By Rob Rossi
Chaz Palla | Trib Total MediaThe Penguins' Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby play together on a third-period power play against the Wild on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015, at Consol Energy Center.
The Penguins' best player this season wasn't their best player in the most important game of the season.
And, just like it used to be for him, Marc-Andre Fleury loved looking at what the Penguins' best players did far, far away from his end of the rink Tuesday night.
“They were, like, whoosh,” Fleury said, making a quick circular motion with his left hand.
“Great. Weren't going to stop them, you know? Awesome.”
Franchise Centers 4, Minnesota Wild 3.
Score it a character win for the Penguins. Consider it a blueprint victory, too.
Something was wrong with this hockey club. Something still is wrong with this hockey club.
But something is nothing Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin can't correct.
They were something to see — something like a blast from the past, actually — from their very first shifts.
Crosby's line started the game and controlled the puck as though it was a first-born child. Did everything but score the opening goal.
Malkin's line did that. Did it on the very next shift.
Been a while since a 1-0 lead seemed so significant in November. But winger David Perron's easy stuff of a rebound created by Malkin's quick shot sent a shiver through the crowd at Consol Energy Center.
Every NHL team has a closed-door players' meeting.
Every NHL team has a player clarify something he said.
Every NHL team has players — not to mention coaches, management and executives — mad.
What every NHL team doesn't have ... actually, what no other NHL team has anything close to, is Crosby and Malkin.
They're former MVPs. They're former scoring champions. They're the franchise.
They're also what has been weighing the franchise down for a while now. Were they better when the games really mattered (the playoffs), there would be more banners hanging from the arena they've filled to capacity.
Instead, people keep talking about a couple of banners honoring the Penguins' 15 scoring champions. As if those two banners are part of the problem that have popped up in recent springs.
You know, the same problems that have carried over into autumn.
Crosby, making a team-high $12 million in actual salary, had nine points. Malkin, commanding a team-high $9.5 million against the salary cap, had 12 points.
Used to be they could ring up that many points in a week.
The Penguins had played 17 games. Sure, they'd won 10, but because of great goaltending.
When the Penguins are relying on their goalie — even as smooth a goalie as Fleury has become — something is wrong.
Winning because of the stars might as well be part of the bylaws for Mario Lemieux's organization. Anybody who can't appreciate that shouldn't be part of Lemieux's organization.
Given their degeneration into pedestrian players since Mike Johnston became the coach, I was beginning to wonder whether Crosby and Malkin were hoping to follow Lemieux and fellow co-owner Ron Burkle out the door.
It's not that they each weren't producing points in around 40 percent of their games under Johnston. It's that each had stopped looking like the Penguins' hardest working players.
Remember when the Penguins won? (Take a minute ... or 30.) Remember why the Penguins won?
Their best players set the tone. They practiced like they were playing games. They played games like each one was a Game 7.
They asserted themselves instead of backing down. They responded to adversity instead of resisting change. They never quit. And since they didn't, no Penguin could.
The Penguins quit on Johnston in a 4-0 loss at New Jersey on Saturday.
From Lemieux to the late “Badger” Bob Johnson to the ushers who moved across the street from the old Mellon Arena, the Penguins embarrassed themselves at New Jersey.
And that embarrassment was a direct blow to Crosby and Malkin. It's why Tuesday would, for better or worse, be a direct reflection of their character.
Crosby didn't have a point, but he battled every shift — especially along the boards, which is where he'll rediscover his elite form.
Malkin scored twice and set up the Penguins' other two goals. You could say he drove Minnesota mad by making use of his size, skill and speed.
“You could tell they wanted to go out and be the best players by being the hardest-working players,” defenseman Ben Lovejoy said.
Looked like old times. Looked like a formula.
What will fix the Penguins? Sid and Geno, same as what fixed them a decade ago.
Read more: http://triblive.com/sports/steelers/9453681-74/penguins-malkin-players#ixzz3rw60jqsd
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