We have all had a few days now to read the mindless drivel from many anti-Penguin corespondents, see the insults of low-life trollers who have nothing better to do most likely because their parents grounded them, and argue with ignorant bloggers, haters, murderers, or even worse, Flyers fans...all about the Matt Cooke situation.
It's high time we all turned the corner and moved on.
Nine games left, the Penguins are in the thick of things and the story that will be told in the next month or two (or, hopefully, three), will be an interesting one.
It has been a long time since we have seen such a strange season from this team, and as it draws to a close, there are still so many questions to be answered.
Let's take a blast back into the past and find some answers.
...and he does not get enough credit for this.
Maybe the fans and local media of Pittsburgh are beginning to realize this, but the national hockey media does not. Bylsma currently ranks fifth on ESPN's trophy tracker, which gives the nod to the Canucks' Alain Vigneault, a cookie cutter pick if I've ever seen one. The Hockey News' newest Jack Adams Watch has him 10th, barely cracking the top third of the league.
Can anyone at least have the guy as a finalist?
I'd love to see the Canucks without the Sedin twins, or the Lightning without Stamkos and St. Louis.
The Penguins have suffered a similar situation this season, with many other injuries to many other valuable players.
But Disco Dan has held it together. He may not be the greatest X's and O's guy, but there's no doubting he gets the most out of these guys night in and night out.
...as a top six winger, and probably just for this year.
Kennedy has 21 points in 31 games that Sid has been out, and has been buzzing at nearly at .81 points per game since the beginning of February.
His spike in production not only directly coincides with the departure of Sid, but the arrival of his longtime linemate Jordan Staal. Staal, along with Matt Cooke, provide great chemistry for Kennedy to work with.
Combine that with some top six minutes and power-play time that he never saw before (five power play goals since New Years), and you have a guy who is more than capable of being a 20 goal scorer given the opportunity.
Whether he could keep this up over the course of a season remains to be seen, but it's great to see a guy step up into an unexpected role and help fill the void in offensive production. Kennedy is a restricted free agent this offseason, and the Penguins will have to decide whether to match offers to a player whose stock is trending up.
Alex Kovalev has not produced in a way that we have expected him to at this point.
But who cares? We gave up absolutely NOTHING for him.
And he still has made our team better. Just maybe not as much as some had hoped yet.
But we all saw how he can really take over a game against Toronto a few weeks ago. Would Brett Sterling have done that?
Maybe some of you don't feel Kovalev has justified his Pens uniform yet, but he isn't exactly playing with Steve Yzerman out there. He has a brand new face in James Neal on the other side, and Mark Letestu, who, although has been a pleasant surprise himself, is just not a top-line center.
Kovalev is a shooter who needs a big time center to create space for him. I for one would love to see Kovalev play with Sid if he comes back.
Kovy's legs may be lagging behind, but his hockey awareness is still as smart as a whip. What does this mean? It means Kovalev could finish a lot of those no-look passes Crosby makes all the time that Pascal Dupuis can't.
I still would not be surprised if the Pens try to bring him back next year on the cheap to play with Sid or Geno. His market value will be determined in the coming weeks.
It took him a while to get up to snuff, but since going scoreless in his first six games as a Penguin, he has seven points in his last six games, including three goals.
This also includes a game-winning shootout goal against the Red Wings, saving his team from the brink of a second devastating loss in as many days, which could have sent the Penguins' morale plummeting from the canopy to the tree trunks.
Can't wait to get this guy acclimated to one of the team's world-class centers. Let's also remember he is still way before his prime, and trains with Gary Roberts in the offseason.
Goligoski has been tremendous for the Dallas Stars since his acquisition. He is logging around 27 to 28 minutes per game, has 16 points in 13 games and is a big reason why the Stars have hung around the playoff picture.
Good for him. Our top-four defense has no vacancy, so he packed up and found himself a home elsewhere.
Our power play is a pathetic two for the last 49.
The Penguins seem to get more chances scoring at even strength these days. This has been a problem for the past couple of years, and seems to be corrected in spurts.
Fortunately, this has not carried over to the playoffs in recent memory.
The Pens were subpar in power plays in 2009-10, finishing 19th in the league in the regular season, but converted over 26 percent in the playoffs last year. In fact, the Penguins' power play has not been under 20 percent for the last three years, or ten playoff series in a row, which is very good.
Let's hope by some miracle of the hockey gods this trend continues.
The last season the Penguins had a great power-play season was three years ago, when they finished fourth in the league. That was the last year we had Ryan Malone. I'm not sayin..I'm just sayin....
