Monday, April 20, 2015

Crosby warming up, Johnston catching on

Penguins' Sidney Crosby (87) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal during the second period of Game 2 against the Rangers Saturday in New York. The Penguins won the game 4-3.(AP)

Series on! By way of tribute, enjoy this series of refreshing Penguins playoff notes. Get 'em while they’re hot! And while you can.

* Nobody ever needed to score two goals more than Sidney Crosby needed to score two goals Saturday night at Madison Square Garden. Those tallies were obviously crucial to the Penguins’ chances, and Crosby had to start mending his tattered playoff reputation sooner, not later. Has normal service been resumed?
* Crosby got 49 seconds of penalty-killing time Saturday. After 84 games, coach Mike Johnston may be starting to catch on. He’ll get it eventually.
* The New York Rangers’ Carl Hagelin executed a blind-side hit on Crosby that was very reminiscent of the hit by Washington’s David Steckel in the 2011 Winter Classic. Crosby was concussed by Steckel, and the effects of that blow damaged Crosby’s career for over a year. The puck was nowhere in sight, then or now. No penalty called, then or now. Will the NHL ever properly protect its poster boy?
* Brandon Sutter and Chris Kunitz each scored power-play goals Saturday. At what point does the No. 2 power play become the No. 1 power play?
* He’s nowhere near 100 percent because of a presumed back injury. So it’s unfair to expect more from Evgeni Malkin. The Penguins nonetheless need more.
* Those who suggest putting Crosby and Malkin on the same line couldn’t have often seen them play together. They’re not very good together on the power play, let alone five-on-five. A better Plan B is using Malkin on Sutter’s wing. That combination worked in the season’s salad days. Sutter is playing excellent right now, and Malkin could concentrate more on the offensive end that way.
* The Penguins’ victory Saturday doesn’t justify their non-stop rash of utterly moronic penalties. The high-sticking infractions committed by Kunitz and Ian Cole were careless. The slashing minors committed by Patric Hornqvist and Blake Comeau were just stupid, as was Nick Spaling’s boarding penalty. Is anyone telling the Penguins to wise up? It’s easy to assume no one is, because idiocy continues.
* Rob Scuderi can’t do much anymore, but he’s still excellent on the PK.
* The Penguins were mostly useless for the series’ first 90 minutes, and then things turned on a dime. That says two things about the Rangers: They’re not playing that well, and they’re not necessarily that confident.
* Down low, Hornqvist is the perfect winger for Crosby. In the middle third of the rink, not so much. In neutral ice, Hornqvist’s lack of finesse slows Crosby and limits his options. Hornqvist is good. Just not ideal for Crosby.
* Reuniting Crosby with long-time linemate Kunitz gave each a jolt Saturday. If Kunitz can play like Kunitz used to, that would help the Penguins immensely.
* Maxim Lapierre came to the Penguins with a reputation as an excellent playoff performer. It’s early, but so far Lapierre has justified that rep.
* The Penguins’ defense has zero grit. Trading Robert Bortuzzo and Simon Despres was crippling in that regard. How could GM Jim Rutherford not know that? The Penguins are totally non-threatening physically in their end of the rink.
* After two games, Brian Dumoulin is plus-1.Taylor Chorney is even. Each young defenseman has played as well as could be expected. Simple, but competent.
* The Penguins should dump the playoff beard tradition. Every year, it lets down 15 teams. Malkin has always been a staunch non-participant. Good for him.
* The first two games of the current series reiterated that goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has ditched his playoff yips. Without his excellence, the Penguins lose both.
* The Penguins defended resolutely Saturday, blocking shots, clogging lanes and pushing play to the boards while sacrificing possession. You might imagine the Riverhounds defending in similar style against FC Barcelona. Nervy times.
* Admit it: When the Rangers scored to cut the Penguins' lead to 4-3 with 5.1 seconds left Saturday, you were scared. The Penguins are that kind of team, and it’s that kind of year.
* Recently, there’s been a sense that many Penguins players know the team isn’t very good. Will Saturday’s win dispel that? Tonight is crucial, as Game 3 usually is. The Penguins were never in danger of winning Game 1, and could have easily lost Game 2. They were better Saturday, but must be better still tonight.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).
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