins legend/owner Mario Lemieux and franchise player Sidney Crosby. A week later, the same writers spewing that click bait bullshit then invented a rift between Crosby and superstar team mate Evgeni Malkin. The conclusion to this was that if it came down to it, Malkin would be voted off the island because Lemieux and Crosby were so tight they’d use their combined powers to have him traded. Seems like a miraculously quick turnaround for a Crosby-Lemieux relationship that was days before reported as rocky enough to be blamed for the entire season’s problems.
If these reporters bothered to ever watch a game they might realize that this season is just a magnification of little things that have been happening all along. Pittsburgh is a speedy attack team and always like to stretch out the other teams defensively with quick long passes. This generates a lot of quality scoring opportunities on the fly. What it doesn’t promote is long term sustained pressure on offence because the puck moves so far so fast that supporting players can’t possibly get up to help in time. Once the initial chance is over, more often than not the puck is just as quickly headed back to the Pittsburgh zone. Sometimes shooters are hot and these quick one-and-done chances get results. All it takes though is one or two cold shooters or a really hot goalie to slow it down. The Penguins are a streaky team for this very reason. Exceptional players like Crosby and Malkin can consistently find ways to take advantage of fewer opportunities because they are just that good and can naturally get possession more often. The role players, the depth guys, will never thrive in that setting. The hope was that Mike Sullivan could change that philosophy and help get more guys involved more often with a possession game designed for 5 players supporting each other up the ice, but only time can tell what his long term plan is and whether it’ll be successful.