Kovacevic: Penguins' gold in every corner
When a team is going well …
A nine-game winning streak can be born from, of all things, a victory that infuriates the victorious head coach.
On the night of March 2 in Montreal, the Penguins prevailed, 7-6, in overtime, but Dan Bylsma was so disgusted by the defensive effort that, when a reporter asked, “What's it like to come to Montreal and play a game of road hockey?” the coach let out a sigh loud enough and long enough to humble Charlie Brown.
“We were all over the map,” Bylsma finally said.
A struggling backup goaltender will stand up in the locker room during the intermission of a game in which he isn't playing, and he'll admonish his teammates to, essentially, stop being so stupid with the puck.
That was Tomas Vokoun, who replaced Marc-Andre Fleury for the second period of that March 7 game in Philadelphia and backstopped a three-goal comeback to win, 5-4.
A Sunday morning meeting between an assistant coach and his penalty-killers, all exasperated from season-long breakdowns, will result in tossing out pretty much all previously held principles.
That was Tony Granato on March 10, hours before faceoff against the Islanders.
“We'd tried everything in little pieces, finding stuff here or there,” as defenseman Paul Martin recalled. “Now, we were just going to be more aggressive, take our chances and apply more pressure.”
The Penguins killed all three New York power plays and won, 6-1.
A career-long role-playing forward will collect a puck a few feet away from one of the sport's great goaltenders, he'll instantly flash through the scouting report, then roof a devastating backhander into the net.
That was Saturday, of course, when Pascal Dupuis torched the Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist. But impressive as that was, it didn't touch the thought process.
The moment Dupuis had possession, this crossed his mind: “He's a Benoit Allaire guy.”
Allaire is the famed goaltender coach from Quebec and once was Dupuis' neighbor.
“Those guys try to take away up top by standing tall, but as soon as they start moving forward, they're going to fall forward.”
And so King Henrik did, right on the N-E-W-Y-O-R-K stitched across the front of his sweater.
“I'm not trying things I haven't tried before,” Dupuis said, before grinning. “It's just that they're working now.”
The sport's iconic star, who has reached perhaps the performance pinnacle of his career, will sit alone at his stall while reporters crowd that of the goaltender, a stay-at-home defenseman and a fourth-liner.
That happened late Saturday afternoon. Sidney Crosby waited a bit, saw no cameras and microphones coming, stood up, smiled in bemusement and strolled out of that room without being asked a blessed question.
The most heavily criticized player the team has employed in years will emerge as so valuable that not even the loss of an exceptional teammate at the same position will cause panic.
Kris Letang went down Sunday, and Paul Martin stepped up. He logged 30 minutes and was, without doubt, the top performer on either side of the Penguins' 2-1 edging of Boston.
Afterward, as teammates heaped praise, Martin seemed genuinely moved by it.
“You know, as a player, no matter what you hear on the radio or read in newspapers, the most important compliment you can get is from right in there,” Martin said, pointing toward the locker room. “To know that those guys trust me is what matters.”
When a team is going well …
Bylsma gradually develops his team's defense to the point of limiting opponents to five goals in the past five games.
Vokoun allows two goals over his past three starts, including one of his strongest showings Sunday, even as he keeps pounding the same message after the horn: “When you're up two, three goals, you don't need to make risky plays. It's the hard way to play, but it's the right way.”
The penalty-killers quash eight of nine power plays since unleashing themselves.
Dupuis scores seven goals in as many games.
Oh, he'll almost always get his fill of questions, but they'll be a bit more broad-based than the standard gee-Sid-how-did-you-do-that-great-thing variety.
“I think there are a lot of guys in here right now worth the attention they're getting, and it's great to see,” the captain said, gazing around at nameplates after the locker room had mostly emptied Sunday. “You look at what Flower's done, how solid Paulie's been, T.K. on the forecheck … it's been a lot of different guys.”
T.K, of course, is Tyler Kennedy, now surfacing after a season-long submergence, one of a handful of forwards to pitch in with Evgeni Malkin out.
That happens, too, when a team is going well.
“Actually, I'd say our depth, all the little things we're doing … that's been huge for us,” Crosby continued. “Now, we just need to keep it going.”
Hey, who'd bet against this streak?