Losing Matt Cooke hurts on the PK. The 5 on 3 goal to the Rangers was expected, and even the second power-play goal by Callahan was just a bad angle shot.
But the third period meltdown against Detroit was inexcusable.
However, there is no real reason to panic yet.
The Penguins still have some great players on the kill and an excellent goaltender behind it. Let's make this a "wait and see" thing.
If the PK starts to take a dive in these last nine games, there is certainly a cause for concern.
Last year in the playoffs, the Penguins PK was gashed (literally) by PK Subban, and then eaten up by the Cammalleri monster, a huge reason for the series loss. They finished at an awful 73%, good enough for second to last if not for perennial playoff choker Roberto Luongo and his Canucks' (68%).
Special teams are an important part of winning a seven game series. Teams take less chances, play tighter, more conservative hockey and it becomes more difficult scoring at even strength.
What to take from these last two slides?
The playoffs are an entirely new season and some special teams tend to click at the right time while others fall apart. While there are many reasons for this (matchups, changes in personnel, etc.), the bottom line is the playoffs will give the Pens' power play a chance to redeem itself, just as much as it will give the penalty kill a chance to let the team down.
Weakness can become a strength. Nobody remembers that during the Pens' Stanley Cup-winning year. Our power play was in the bottom half of the league during the regular season, right?
Here we are going to take a look at the THREE most possible playoff suitors for the Penguins.
The one in our spot now is the Tampa Bay Lightning. They stand three points behind us for the swappable fourth/fifth spot, and look unlikely to catch the Capitals from seven points back.
The Montreal Canadiens sit two back of the Lightning, and are nipping at their heels for the fifth spot. It's even possible they could catch us for the fourth spot as they only sit five back if the Penguins do not finish strong and the Habs go on a bit of a run. This is possible given the way Carey Price has been playing.
It could be Boston if we dropped to the sixth spot, or if the Habs catch Boston which is possible as they are only three back, Boston would likely drop into the fourth or fifth spot. This is another likely possibility, given that the Bruins are choking right now, and the Habs own them in a tiebreaker scenario.
Remember, things can change over a weekend and these are not predictions!
We likely would not see the Caps in the first round, unless they start hitting a downslide and Boston jumps them and we grab the sixth seed. They are six points back right now which is not an impossible feat. The Caps are more likely to grab a No. 1 or No. 2 seed.
The scenario everyone is hoping for will be answered in the next week or so. If the Pens can beat the Flyers twice—cleanly, might I add—they may have a chance at catching the No. 1 or No. 2 spot, opening up a whole new world of possibilities.
Should any of these other possibilities turn up, I will write a follow-up article next week when the fog begins to clear a little.
Like I said, as of now, the Lightning would be playing us if the playoffs started today.
If you want my prediction though, I don't think this will happen. I think they will end up being passed up by the Habs for the fifth spot.
The Lightning are trending down hard right now. They have lost eight of ten, including what should have been an easy win over the Islanders at home last night, and a loss to conference doormat Ottawa the game before.
As the Penguins showed us two weekends ago, playoff teams need to take care of business when they play weaker opponents this time of year, and the Bolts just have not been up to the task.
The Penguins actually match up with the Lightning quite well. The Lightning boast a solid power play with one of the most prolific scorers in the game.
But this will be Stamkos' first playoff experience, and the Pens bring a strong penalty kill.
Tampa has a below-average penalty kill and overall defense, something that is essential in the playoffs, and could jump start the Pittsburgh power play. They have Rollie the Goalie between the pipes, and although he is an experienced dinosaur as far as the playoffs goes (he almost won a cup with Edmonton six years ago), he is unlikely to stand on his head and win them a series.
Tampa has the look of a team that is not really as good as their record indicates. Like I wrote before, they have been playing poor as of late, and they are currently the only top eight team to have a negative goal differential (-6).
I could foresee the Penguins disposing of the Lightning, maybe even with relative ease and expect any other team that plays them to do the same.
This would be a tougher matchup for the Penguins.
The Canadiens gave Pittsburgh fits, particularly this season, and, of course, last year's playoffs.
The biggest X-factor in this series would be the goalie matchup. Carey Price has had a Vezina-worthy season, and very well could be walking away with the trophy in June.
Too bad there hasn't been a Vezina trophy-winning goalie who has made it past the second round since the lockout.
He has certainly played very well against Pittsburgh this year though. Following a a five-goal smothering in January, he let up only one in the next matchup and most recently dealt the Pens a shutout in our own house two Saturdays ago.
