Broadcasters, analysts, bloggers, media personalities, those who cover hockey and those who pretend to, your aunt Sally, your uncle Nester, the mailman, your neighbor’s mistress, and the smelly guy at the bar who clearly still lives in his mother’s basement at age 54, all believe that without Sidney Crosby in the lineup, the Penguins are done like dinner.
You’ve seen it on twitter, you’ve talked with the above-mentioned people (don’t lie, you know you have), and truth is the thought may have even crossed your mind once, as well. But those who have watched this Penguins team since Mike Sullivan took over the reigns last season and watched closely, know one thing beyond what logic may tell them. And that is, under Coach Sullivan, this team is resilient.
This Pittsburgh Penguins team has faced adversity for the majority of the season. At one point during the season, the Penguins were without Kris Letang, Olli Maatta, Trevor Daley, Carl Hagelin, Ron Hainsey, Bryan Rust, Evgeni Malkin, Scott Wilson, Patric Hornqvist, Mark Streit, and Matt Cullen.
So, for those of you keeping count at home, that’s 3 regular defensemen, 2 defensemen brought in around trade deadline to replace the original injured three, 4 top six forwards, and 2 bottom 6 forwards. Minus the “replacement D” alone, that is 45% of the 20-man starting lineup on the shelf. Yet, the Pens found a way to win.
The Geno Factor: In the 2011-12 season Crosby was unavailable to play due to injury. Malkin averaged 1.47 points per game in Crosby’s absence, compared to the 1.14 average with Crosby in the lineup. It’s been proven time and time again, that Malkin finds another gear or a hidden level if you will, in his game when 87 is out of the lineup. It’s not a secret anymore for sure.
For Pens fans and the Penguins organization, this is good news.
Some think that Geno just plays better when the spotlight shines brighter on him. Some think that with Crosby on the shelf that Malkin’s production goes up because of increased ice time. Some even think that the Russian Bear mode is something that Malkin can turn on and off. But in my opinion as a coach and former player, it is all about loyalty and being a top end athlete (even though the NHL top 100 doesn’t believe so).
Why do I say loyalty?
Because no one on the Pittsburgh Penguins understands Evgeni Malkin better than Sidney Crosby. No one else on that team has the expectations of a fan base, of a country, of a room full of your peers knowing that you can take a game over in the blink of an eye almost at will, better than Sidney Crosby.
87 and 71 are great friends believe it or not. They are teammates with a franchise on their backs and a city’s dreams on their sticks each and every night.
So, I say loyalty because Evgeni Malkin is loyal to those he loves. He loves this team, he loves this city, and he loves his great friend Sidney. And as that kind of person, he wants to do anything he possibly can to help his team win, to make the fans cheer louder, and to make his friend feel at ease because he can’t be in the lineup to help do the same.
Can the Pittsburgh Penguins win this series without Sidney Crosby? Does Starbucks serve coffee? Does Primanti Bros. put fries on a sandwich? ABSOLUTELY!!
The fact is however, Malkin will have to be 100% on his game. In the six games at the beginning of the season that Sidney Crosby was on the IR with a concussion the Penguins went 3-3. In those 3 wins, Malkin was a factor, scoring points in each game. In the 3 loses, Malkin was held pointless.
It’s going to take speed, excellent line combos, tenacity, Malkin, and Fleury to win this series without Crosby. But, without a doubt, it can be done. There is no other team in this league that I believe can pull it off without their captain in the lineup. That’s how special this group is and that is the type of character players that are in the room each day.
Believe in this team and watch them #JustPlay you won’t be disappointed.
Good talk, see ya out there!
Follow me on twitter @benchbossx2 to talk hockey.