It wasn’t long ago that the Pittsburgh Penguins found themselves entrenched in a puzzling offensive slump, a stretch in which the normally potent Pens struck for only a single tally four times in five contests. That drought, however, is quickly fading in the club’s rearview mirror. Having scored 16 times (excluding the deciding shootout marker against Toronto) in their last four games, the Penguins appear to be returning to form as one of the league’s most feared offensive juggernauts.
The reason? Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby are finally starting to produce at the same time. Indeed, on the 16 Pittsburgh tallies in the last four contests (in which the squad has gone 3-0-1), Sid and Geno have combined for 15 points. Say what you will about a top heavy lineup but, the fact remains that when Crosby and Malkin are both going, the Pens are nearly impossible to stop. What’s more, with the way the team is currently constructed, the Penguins need both star centers to act as catalysts for the offense if the club is ultimately going to be successful.
Regardless, if the two continue to pace the NHL in scoring, the Penguins will represent one of the league’s toughest matchups for the balance of the 2013-’14 campaign.
In the past four games, Crosby posted a single tally but that marker came in about as dramatic fashion as possible. After being held off the score sheet for nearly 60 minutes, Sid was largely responsible for the Pens salvaging a point in Boston. Because, with less than a second left in regulation, Crosby knotted the score, 3-3, forcing overtime against the Bruins. Though Pittsburgh would fall in the extra session, the Pens’ captain helped deliver a valuable point in the standings that his club could build on moving forward.
Two nights later against Toronto, Crosby helped his squad overcome an atrocious start to win the kind of game that fans long for and coaches love to hate. After falling behind 4-1, Sid contributed two assists as the Pens eventually outlasted the Maple Leafs in a shootout thanks, once again, largely to Sid’s heroics:
Finally, a three assist performance that drove a 3-0 victory over the Lightning not only delivered a second consecutive victory to the Penguins but also provided Crosby with a personal milestone of his own. Becoming the fastest (active) player to produce 700 points, Crosby even took a moment after the game to acknowledge the accomplishment:
“It’s nice, and, when you can win in the same game, it’s even better. You don’t really think about those things, but, when they do happen, I think you appreciate it.” – Crosby, on reaching 700 points
If Crosby has been an important cog in the Pens recent success, Evgeni Malkin has been the engine that has powered the offensive renaissance. Indeed, coinciding with the return of James Neal, Geno has absolutely caught fire, registering nine points in four games. After his sluggish start to the campaign, it seems safe to say that Malkin has returned to form.
After contributing a single helper against the Bruins, Malkin nearly single-handedly dragged the Penguins to victory against the Maple Leafs. Contributing two goals (including the game tying-marker) and an assist, Evgeni dominated the second half of the game against Toronto. For good measure, Geno cemented the victory by converting in the shootout en route to earning the game’s first star.
Following another helper against Tampa, Malkin’s heroics were once again needed the next night against the Panthers. With his team being outplayed for much of the night, Geno made the most of his opportunities as he struck for another goal and three assists on the way to a Pens’ 5-1 victory. Indeed, without his effort or the stellar play of goaltender, Jeff Zatkoff, the Pens may not have waltzed out of Miami with another two points in the standings.
Pick Your Poison
Despite the fact that Crosby and Malkin have combined for 15 points on the last 16 Pittsburgh goals, the duo has teamed up to produce only three markers in the last four games. Consequently, each star has clearly contributed independently of the other. And, if the recent offensive onslaught continues, opposing squads will consistently face a nightmare of a matchup whenever they face the Penguins.
As a case in point, one needs only to look at this recent stretch to understand the matchup issues the “Two Headed Monster” creates for opponents. Because, in reality, Sid and Geno have literally alternated carrying the squad en route to Pittsburgh’s recent 3-0-1 record.
In Boston, for example, it was Crosby’s last-second tally that forced overtime and earned the Penguins a point in the standings; against the Maple Leafs, Malkin was largely responsible for an improbable comeback that ended with a shootout victory. Two days later, Sid took over again, setting up all three Pittsburgh markers as the Pens blanked the Lightning; not to be outdone, Geno turned in a four point performance the next night against the Panthers.
Therein lies the problem for the rest of the league. Now that Sid and Geno are both producing at a high level, who does the opposition focus on stopping? After all, regardless of whom a coach deploys his top defensive pair against, he faces the realization that there will likely be another world class player waiting on the bench, salivating at the opportunity to go up against someone else.
And, as long as that proves to be the case, opponents will continue to have their hands full with the Crosby and Malkin-led Penguins.
Sean Griffin is a lead writer for the Pittsburgh Penguins at The Hockey Writers. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.