The best thing that happened to the Penguins this week was Alexander Ovechkin. For some reason, his passion for the game and his passion for goals is infectious.
The Penguins have played some pretty gutsy hockey since playing the Caps. After the All-Star break, the Pens always seem to come home and light a fire. Why is that? Is it because young players need to be reminded of what they are playing for?
Or is it that they come face to face with the realization that they are some of the best players on the ice. Yet they are motivated by players with far less natural gifting who achieve greater end results because their work ethic, drive, and passion propels them.
When Ovechkin scored his first goal against the Penguins this week, you could have heard a pin drop in the rink. You could hear his scream bleed from the ice mics all the way up to the press box.
I think it stunned the players and the fans, and certainly the goaltender. There seemed to be no recovering from that. The Penguins have gone on to play some of their best hockey in well over a month.
That scream was like a young musician who goes to a concert and sees someone rip a guitar solo. Then they come home and for the next month or so play for hours and hours until their finger tips have nothing left.
Ovechkin's goal was the blunt force trauma to the head the penguins needed to awaken from their slump. It was the shout heard round the world, or at least the one that echoed all the way down the river to Sewickley, where Mario and Sid live.
Hopefully they saw and heard an echo of the passion that drove the Penguins of the early '90s to back to back Stanley Cups.
Passion is contagious. Ovechkin has that passion even if it is ramped up when he plays Malkin.
So ask yourself, why is it eight injuries later, the Penguins pull together a solid legitimate win? I remember when Mario was out recovering from Cancer, or his back issues, or even the Graves slash. The team played worse when he would return. I never understood that.
Then I read Phil Jackson's book Sacred Hoops and he talked about Jordan's return. He had to constantly coach players back into position on the court because players found themselves just standing around watching Jordan. Amazed to be on the same court with him.
Without a true leader on the team pulling a Jerry Maguire and screaming "Who's coming with me," we will continue to have players skate around and watch every time Malkin and Sid touch the puck.
But you let Tyler Kennedy get beat around in the corners and still hang on to the puck for dear life, some things comes out of you like watching the nice scrawny kid on the playground get beat up by the big kid jerk. You cowboy up and get in the mix. Great things happen, like realizing that there is more man in you than at last muster.
Will Sid's injury create another Malkin Machine like last year. And when all of these great players come back to the line up will we have a Jordan effect resulting in another slump that will eliminate us from any hope at the Cup.
You see greatness inspires. Ovechkin no doubt is a great player, but I'm a Pens fan, so I can only go so far praising OV8. I once heard someone say, "I would rather have good players that play as a team, than a team of all stars that play as individuals."
Personally, I would rather have a team of all stars that played as one team and kick the living crap out of the competition.
The Penguins are in a unique situation, they have to play old-fashion hockey. They have to collapse around the net, clog the neutral zone, and clear the net after the shot is taken.
They have to throw the puck at the net and then have the faith that another teammate will clean up the junk and bury it. They have to come back and support each other, while bringing the puck North and south in their own zone and then slowly and patiently playing the puck East to West in the offensive zone.
And Malkin has to stop giving up the puck, and the coaching staff has to not forgive it just because he scores a goal on the next shift.
Without All-Stars, nobody on the ice will wait for the other guy to win it for them. That's why you have guys like Cooke and Gill putting pucks in the net. Someone has to take the shots.
Thanks Alex, but you may have just awakened the sleeping giant.