Monday, March 21, 2016

Welcome return for Penguins Hockey

March 20, 2016
Penguins run win streak to 6, top Capitals 6-2
Pittsburgh Penguins' Trevor Daley (6) celebrates his goal with teammate Brian Dumoulin (8) during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Washington Capitals in Pittsburgh, Sunday, March 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

About a month ago, as his team traded wins and losses, all of his teammates looking but few of them actually playing better, the Penguins' Flower foretold of a bloom.
And hinted that the joke was about to be on me.
“Maybe a little bit like the old days,” Fleury said after stopping 35 shots — legitimate ones, not pucks that just happened to hit him — in that February win over the Red Wings.
He smiled.
I rolled my eyes.
Mentioned those old days, when defense was just another word the Penguins used, weren't exactly winning days.
“Maybe we gave up some goals, but we could score,” Fleury said. “I don't think it was so bad. We were the Penguins, you know?
“It feels close to that again.”
Sure does.
The Penguins' roots are showing.
Their stock is rising, too, especially after Sunday night's 6-2 win over the league-leading Capitals.
Remember when former coach Mike Johnston had Sidney Crosby channeling Jason Arnott?
Right, like who could forget.
Well, Crosby is doing his best to make everybody forget his dark days as two-way center, which made about as much sense for the Penguins as would Keith Richards playing bass for the Rolling Stones.
The great ones can do anything.
Can't get no satisfaction that way, though.
With two assists Sunday night, Crosby is at 76 points at counting.
He won't catch the Blackhawks' Patrick Kane for the scoring title. He should win a third MVP if the Penguins, as they might, finish with the second-most points in the Eastern Conference.
I'm not sure we've seen before what Crosby has been doing the past couple of months. He's put up 20 points in the 15 games that fellow franchise center Evgeni Malkin has missed since Feb. 5. The Penguins are 10-4-1 in those contests.
Usually, it's Geno picking up for Sid.
Crosby has averaged 1.20 points per game since Mike Sullivan replaced Johnston as coach.
For their captain, breaking free from his first shutdown-coach was the answer to hockey's most baffling question: What's wrong with Sid?
For the Penguins, buying into Sullivan's challenge — bring better energy, figure out what you want to be — was the miracle drug for their dysfunction.
From the last half of the final season in the Dan Bylsma era through the middle of Johnston's year-plus tenure, the Penguins started losing way too much.
The most crippling defeat, however, was the loss of their identity.
In Sullivan's first game, against the Washington Capitals, the Penguins lost 4-1.
That was their 11th of 29 games with two or fewer goals. An offensive funk that started around New Year's Day threatened to end their season before the calendar had flipped from 2015.
Forget about that funk.
The Penguins are funky again.
They have scored at least three goals in 23 of 40 games, going 25-10-5 over that span. But I'm more interested in how they're doing what they're doing.
Wingers are hunting pucks. Defensemen are moving pucks. Role players are looking to make plays with pucks. Bottom-six forwards are shooting pucks.
And a couple of superstars, Crosby and defenseman Kris Letang, are doing whatever they want with pucks.
On Sunday night, the Penguins scored highlight-reel goals that were set up by highlight-reel passes from players who highlighted the improvements general manager Jim Rutherford started making midway through his second season.
They're faster.
They're younger.
They're livelier.
They're scarier.
They're better.
Again imposing their brand of hockey on another opponent, the Penguins won a sixth consecutive game Sunday night.
Looked like the good ol' Penguins turning the NHL's best team into the same old Capitals.
Looked like Penguins Hockey.
If not exactly, it sure felt close.
Rob Rossi is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via Twitter@RobRossi_Trib.

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