This past weekend presented us with perhaps the strangest weekend so far in the Pittsburgh Penguins 20010-11 campaign. While the Penguins showed a toughness many people questioned they possessed, the key for a strong finish is simply to ignore what happened from a playing perspective and get ready for what may be a Crosby-less playoff chase.
The Pens went into Long Island full well-knowing that the Islanders, desperately in need of some motivation and highlights for this season, were going to play physical in light of the Rick DiPietro-Brent Johnson fight. Dan Blysma made the correct hockey decision and started Johnson, and for the first two periods watched what everyone on the team had feared: the Islanders were chippy, explosive and were scoring.
The third period was another matter entirely.
The “Slapshotesque” scenes brought back an old hockey image the NHL has tried so hard to move on from, but fans never will. While the scene may have been disgraceful and bush league at best, the fans on both teams, especially the ones in the arena, loved it and energized the players to continue.
The aftermath is still being debated, but regardless of the executive decisions and appeals, the Penguins are going to be without two players, Eric Goddard and Eric Tangradi, who are sitting out due to a suspension (ten games) and concussion (indefinitely).
Moving now to what was supposed to be a more civilized game; the Pens were looking like underdogs against the struggling Rangers. To make matters worse, as reported by the Pittsburgh press, the Pens’ team bus was involved in an accident while heading to the rink for a practice skate, leaving the players to hail for cabs in full gear.
The game wasn’t much better as the Pens gave up an early two goal lead to lose 5-3.
The Pens are not an elite team without both Crosby and Malkin, and some would say they weren’t as good as the Eastern Conference leading Flyers, even with a healthy team. Even if a miracle does occur and Crosby returns within the week (Vegas odds places this as a 1,000,000-1 shot), the Penguins will not be seeing Dustin Jeffrey, Chris Kunitz, Evgeni Malkin, Aaron Asham, Mike Comrie or Mark Letestu, anytime soon.
This leaves the Penguins living off the success of early in the season to keep a playoff spot, possibly even an high seed, but there is little to no chance they will catch the Broad Street Bullies in the Atlantic.
The Pens have shown incredible depth and there is no doubt Shero will pull another trade deadline move to help this team (rumors around the league have Alexi Kovalev as an option and the Shero may throw his hat into the Brain McCabe lottery), but there is little chance that the Pens can make a legitimate cup push without Sid.
The schedule makers, most likely anticipating a health Crosby and Pens team, have the Pens with multiple games against the Flyers, and the Pens still have the Avalanche, Blackhawks, Caps, Sharks and Red Wings left. They can make ground with probable wins against the Sens, Panthers, two games with the Maple Leafs and one more trip into Long Island in April.
The Pens are going to have to march on (pun intended) with what many would consider the Baby Pens All-Star Team. Jordan Staal, Marc-Andre Fleury and Kris Letang will have to elevate their games to new levels. Pittsburgh is nowhere near finished for this year and can still be very competitive and successful, but they will have to move on from this weekend with the realization that NYC is just one weird city that they luckily don’t have to return to any time soon.