Pittsburgh Penguins: What's Next After Winter Classic Defeat?
After several months of hype and anticipation for Pittsburgh Penguins fans and players, the Penguins and the Washington Capitals squared off in the NHL's fourth Winter Classic at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Unfortunately, the home team came out on the losing end and fell to the Capitals by a 3-1 score. Evgeni Malkin had the lone goal, while Marc-Andre Fleury took the loss in net.
Now that the rink at the home of the Steelers will be coming apart and the HBO "24/7" cameras are turned off, where will the Penguins go from here?
Here are some ideas.
Will Jordan Staal Come Back Strong?
The Winter Classic marked the first game Staal has played this year due to injury problems.
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Prior to the 2010-2011 season, Staal had not missed a regular season or playoff game for the Penguins.
Unfortunately, Staal could not keep up his streak this year.
In the 2010 offseason, he had surgery to repair an infection his foot. The infection came as a result of an injury he suffered in the playoffs when he got cut with the skate of Canadiens rookie P.K. Subban.
Then in November, just as it looked like Staal would be ready to come back soon, he broke his hand in practice. He was clearly frustrated, slamming a door to the locker room and was even shown near tears in an episode of "24/7."
However, Penguins fans and players got good news in time for yesterday's Classic when Dan Bylsma announced that Staal would play.
Staal didn't exactly make a splash statistically, but you can tell the Penguins are happy to have him back.
Last season, Staal had 49 points, matching his output from the 2008-2009 season.
With 42 games left in the regular season, can Staal come close to his performances from the last two years, or will 2010-2011 be a lost cause?
Only time will tell.
Will Sidney Go Streaking...Again?
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Sidney Crosby's 25-game point streak ended on Wednesday night in a 2-1 shootout loss to the New York Islanders. It was the 11th longest streak in NHL history.
Crosby is still waiting to start a new streak, as he had no points and a minus-one rating in yesterday's outdoor game. He will have another chance to do so on Wednesday as the Pens move back into the Consol Energy Center to square off against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
While Crosby was on his streak, he put together an incredible run of 50 points in 25 games. He currently has 32 goals and 65 points. Those totals put him first in the NHL, but not by a huge margin. Lightning forward Steven Stamkos remains on his heels with 31 goals and 59 points.
Crosby's numbers are impressive, but he will have to get another streak going to get even further ahead of the young Tampa Bay star, who shared the Rocket Richard Trophy with Sid last season. There is no doubt Crosby wants the award to himself this year.
Rock the Re-Matches
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The Winter Classic may have been a big deal for the Penguins and Capitals, but the rivalry is far from over.
The teams will square off two more times in 2010-11 before any potential playoff meetings, and both games are in February. The Penguins will travel to the nation's capital on Super Bowl Sunday (February 6), and the Caps make their return to Pittsburgh on February 21.
What storylines from the Winter Classic will linger next time these two teams get together?
Will it be Dave Steckel's hit on Sidney Crosby?
What about Alexander Ovechkin interfering with Penguins netminder Marc-Andre Fleury, which led to a disallowed goal?
Or will it be the fact that Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said the Winter Classic win was the closest the Caps came to winning the Stanley Cup? The Penguins could be out to destroy some of the Capitals' pride from yesterday's win.
There are more stories to be told, and it's more than Crosby vs. Ovechkin. Fans of both teams should be just as excited for next month as they were for the Winter Classic.
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After having their 12-game losing streak snapped against the Philadelphia Flyers on December 14, the Penguins have gone 4-3-1 in their last eight games.
It is not a horrible record, but it is not exactly impressive either. Pittsburgh has lost three of its last four games. Aside from the Winter Classic defeat, they fell 3-1 to the Ottawa Senators on December 26 and lost by a score of 2-1 in a shootout against the Islanders on Wednesday.
Now that some of the distractions (Winter Classic hype, HBO filming) will fade away for the Penguins, it is time to get back to work and get another winning streak together. The Penguins do not want to run into the same inconsistencies that befell them for much of October and November.
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The Penguins play again on Wednesday, when the Tampa Bay Lightning visit the Consol Energy Center. The game will kickoff a busy month of January for the Pens, who will see many challenging opponents along the way.
Not only does Tampa have Steven Stamkos, Crosby's toughest competition for the scoring title, they are also having a major comeback year after not making the playoffs in 2010. The Bolts are currently second in the Eastern Conference and boast a record of 23-11-5 for 51 points.
Pittsburgh will also face Montreal, who defeated the Penguins 3-2 in the teams' last meeting on October 9 in an Eastern Conference Semifinals rematch.
However, the Pens could possibly have the most to prove against the Boston Bruins. The Bruins came into Pittsburgh on November 10 and put up a five goal third period to erase a 4-2 deficit and win 7-4.
Aside from having some difficult opponents, the Penguins' layoff from now until Wednesday marks the last time they will have more than three days off until after their January 25th matchup with the Islanders. The Penguins' biggest challenge will be staying sharp and healthy during this stretch.