The early '90s are alive and well in Pittsburgh.
The 2012 Penguins aren't the first NHL team since Mario's heyday to score goals seemingly at will. But at a time when goal scoring is down and clutch-and-grab is making a comeback to
suck the life out of the game reduce concussions, a finally-healthy Pittsburgh squad is scoring in bunches, bundles and blowouts, looking much like its prolific early-'90s self.
"You kind of tried to imagine the lineup you'd have," Brooks Orpik told the team website of the Pens' recent success. "And as fun as that would be, it's a lot more fun seeing it in person."
While the Pens have missed plenty of big guns for extended stretches, including absences by Jordan Staal and Kris Letang, the key missing piece has always been Crosby.
Some questioned whether his return might upset team chemistry, return Evgeni Malkin to a subordinate role or have an otherwise adverse effect on a club that had won nine consecutive games.
Crosby has scored a whopping two of Pittsburgh's 230 goals this season, yet his second return from concussion symptoms has seen the team score better than five goals per game in four games, including matches with three of the top nine teams in the NHL (Flyers, Rangers, Devils).
The club has averaged 5.25 goals per game since Sid's second return and 3.84 in the 12 games he's played all season, while averaging 3.06 goals per game without him and 3.19 overall.
Of course, the scoring outburst may be just as much due to the return of Malkin's parents to Pittsburgh.
“I’m happy they came back to Pittsburgh,” Malkin told Sam Kasan following a five-point effort against Winnipeg. “I haven’t seen them in a long time. They’re here just to support me and stay here the rest of the season and maybe if I’m lucky again we’ll win.”
Malkin has traditionally turned things on when his folks come to town late in the season, and Geno (93 points) has stepped convincingly ahead of Steven Stamkos and Claude Giroux lately. He has nine points in his last four games (equal to Sid) and now holds a nine-point cushion on those players in his bid for a second Art Ross Trophy.
This is to speak nothing of Pascal Dupuis, Matt Cooke and James Neal—players who have already set career-highs in goals or points (or both).
The Pens have five 20-goal scorers (Malkin, Staal, Neal, Dupuis, Kunitz) for the first time since 2000-01, when Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Martin Straka, Robert Lang and Alex Kovalev each topped 20.
Neal has hit the 35-goal plateau and could reach 40. Malkin (43) is four shy of a career-best 47 goals and has 10 games left to hit 50.
Numbers are great, but the true picture of what this team can do only comes with watching them play and seeing the goals develop before they happen. Like watching Crosby make a from-his-knees, cross-rink assist on a Malkin one-timer goal. Or his patience in holding a puck in the slot, freezing a goaltender and feeding Malkin on one of the best delayed-penalty goals ever. Or his no-look back-pass that finds Malkin en route to James Neal's league-leading 15th power play goal.
Crosby may not score another goal this season, but at 1.75 points per game and surrounded by finishers, no one is complaining.