Billy Guerin’s debut with the Pittsburgh Penguins could not have gone any better. He recorded his 800th career point on a beautiful chip pass to Sidney Crosby that allowed the Penguins to tie the game 24 seconds after falling behind 1-0 at Florida last night.
Guerin, traded to the Pens on Wednesday, skated on a line with Crosby and Chris Kunitz, who was also acquired in a trade that included minor-leaguer Eric Tangradi.
Guerin was the Captain of the New York Islanders before the trade, and happily waved his no-trade clause at a shot to play on a line with Crosby.
Crosby, who missed the last four games with a groin injury, should benefit from the veteran leadership, and experience, that Guerin will provide.
"Both [Guerin] and Kunitz did a great job tonight and we're still learning from each other," Crosby said. "We can still create more. We'll figure some chemistry there."
Chemistry is something the Penguins have been experiencing a lot of lately. Clicking on all cylinders, the Pens are 7-1-1under interim coach Dan Bylsma, and 10-3-1 over their last 14 games.
They have crawled their way up the Eastern Conference standings and are now in a tie for sixth place with 74 points. They are four points behind the Philadelphia Flyers for fourth place in the conference, after being out of a playoff spot for the better portion of the last couple months.
The Penguins have been the best team in the NHL since Michael Terrian’s firing. Under Bylsma they are playing at a rejuvenated pace. Out-shooting opponents is one thing, but the Penguins have outscored opponents 17-7 during their five game winning streak.
Evgeni Malkin, the league’s leading scorer, is playing at an MVP level. With Crosby returning to the line up, Gonchar getting back into form, and a new-found sense to shoot the puck, the Penguins are going to be a dangerous team come playoff time.
Jordan Staal, Tyler Kennedy, Chris Kunitz, and the rest of the Pens roster have really stepped up their game as they prepare to make a playoff push.
The playoffs are about whose hot, and whose not. If you were to ask any team in the Eastern Conference who they don’t want to see in the first round, they will tell you Pittsburgh.
"They had good legs, they had good jump. They beat us to a lot of loose pucks," Panthers coach Pete DeBoer said. "We looked like a team that came off a nine-day road trip. We hung in there for a little while and Tomas gave us a chance to hang around, but the better team won. We got what we deserved."
The Penguins are looking like the team that came within two games of winning the Stanley Cup last year. Injuries have plagued this team all season. Now that they are getting healthy we are beginning to see why the Pens were being hyped up as a young dynasty in the making.
The Pens have one of the easier schedules left in the NHL. They also have several games in hand on teams they can catch in playoff positioning.
Guerin’s leadership, and veteran instincts, should give the Pens a much needed boost down the stretch. If Guerin and Kunitz mesh with Crosby, then the Penguins will have two top lines capable of scoring on any shift.
Come playoff time they will be a hard to team to contain over a seven-game series.