Other problems the Penguins face is dealing with long time Penguin killers Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez, as well as the worst of all most recent arctic bird slayers, Mike Cammalleri.
They were all instrumental in pulling off the upset last year.
Hal Gill, James Wisniewski and favorite boo bird target PK Subban head up a solid but not spectacular defensive core that is missing their backbone Andrei Markov and upstart youngster Josh Gorges.
Montreal is a talented, well-rounded squad. Their special teams are both top ten units, and they have a goalie who has been good all year between the pipes.
Price is an unproven goaltender in the playoffs, though. And we all believe Fleury can match him save for save, don't we?
I'd see a long series coming out of this one, but a Penguins' victory would not completely shock me.
Speaking of other teams who have not been playing their best hockey, the Bruins, after reeling off six straight wins, have begun a massive slide that has allowed division rival Montreal to creep back into the race. Starting with a 3-2 loss to the Penguins, they have lost five of seven.
Tim Thomas has been no slouch in goal for the Bruins, but has not played all that great against the Penguins, albeit in two starts. The Bruins special teams have statistically been mediocre on both ends but are top five in the league overall in goals scored and goals allowed.
They have solid play all around, starting on the front line with sniper Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic, who is having a breakout year.
David Krejci has filled in admirably as a playmaker for Marc Savard, centerman/Crosby BFF Patrice Bergeron is one of the best faceoff men in the league, Rich Peverley was acquired from Atlanta to add depth, and Mark Recchi still isn't ready to move to Florida and play golf every day, like we thought he would be five years ago.
The back end is just as tough. All world defenseman Zdeno Chara quarterbacks the power play, and top defenseman Tomas Kabarle was brought in from Toronto to help solidify an already good unit that also includes German olympian Dennis Seidenberg.
Pick your poison with the Habs or Bruins.
I'd rather play the Habs.
The Bruins are more stout on D, deeper on offense and Tim Thomas is more than capable of stealing a game or two. The Penguins have split the series with the Bruins this year, giving up third period leads in both losses. Again, probably a six or seven game series to look forward to.
You always want to have an extra game at home, sure.
But home-ice advantage is not necessary. The Penguins have won their last five series-deciding games on the road, including two game sevens, one against the Capitals and the Stanley Cup against the Red Wings. The last two series-deciding losses have come at home, to the Canadiens last year and Red Wings back in 2008.
The season series between the Penguins and the Rangers concluded this Sunday, and man was it brutal for the hometown crowd.
The Rangers delivered the Penguins three of the most gut-wrenching losses of the year, turning the CEC into Chernobyl in the third period of each game.
11/15/10: The Penguins cracked the curious case of Henrik Lundqvist with two goals within one minute in the waning minutes of the third period to take a 2-1 lead.
They appeared to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat when the "King" was called for a penalty for smashing his goalie stick and throwing it around the ice. With little time left and a one-goal lead with the man advantage, the Pens give up a shorthanded goal, and eventually lose in overtime. Disgusting.
12/15/10: The Penguins nursed an Evgeni Malkin goal for a 1-0 lead until halfway through the third period. They then proceeded to give up four goals in the final 10 minutes and lose 4-1.
This included a controversial no-call on a Sidney Crosby goal which was documented in HBO's 24/7 series, in a clip after the game in which the refs are shown casually ruminating about the call over some cold beers in the locker room.
3/20/11: The Penguins outplay and outshoot the Rangers all day and finally take control of the game 2-1 after a Kunitz shorty.
The fun is short-lived, New York takes advantage of a 5 on 3 after a double minor to Matt Niskanen for high sticking, and takes the lead shortly after on the power play. Most Penguins' fans black out in fury over the Matt Cooke incident after this, and somewhere in between the end of the game, the Rangers pile on two more to make it 5-2.
Anyone who really follows Penguins hockey knows all of this is irrelevant unless this guy comes back.
He is the only player who even gives us a chance to make it to the promised land. He changes the dynamic of our entire team and the game plan of every team who plays us. He opens up time and space for others on the ice to score, and still scores more than all of them himself anyways.
All we know now is that Sid is skating.
He has remained symptom-free, and is pushing himself more and more each day.
The playoffs begin in about three weeks. If he is still skating by then, he will have been symptom-free for about a month.
The two biggest questions are then, does Sid feel he is ready to come back, and do the doctors believe that a month of being symptom-free is enough time for him to come back? Let's all just hope when that time comes, the right decision is made.