When the Pittsburgh Penguins started the season tying the best October record by a defending Stanley Cup champion, they exceeded everyone's expectations. Nobody thought the team would shoot out of the gate looking like a juggernaut that just cleaned the deck with opposing teams.
But they did. And they were winning without playoff hero Max Talbot .
It was all too good to be true in the Steel City. Penguin players were even forced to answer questions like, "Do you ever get tired of winning so much? "
While every answer was nearly the same for everyone, it was a question that nobody minded fielding.
But now, that tune has changed considerably. Dan Bylsma's Penguins have lost 60 man games from many important players on the team and can't find any way to win. With half the Opening Night defense on the Injured Reserve as well as the NHL's leading scorer from a year ago, the once mighty Penguins had their claws removed.
Bylsma has been forced to put many players in roles that they normally would never play regularly. Alex Goligoski has seen over 25 minutes of ice time nearly every night. Chris Bourque has seen time on the first and second lines, while only a month ago he was waived by the Washington Capitals.
Seeing the opposing team celebrate goals in front of them has been a common occurance.
That is a very good thing.
While many fans are leaving Mellon Arena unhappy with the current product on ice, there is a reason to smile even still. And it doesn't have anything to do with the impending return of one No. 71.
Although the Penguins will most likely welcome Evgeni Malkin back to the lineup on Saturday against Boston, all of the losing is slowly putting the drive and desire back into the time on ice.
It almost became a given that the Penguins would be able to outwork opponents and force the play to the offensive zone on sheer skill alone. They were used to taking a multiple goal lead into the third period and have the ability to lay off a bit. They were hardly lazy, but not facing any adversity is never a good thing.
But against the New Jersey Devils, things were different.
While the Penguins did not win and again couldn't capitalize on the powerplay, the effort to begin the game looked exactly like the same Penguin team that had a fire under them all playoffs. The new guys want to be out there more. Players who have seen an increased role are learning what they need to do to be effective.
They are aware that nothing comes easy any more. They are aware that no inch of ice comes for free. Everything needs to be won, because no team they play will come in with a poor effort against the defending champions.
Injuries are obviously going to give minor league players a chance at the NHL level. Getting experience for them in November is invaluable. Better now than putting a guy on the ice for the first time in the first round of the playoffs, needing to fill in for a key player. If there is ever a so-called good time to sustain injuries, it's early in the year because it helps get everyone involved.
The drive to win has been restored in Sidney Crosby , as he was easily the most dominant player on the ice once again. His teammates feel the energy. And the injured players who are out, can not wait to get back on the ice to help the team.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel and the Penguins will look to shoot into the daylight once more when they start to get healthy.