COLUMN: Stay Thirsty, My Friends

“I definitely owe Murray a six pack of waters or something.”

That was Jamie Oleksiak following the game when he slashed Bruins forward Brad Marchand as he closed in on a breakaway with 1:01 left in the final period.

“He made a nice move. I thought he had me on the glove side so I opened up and he tried to go five-hole. I think I got my back leg on it.”

That was Matt Murray following a save on the first penalty shot he’s faced in his career.

The Penguins came back on Sunday night to win a 6-5 overtime game in which they owned a 3-1 lead, allowed four unanswered goals, and then won it in overtime with a sick Phil KesselEvgeni Malkin connection. The win was the first time the Penguins have won consecutive games since December 1st-2nd.

With the consecutive wins comes the Penguins bye week, five days of game-less nights and a chance to unplug from a season that has been as crazy as a late night ride on the Sky Rocket. This break could be one of the best things ever for the team or it could be crippling.

The hope is that the Penguins use the next five days to getaway and clear their heads knowing that they won consecutive games and have a bit of a confidence and a swagger when they arrive back to their job. Or, the break ruins momentum and the Penguins go back to the roller coaster ride of a season they have had and this becomes a moot point.

Let’s take a look at some of the really positive things heading into the NHL mandated bye week.

Sidney Crosby, Daniel Sprong, and Dominik Simon have proven to have found some chemistry. Crosby now has seven points in his last two games. Sprong is aggressively shooting the puck and was rewarded twice in the game against the Islanders. Simon isn’t the most fleet-of-foot skater but has certainly shown flashes of talent and can hold down that spot until the Penguins find an actual third-line center so that Jake Guentzel can move back into the left wing spot on line one.

-Murray made a big statement Sunday by replacing Tristan Jarry, who allowed five goals before being pulled late in the second. and shutting the door the rest of the way. Murray seemed to have been given a blow by the coaching staff but has been huge in two relief appearances over the past five days. Murray can now sit for the next five days knowing he has firmly regained the starter’s crease if there was any question.

-Another reclamation defensive project, another success for Jim Rutherford. Of course, Oleksiak has only been in the lineup for a few weeks now but he has been fairly noticeable in a good way for the Penguins. He has two goals since putting on a black and gold sweater and was part of the first period entourage of goals on Sunday. He’s been a real stabilizer to a crowded defense corps and provides pivotal depth for any trade that would send a defenseman to a new team.

-Boy, has Riley Sheahan been good or what? He isn’t the locker room presence that Matt Cullen was. He may not have the clutch gene in the playoffs that Nick Bonino provided. But right now, Sheahan is driving play and making Ryan Reaves and Tom Kuhnhackl legitimate NHL players on a nightly basis. Both Reaves and Kuhnhackl have been NHL players for some time now but they have formed what could become one of the better fourth lines in hockey. This is a big development.

There are a lot of things slowly looking better for the Penguins. Kris Letang, the team’s most talented defenseman, noticed that the team’s play is overall just more solid over the past two games than it’s been in a while.

“I think we’ve played tighter,” Letang said. “It’s more of a unit of 5 on the ice instead of having the D playing in one area and forwards in another. We’re a lot tighter and it explains our success.”

Letang was able to bury a goal in behind Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask for his first even strength goal of the season assisted by the captain Crosby. Crosby had his take on winning back-to-back games heading into the break.

“We’ve taken some good steps the last week or so,” Crosby said. “We’re finding our game a little bit and have to build off of these.”

Probably the most important aspect of the team this year has been their lethal powerplay. With their five-on-five shortcomings being so prudent in the early parts of the season, the Penguins have needed their man advantage to be as lethal as it has been.

It’s great to see Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, Letang and Patric Hornqvist gel as one unit with countless other names being deployed on the second. Good teams play with structure on the powerplay. Great teams can ad lib and keep opposing teams guessing with their unpredictability.

“They have a scheme,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “There is a framework. But what separates them from other powerplays is their movement and their instinctive play when they go off the grid a little bit.”

Don’t forget, while this team has struggled, the core has also been through a lot together over the past few years and this is nothing different. With five days off, maybe Rutherford pulls off that deal for the third-line center. Regardless, the Penguins want nothing more than confidence and swagger coming out of the break.

Stay thirsty, my friends.

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