It was a spirited and competitive practice session at the Pittsburgh Penguins’ training facility today.
The team showed energy in the first half-hour, with coach Michel Therrien putting his players through various odd-man rush, 2-on-2, and shooting drills.
Perhaps the team is still stinging from the 6-3 loss to the hated Flyers on Saturday. Even if that sting has subsided, then they are definitely feeling the burn of multiple sprint drills with sticks and pucks in-hand to wrap up the session.
It has been an intense 11 days, with seven games in the stretch and four of those contests in fewer than six days. A 9-2 blasting of the hapless Islanders infused some energy, especially when veteran Petr Sykora and forward Pascal Dupuis each notched career-first hat tricks.
However, the final month of the year has not been kind to the defending conference champs; just two wins in seven games in December, with only five points gained in the standings.
Just yesterday, the organization’s executive management announced that coal energy company Consol secured naming rights for the new arena. The Consol Energy Center will carry that banner for the next 21 years at an estimated $5 million annually. Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said the building name “has a nice ring to it”.
Why so many mentions of energy? Crosby finally made mention of a word closely associated with energy in the game of hockey—intensity.
After the loss to cross-state rival Philadelphia, he said, “We didn’t match their intensity. You have to have that willingness to go out there and compete on every shift. If you don’t match that, especially on the road, you’re going to be in trouble”.
Granted, Sid the Kid is definitely holding up his end of the offensive output, combining with fellow Penguin Evgeni Malkin for 93 points so far; good enough for first and second in the NHL and on-pace for a possible 300. There are definite shades of Lemieux and Jagr in the 1995-96 season tallying 310 points.
But, as a second-year team captain with Stanley Cup Finals experience and an Art Ross Trophy, it may be time to do more than just lead by example.
Leave the “we” out of the post-game quotes and make a choice: carry the blame squarely on his shoulders, get the boys fired up in the locker room before the drop of the puck, or start getting in some faces on the bench during game play. That’s where energy and intensity meet.
Injuries have played a large part in many of the come-from-behind wins and come-from-ahead losses. Well over half of the 100-plus man-hours lost are from the absence of Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney. Gonchar is a stalwart on the power play, and Whitney one of the underrated offensive defencemen in the league.
Save for some stamina issues, Whitney appears ready to play Thursday as evidenced by a full practice with his teammates today. Starting goalie Marc-Andre Fleury will be back between the pipes after a month-long suspected groin injury. His practice session was more than impressive.
Coach Therrien has played “What’s My Line?” for a majority of the first thirty games. Max Talbot, Hal Gill, Tyler Kennedy and face-off king Mike Zigomanis are all dealing with more than just bumps and bruises. To hang with their Eastern Conference counterparts in the next thirty games, the Penguins need a combination of a more vocal leader in the locker room, a revitalized Petr Sykora continuing his scoring ways, and something resembling a consistent lineup from game to game.
November started with a six-game win streak thanks to three healthy and equally productive lines. The walking M*A*S*H unit in Pittsburgh could use that again, plus a few extra band-aids and a surge of energy to boost them in the conference standings.
Maybe they could ask for some coal in their stocking for Christmas?
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