A disappointing 2-1 loss against the Boston Bruins snapped a six game winning streak for the Pittsburgh Penguins. It was a goaltending battle between two names you would’ve never guessed to be headlining a Penguins vs. Bruins matchup: Casey DeSmith and Daniel Vladar. Getting his first career NHL start, Vladar stood on his head, highlighted by a fantastic paddle save on Colton Scevior. The Penguins battled, but could not overcome. They were tested early, losing Evgeni Malkin to injury in the first period and Brandon Tanev was ejected for a suspect boarding call. While the Penguins loss ended their longest winning streak of the season, there is still reason to believe the momentum this team has been building will continue.
At the start of the season, the tandem in net was the focus of many. How will Jarry and DeSmith hold up? A shaky start to Jarry’s season poured gas on the fire of worry, and it looked as if the goaltending was a serious impediment to Stanley Cup Contention. Over the past few weeks though, Jarry has surged back into form. Since Feb. 20, he has a .920 save % and has won eight out of 10 starts. Meanwhile, Casey DeSmith has quietly gone 6-3 this year with a .915 save %. With the athletic skill of Jarry and a calm steadiness from DeSmith, the goaltending position in Pittsburgh has quickly turned from question mark to strength.
I don’t think we’ve seen the best of Sidney Crosby this season…yet. He has 29 points in 28 games this year, is tied with Jake Guentzel for the team lead in goals, and it still seems like there’s another level to Sid’s game that is waiting to be unleashed. But against the Bruins, it was obvious how effective Sid’s will on the game can be. Greats like Sid elevate their games in the moments they’re needed most: and that’s exactly what Sid did in the last two games. In addition to this 3 point effort in the first game, Bob Errey of AT&T Sports reported that Crosby skated the second most distance of all skaters, at around 3.7 miles covered. And with the injury to Geno last night, we saw Crosby’s ice-time jump up to just under 25 minutes. Sid’s defensive game has been superb lately as well. As we reach this pivotal stretch of the season, Crosby’s play is trending upwards to his most dominant self. It’ll be even more important in this year’s tight playoff race to have the Captain playing his best. He certainly seems up to the challenge.
It would’ve been easy and understandable for the Penguins to have been beaten soundly last night. When you lose two impact players before the end of the second period, it can be a monumental task to overcome. Yet, with just 10 forwards on the bench, the Penguins never looked out of the game. Games against Boston are always difficult and physical, and the Penguins never shied away from it. Often, they were the better team, dictating play and out-skating the opposition. Casey DeSmith provided timely saves and the offense had plenty of chances to tie the score. It just wasn’t their night. It makes a difference, though, when a team can battle the way the Penguins did last night. Just ask the Sabres, Rangers, or Devils, how much they would love to have that compete level.
The looming question mark of player health continues to haunt the Penguins. With the addition of Evgeni Malkin to that list, the fear grows exponentially larger. Still, these Penguins continue to play better on both sides of the puck. Injuries may derail the progress this team is making, but the way they are playing now feels like a wave that is strong enough to persist.