Dean Jacobs Ė WPAathletics.com STAFF
Twenty games in, and the Pittsburgh Penguins are a quarter of the way through the long NHL regular season. The Penguins sit in second place in the Atlantic Division, just two points behind New Jersey for the lead in the Eastern Conference. With a pretty solid 13-7 record, one would assume the Pens are looking good heading into the long and strenuous middle stretch of the season. And at first glance at the record and the standings, that would appear to be the case. But with a string of injuries in recent weeks; and the Guins going 4-6 in the last ten games, the City of Pittsburgh is beginning to realize that the road to the Penguins winning a second straight Stanley Cup isnít going to be just a walk in the Park.
In the last two weeks the Penguins have gone 2-4 and more than doubling their amount of loses for the season. Poor play is only partly to blame for the recent loses. Unfortunately, with anywhere from 4 to 6 injuries plaguing Pittsburgh for the last 10 games, the Pens canít expect to play with AAA replacement players; and beat good NHL Hockey teams.
This week, the Pens played the first two games against Boston and Jersey, already shorthanded. And by Thursday it was apparent the Sidney Crosby, the teams Captain was trying to carry a new and injury riddled team on his back (unsuccessfully). Boston came back to town late in the week, and got the Pens their only win in the last 5 games.
The Boston Bruins have not gotten off to a great start, but on Tuesday night they were able to take advantage of the weakened Pens and came away with a 3-0 win against the Stanley Cup Champs. Right off the Bat, early in the first period Brooks Orpik went down with an injury, while the rest of the team played somewhat disorganized and not in any sort of rhythm. The Pens were being out shot 10-2 by the end of the first, but managed to not allow a goal. Early in the Second the knot was broken, with a goal by Matt Hunwick at a 1:36 in the Second Period. Things didnít turn around for the Pens in the Third, with Jersey scoring 2 more goals and shutting out the Pens for the second game in a row, and the third time this season.
On Wednesday, the Pens came home to face the strong New Jersey Devils team, and were handed a fourth straight loss. The game was lopsided, and the Penguins, flat out, just didnít look very good. In addition to everything else, Sidney Crosby was entering the game on a 5 game skid without having a point. In the first period, Sid was flying and really trying to make things happen for his team. Sid was credited with getting an assist on a poke-in goal by Ruslan Fedetenkov. The Pens clung onto their 1 goal lead for most of the second period, but late in the 2nd Zach Bergfors scored on a Devilís Powerplay. It didnít bode well for the Pens in the third. This season the Devils are undefeated when leading after 2 periods. And thus was the case; Jersey, putting in one early and one late goal in the third period, ended the game 4-1, and dropped the Penguins to 12-7.
Finally, on Saturday night, when Evgeni Malkin returned to the lineup, the fortunes of the Pittsburgh Penguins turned around. In his return, Geno delivered 3 assists in a wild and exciting 6-5 OT win for the Penguins. Dan Bylsma chose to play Crosby and Malkin on the same Line, which rarely happens, and it worked out in the Pens favor. In addition to all the help from Malkin, Sid also had a goal and 2 assists in the victory.
To sum up the chaos: After a high-scoring game, with 0.4 seconds left in the game, Bill Geurin buried a shot off a Malkin assist to tie it at 5. Capping off the game in overtime, Pascal Dupuis scored his second goal of the game. The Pens ended up splitting this weekís games with the pesky Bruins; and Dupuisí overtime goal on Saturday night was his 100th of his career.
Looking on the bright side, the return of Evgeni Malkin, and a morale-boosting win against Boston to close out the week puts the Penguins in a decent disposition heading into the upcoming week. And with a game on Monday against Anaheim, whom the Pens beat several weeks ago, hopefully the Pens can start the second quarter of their season off right. With a second straight win, the Pittsburgh Penguins could take another step up in the conference and division, and hopefully continue to return some of their injured players back to the lineup. Weíll see this week.