You Win As A Team; How Pittsburgh's Unsung Heroes Are Leading The Penguins
While Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are playing good, with the latter having greater production but not overall greater play, the Penguins have Managed to win six games out of nine.
Not too shabby when talking about post season play. After all, winning is winning at this time of the year. Not many people are going to complain about how asetically pleasing the game was when it results in a win.
This happened to be the case on Monday, game three and the second game of the back to back which saw the Penguins dominate game 2 on Sunday. Pittsburgh held on to win a 2-0 game at MSG on the back of Marc-Andre Fleury, who had his second shutout in as many nights. This is something that the people in Pittsburgh have been absolutely clamoring for.
A confident Marc-Andre Fleury can work wonders in the crease. His supreme athleticism and knack for big time saves at crucial moments helped the Penguins consecutive Stanley Cup finals, winning one.
On Monday night, Fleury was phenomenal. He was in position the entire night, forcing the Rangers to consistently hit him square with the shot. If the Rangers tried to beat him on the edges, they rang the posts. The Rangers actually had two solid post shots and a crossbar shot, the latter even went to review, but they couldn’t solve the enigma in the Penguins crease.
This is huge news for the Penguins and their fans. Last season, when Fleury started to flop, he crashed and was forced out of the lineup. After the game four’ disaster in Columbus, Fleury could have done the same. He could have failed and turtled away into the locker room. He could have simply let his career follow the trend and dissipate into nothingness.
The thing is, Fleury still has an elite drive. He has a sense of what it takes to win and despite all of the criticism, Fleury believes that he can not only win big, but the one that people lean on to win big. Fleury took all of the heat for a game four loss and turned in two very solid performances to end the series with Columbus, even though the team playing in front of him was desperately trying to give Columbus a chance at a game seven.
Fleury now has the third best save percentage in the playoffs and is continuing to trend upward. The blend of excitement, confidence, and pride that is flowing from Fleury right now is intoxicating. It is spreading to his teammates, coaches, and even the fans.
For me, I’m just happy to see Fleury enjoying the game again. It has been a while, but it is certainly something he deserves.
Fleury isn’t the only one though; Pittsburgh has called upon two other players to carry them. Two defensemen who had to fight back from injuries and major let downs; two defensemen who right now, are playing the best of anyone on the Penguins outside of Fleury.
Those two defenders are Paul Martin and Kris Letang. Martin, who broke his hand while playing for team USA, is Pittsburgh most heavily relied upon defender. His unique blend of speed, puck movement, and vision blend perfectly with his space eating defensive style. No defender on the Penguins is used as often as Martin and in as many crucial situations.
Martin has become the rock to which struggling defenders cling to for support. He has helped lift Orpik in the past and now is helping Letang. When he is on the ice, the opposition takes notice. He is a match up nightmare for teams, playing well against speed and size. He quarterbacks the power play and anchors the penalty kill. Martin is truly the Penguins most versatile and most important defensemen.
On the other end of this spectrum is Kris Letang. Letang, who suffered a stroke in January, made an unexpected return this season. His play when he returned was what many were afraid to see. He was timid, slow, and unsure of his abilities.
All of that has changed.
Letang is once again the Penguins game changer. His speed has returned, allowing him to carry the puck through neutral zone traps and breakdown the opposition’s coverage schemes. He is once again fearless in making plays behind the net, sacrificing his body in order to get the job done.
The jump in play that we have seen from Letang has given Pittsburgh hope. He has taken pressure of the puck carrying forwards. His speed is providing third and fourth scoring options in the offensive zone. He is even excelling in the defensive zone again, taking the body and not just the puck, as well as being aggressive on the puck carrier.
Letang and Martin have taken the first step in becoming critical pieces to a Stanley Cup puzzle. It is only a matter of time before Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin take their next step.
With these players on their game, Pittsburgh is as good as anyone in the East. They are controlling the puck, getting scoring chances, and playing solid defense. The penalty kill is gaining confidence and the power play is due to break out any game.
Thanks to these early heroes, Pittsburgh is in good position to keep winning. The old saying goes that you win as a team and lose as a team, for Pittsburgh, they will take these teams wins over superstar production any day.
Game 4 prediction
After two straight shut outs the Penguins are as confident a team as any. The Rangers on the other hand are not. Their power play is struggling mightily and their composure is fading fast. With 20 turnovers in their last game, the Rangers might be on the verge of a breakdown.
Tonight, I expect the Penguins to come out flying in support of their goaltender. They should be able to get a boost from their PK and if they are able to score an early goal, they should be able to instill doubt in the Rangers. If Pittsburgh plays the way they did in game two, tonight will be another step towards moving on. Pittsburgh wins tonight’s game by a score of 3-1, on the back of a Sidney Crosby power play goal and a dominant performance by Brandon Sutter.