Kovacevic: Pressure on Penguins? Please

| Thursday, March 28, 2013, 11:54 p.m.

Nothing's changed.

Or, at least that was the primary talking point in the Penguins' locker room on this manic and memorable Thursday morning, one that began with the titanic 1:30 a.m. tweet that Ray Shero had stolen Jarome Iginla from the Flames for a B-side song then followed up with a farewell message from Canada's prime minister, a public statement from Mario Lemieux and an emotional press conference in Calgary before that city's civic treasure could pack for his flight to Pittsburgh.

And once here, this future Hall of Famer will work into what already was the world's greatest assemblage of hockey talent but now will have three NHL scoring champs, an almost embarrassing wealth of skill and size, across-the-board depth — all of it guided by more captains than a Navy vessel.

No, nothing's changed.

As you were, everyone.

And pressure?

“I think there was pressure before this deal,” Sidney Crosby was saying. “I don't think that's changed. If anything, I think it should motivate us even more knowing that we've added some guys to help us and that we're an even better hockey team.”

James Neal's take was no different: “There'll be pressure playing for the Penguins. That comes with playing with the best players in the world.”

He paused a moment.

“But you want that pressure. You strive in your career to have that kind of pressure. We've got the pieces right now to be a great team, and we've got that hunger. Ask me, and that means a lot more than any pressure.”

Know what?

They're right.

No, really, before setting the first foot into the Iginla Era, it bears repeating — no, stressing — that this was a potential Stanley Cup champion without him. No team leads the league in scoring and is defensively sound and rattles off 14 victories in a row while missing Evgeni Malkin and torments a No. 3 conference seed as the Penguins traumatized the badly overmatched Jets, 4-0, Thursday night, unless something special's going on.

Meaning already going on.

Iginla obviously makes the Penguins better. He's been a modern-day Gordie Howe, the prototype power forward capable of shooting, skating and dropping 'em for more than a decade. He also was the Flames' captain and a figure so respected in the Calgary community that his departure might resonate there as powerfully as that of Wayne Gretzky from another Albertan town.

He'll be a magnificent fit and a magnificent performer. Even at 35, he's still got it.

But the incumbent Penguins are wholly justified when they say that nothing's changed.

A week ago, they were the Cup favorites.

Today, they're Cup favorites.

A week ago, they'd have high goals, they'd be burdened by recent playoff failures, they'd need Marc-Andre Fleury to shake off his Philly nightmares, they'd hold their breath every time Crosby gets checked, they'd doubt the defense and they'd need Dan Bylsma to make smarter adjustments in a seven-game series.

All of that applies today.

So let's stop right now with this nonsense about how these Penguins will be wracked by pressure. It's no more or less than before Brenden Morrow and Douglas Murray enjoyed their Andy Warhol 15 minutes in town. It's no more or less than if Iginla had been a Bruin.

I really appreciated this thought from Craig Adams, one of the grinders working the gears of the Penguins' underbelly: “I don't think pressure's an issue. I think the issue is not changing what we're trying to build here. We certainly haven't been perfect in this winning streak, but we're getting better in certain areas of the ice, getting better at keeping pucks out of our net. We're playing smarter than we were before.”

He raised an eyebrow.

“That's what we have to guard against, this idea that we've added a few pieces, so, OK, we're just better than everybody. That's not the case.”

Tomas Vokoun, who coolly recorded his 50th career shutout Thursday night, offered this: “One thing we know: The names don't play the game. The players do.”

Sound a little defensive?

Good. They should be.

Thursday was a great day for hockey here, to borrow from another notable ex-Calgarian.

But nothing's changed.

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