Tale as old as time
True as it can be
Losing never ends
Then here come the trends
Just a little change
Small to say the least
Other teams should be scared
Defending champs prepared
Coming up the East
Ah, yes, so unpredictably predictable, here we are again. The Pens have spent the first half of the last two seasons showing their ass, only to pull it together when it matters to win Cups. Guess what, Jack? They’re going to do it again this season. So it has been written, so it shall come to pass. The Pens will three-peat. You heard it here first.
The Pens are now winners of seven of their last nine. Much like the last two seasons, they’re turning things around thanks to core players heating up at the right time and hefty contributions from some Wilkes-Barre call-ups. And just like the last two seasons, Sullivan is back to rolling four lines consistently, which seemingly has given a step back to a team that looked too burnt out to play their typically speed-oriented game.
Let’s start with the big three: Crosby, Malkin and Kessel:
The key here is they’re doing all of this on separate lines. The Pens have always seem to perform their best when the scoring is balanced throughout the lineup. This balance pays the most dividends when one or two catch fire, but right now all three are white hot.
If we’ve learned anything from this team the past two seasons, it’s that their depth is what puts them over the top. Doesn’t matter who or how, but someone, anyone was able to step up or in and help the Big Three. Two seasons ago it was the HBK line, along with Matt Murray, Conor Sheary and Bryan Rust emerging from Wilkes-Barre, while last season it was Jake Guentzel and Justin Schultz. This season, it’s looking like it will be Dominik Simon and Casey DeSmith.
It’s still incredibly early in Simon’s career, but one this is for certain: He has an absolute laser of a shot.
You can’t teach that. A lot has been made of Daniel Sprong’s shot — and rightfully so — but Simon is the one who has stuck with Crosby, and if you weren’t excited about that before, maybe you should be.
Also inserting himself into the fold has been DeSmith, who has some sneaky MAF traits to his game.
Matt Murray is waiting in the wings to return to the lineup, but Sullivan is riding the hot hand right now with DeSmith. If DeSmith can keep this up and Murray can get back to the level he was at the last two seasons, look out. The Pens might have another 1a, 1b situation on their hands, which we know is certainly not a bad problem to have.
As things stand here on January 26, the Pens are tied for second in the Metro. They’re six points out of first, but still three points away from dropping out of the playoffs altogether. They’re heating up again, yes, but there’s still work to be done.
Basically what that chart boils down to is the Penguins’ save and shooting percentages have been absolute dog shit. Historical statistical trends will attribute a lot of that to luck, meaning regression is right around the corner. Despite all of this, the Pens have still somehow found themselves right in the thick of playoff contention. When that regression finally kicks in — and nine goals on 72 shots in the last two games indicate it could be very soon — the Pens could really start hitting their late season stride.
One possible fork in the road could be the schedule, which has the Pens playing seven sets of back-to-backs between now and the end of the season. Now, more than ever, the Pens are going to need the goaltending to stand up, which makes the emergence of DeSmith and return of Murray all the more important.
One thing we know for sure: Second-half Penguin hockey is the best Penguin hockey. If you’ve been sleeping on this team, it’s a good time to wake up, because the Pens are coming for the three-peat.