Christmas is a couple of days away and things seem darker than ever in Penguin land.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have lost five of their last seven games. They have seen the Cryers from Philly and the Jokes from New Jersey move ahead of them in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference standings.
They have been free falling down through the Eastern Conference standings since the end of November.
They haven't won a face-off since Mike Zigomanis was injured, and they've been turning the puck over more than Ben Roethlisberger in a big time NFL game.
Everyone, from the Associated Press, to every member of the Pittsburgh media, to your next-door neighbor, who just became a hockey fan last June, is wondering "why the Penguins suck?"
Thirty-four Bleacher Report articles have been written asking what will solve the Penguins' problems or who needs to step up if the Pens are ever going to win another game?
While losing five out of seven games any time during a season should not be taken lightly, losing five out of seven games in December, by no means, warrants throwing in the towel on making the playoffs.
Nor does it warrant asking yourself what is wrong with this team, who they need to trade, bench, or demote to the minors.
This young group of Penguins learned a lot about the rigors of an NHL season last year. They learned that an 82-game season is a long, long work in progress.
They learned that facing adversity and consistently battling through it, win or lose, is more important than scoring eight goals a game and running away with the Conference Championship by mid-March.
They also learned that nothing is guaranteed. The Pens breezed through the first two rounds of the playoffs.
They told the Flyers to blow themselves in the Conference Finals.
Then they hit the Detroit Red Wings.
Detroit was the better team. There are no two ways around it.
The Pens learned that winning three playoff series will get you a brand new banner to hang from the rafters of your home arena.
They also learned that winning just three playoff series will leave you with a bitter taste in your mouth and a summer-long, gut-wrenching feeling that begs you every day for another chance at glory.
Perhaps the biggest lesson the Penguins learned last season is one that they have seemingly not forgotten this season.
Evgeni Malkin is the Pittsburgh Penguins right now.
He elevated his game to a level that no other hockey player even knew existed last season, when Crosby went down with the ankle sprain. Malkin still hasn't come down from that level, and it doesn't look like he will any time soon.
Sidney Crosby is catching the brunt of a lot of criticism lately.
"Sid hasn't scored a goal in nine games." "Sid is only three points ahead of Ovechkin! OMG! Ovechkin is going to pass him! Why isn't Sid scoring more? Why won't he shoot more? Why does he suck now? I knew I should have asked for a Sykora jersey for Christmas."
If you or someone you know has ever uttered any of the above phrases, punch them/yourself in the forehead immediately.
Crosby is in a slump. It happens. Ovechkin started the season off ice cold, then caught fire since returning from his time with his grandfather.
Sid started slow, went on a nice streak, and is now coming down again. Relax.
Sidney Crosby is the leader of this team whether you like it or not. He isn't going anywhere. He doesn't have to record six points a game to have an impact on the ice.
Think about this: Crosby plays defense better than he plays offense.
Yeah, one of the top three offensive players in the world plays defense better than he plays offense. Chew on that for a while, Mr. Selke.
The goals will come, but until then, don't throw Sid under the bus because he hasn't scored a goal in nine games.
If you are that afraid that the value of the jersey you just bought for your 46-year-old son who lives in your basement is going to decrease by Christmas, by all means, jump off the Penguin bandwagon and make some room for someone else. I hear the Steelers are good now, or something like that.
It's easy to point the finger at the goaltender any time a team starts to struggle. Granted, Fleury hasn't exactly been stellar since his return to game action.
Turning the puck over 45 times in front of your own net and another 20 at the blue lines in two games doesn't help much either.
Fleury is an elite goaltender in this league. He proved that during last season's Cup run. He will get back to form, but realize that he's still getting his timing back after missing over a month of action.
The point of this article is simple: the Penguins don't suck. They aren't going to miss the playoffs because they had a bad stretch of games in mid-December.
They are going to rebound. They might lose another five, six, or even 10 games before that happens, but it will happen.
You can't expect players to return from injuries and immediately begin to play at the same level they were playing at before the injury occurred. It just doesn't happen.
Keep in mind that the Pens have been suiting up at least one full line of AHL'ers on a consistent basis for the past two weeks.
Mike Zigomanis, Tyler Kennedy, Pascal Dupuis, and Maxime Talbot have all missed time with injuries. Not to mention Fleury, who was out for a month.
Ryan Whitney's return to the ice is on the horizon. Petr Sykora is on a hot streak that would rival Marian Hossa's latest photo shoot for "Hottest thing in hockey".
Alex Goligoski only turned the puck over twice yesterday. Matt Cooke and Jordan Staal are working their asses off every time they hit the ice. Tim Wallace has become a proven fill-in for Tyler Kennedy. No one will fight Eric Godard, which means he scares the shit out of people, which means he is doing his job.
Things are looking up, if for no other reason than that they can't look any farther down.
There is too much talent on this team for them to fade out of playoff contention, or even out of the battle for the Atlantic Division crown.
Oh, and did I mention they have Evgeni Malkin?