These are the Penguins to now fear. A new coach, a couple of key trades, and a return from injury by a key player have worked wonders for the team, and its captain, Sidney Crosby.
Pittsburgh is kicking tail and taking names. Starting with their last two games in February, and running through their March 25 meeting with Calgary, the Penguins have won nine of 12, and two of those losses were in a shootout.
A smile hasn’t left Crosby’s face since Dan Bylsma became the interim head coach of the Penguins on Feb. 15, replacing Michel Therrien. I wouldn’t say Therrien was necessarily going to this extreme, but when, as he did, you take a Picasso (Crosby) and turn him into a house painter, the results aren’t quite as artistically and quantitatively productive.
Bylsma has implemented a system and a style that has the Penguins tapping heavily into their speed, energy, and skill. They are going towards the other end with force, and they are not coming back to their end.
Bylsma has Pittsburgh playing an uptempo, offensive-driven style that really plays to one of Crosby’s biggest strengths, which is his skating ability moving forward on the attack.
Crosby is more potent now than at any point in the season. After missing four games with a groin injury, he wasted no time in showing big, big things can be expected from him coming down the stretch.
In his first seven games since returning to action, he picked up 13 points. Crosby has a shot to finish with 110 points in 77 games, which translates into a 1.43 per-game average that would rate the second-best of his career.
The style the Penguins played under Therrien didn’t lend itself to Crosby or Evgeni Malkin putting up big numbers, but they were both clicking along at a tremendous pace anyway. It’s a difference in philosophy from one coach to the next, but besides Bylsma’s uptempo, attack-driven philosophy, Crosby has got more to work with in the new system.
Their names are Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz. Anaheim dealt Kunitz to Pittsburgh on Feb. 26, and Guerin came to the Penguins from the Islanders in a deadline-day deal on March 4. They are now the wingers on Crosby’s line, and have proven superb additions.
The credit here goes to Penguins general manager Ray Shero. Pittsburgh was facing the same problem it was a year ago before the trade deadline: not enough quality wingers to play with Crosby. And it’s not only quality we’re talking about, but also the type of player. Kunitz and Guerin are perfect to play with Crosby.
Crosby’s new line clicked right off the bat, but that does not surprise me. Some guys just can’t play with one another, but that’s certainly not the case when it comes to Crosby, Kunitz and Guerin.
In Crosby’s case, he plays more of a straight ahead, power forward, speed game. He’s not really a finesse player. He’s a power player, and that’s the way Kunitz and Guerin play as well. They are straight ahead physical players like Crosby and both are fast enough to keep up with him. They both have skill to go with their speed so their styles lend themselves perfectly to playing with Crosby.
The 38-year-old Guerin has enough left to contribute on a line with Crosby. With the Islanders, he was getting quality ice time, but he wasn’t playing with anyone as talented as those he plays with on the Penguins. In Guerin's first 10 games with Pittsburgh, he had 10 points and I expect him average more than a point a game the rest of the season.
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Because he plays a power game, Crosby is a great puck supporter. He just doesn’t dish off the puck and go to a scoring position. He wants to support the play, so if Kunitz is on the forecheck after the puck has been dumped in, Crosby will be the third guy there. They’ll be an opposing defenseman, Kunitz, and Crosby in the battle.
Along with his speed, Kunitz has an aggressive mentality, and has good enough hands to put up significant numbers. If he played a whole season with Crosby, there is no doubt in my mind he would be a 30-goal scorer.
Going out onto the ice and playing with wingers he believes he has a chance to succeed with gives Crosby a feeling something good could come out of every shift.
Live Extra: In an 0-2 hole, the Rangers face a must-win game at home against the Bruins in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference semifinal.
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Crosby getting lift from new linemates
March 22: New Penguin additions Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin seem to be a good fit on the line with Sidney Crosby.
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