A few weeks ago, most fans—including myself—were beginning to think the Pittsburgh Penguins just did not quite have it this year.
The team was playing lackluster hockey, getting outworked on the ice, and just did not seem very focused during games.
It seemed the Stanley Cup runner-up curse had struck the Penguins.
After a coaching change, and a few trades later, the Penguins are on a 9-1-1 run, and their only loss in that span was Dan Bylsma's first game coaching in the NHL.
The Penguins look like the team that we were watching last year at this time. They are very quick on the ice, and they just seem to keep coming at teams the whole game.
This mentality and style of play leads to other teams' defensemen getting tired in the third period—and when the defense is tired, pucks start finding the back of the net.
During the Pens last game against the Florida Panthers, Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun could not get up after a television timeout. Pittsburgh Penguins television announcer Bob Errey mentioned when the broadcast came back on that Vokoun just sat there on all fours during the timeout to try to get a breather.
The Penguins put up 50-plus shots on goal in that game. That is about the total of three games' worth of shots that they were getting earlier in the year.
I have been saying all year the Penguins need to put more pucks on the net—and look what happens when they do.
I also have to give a lot of credit to goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury has not taken a breather in 17 straight games, and it looks like he will be playing tonight as well. He is now playing his best hockey of the year.
Fleury has looked a bit shaky at times, and has given up some bad goals, but with the way the offense has been playing, a bad goal can be looked past as long as it is only one.
Most importantly, the Penguins are having fun on the ice. Penguins fans can all remember last year how much fun the team had. They looked like they were playing a game of pickup hockey out there.
This team now has that feel again, and it can be seen out on the ice while they play.
It is too bad it took almost 75 percent of the season before the Penguins kicked it into gear and started to play like the team that we as fans knew they were capable of.
The Penguins face off tonight against a good Columbus Blue Jackets team that is trying to stay in the top eight of the Western Conference. It should be a great matchup and game.
If the Pens can pull out yet another win tonight, and they get some help from the Islanders to beat the Canadiens, the Penguins will jump up to the No. 5 spot in the East with 80 points, and possibly one game out of the No. 4 spot, which is currently held by the Flyers.