Two Minutes and Four Seconds of Chaos
Who knew you could learn so much in 124 seconds?
The set-up to some jokes is longer than that. And as it turns out, the joke just may be on the rest of the NHL.
In the final two minutes and four seconds of last night’s Penguins game in Raleigh, a protracted 6-on-3 for the Carolina Hurricanes that possessed all the fury of Bill Cowher’s gleaming white choppers when he sounded that hurricane whistle three years ago, Dan Bylsma’s team proved that it is so much more than just Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Marc-Andre Fleury.
Sure, the Carolina Hurricanes are one of just four teams with fewer than 10 wins a full third of the way in to the season. So take the victory for what it’s worth. And sure, those of us who pay attention to the Penguins have known since this past spring that the team’s grinders were capable of incredible things.
But for 124 seconds – two minutes and four seconds where the likes of Malkin, Chris Kunitz, James Neal, and most notably Paul Martin never touched the ice – the Pens hung on. Take away the final 18 seconds, when Crosby was on the ice, and it was an Alexei Kovalev cameo away from looking like the scrappy, bare bones operation that nearly survived a round of the playoffs in April.
It was what the Pittsburgh Penguins under Dan Bylsma have always been about.
26 seconds from Deryk Engelland. 48 seconds from Richard Park. 68 seconds from Matt Cooke before he was unceremoniously thrown in the bin of shame. A monster, two minute, shot-blocking, body-sacrificing extravaganza of a shift from Craig Adams. And for the entire 124 seconds and the two and half minutes preceding it – yes, a FOUR AND A HALF MINUTE SHIFT – Brooks Orpik acting as a Transformer if Transformers were made from cool stuff like snow plows and those old, horsehair goalie pads that your dad would scream at you for wearing to play street hockey.
Over the last two weeks, with all of the focus in the hockey world on Crosby’s comeback, and to a lesser extent on how the Capitals and Ducks are each a mess, we’ve overlooked the fundamental difference between a team like the Penguins and those underachievers playing Russian roulette with enigmatic stars like Alex Ovechkin and Bobby Ryan: Depth.
If you’re an opposing coach, who do you send your top unit out against? Do you ask them to try and counter punch Crosby’s line? Or how about you waste them trying to slow down the Malkin-Neal-Steve Sullivan trio? You could ask them to battle with Jordan Staal, Tyler Kennedy, and Matt Cooke. Have fun with that grind. Or you could hope they find an opening or two against Asham, Adams, and Park or Joe Vitale.
The team with the widely regarded “best third line in hockey,” in Jordan Staal, Tyler Kennedy, and Cooke, is slowly developing the best fourth line in hockey as well. It was evident again last night, as Asham and Adams connected again on Asham’s 3rd goal of the season and gave Adams his first multi-point game of the season.
Yes, there was an assist each for Crosby and Malkin, keeping Geno on pace for 90+ points and Sid for a potential Art Ross Trophy-winning 105+ points. Yes, this is still a team that creates its offensive chances by dominating puck possession. Yes, if they want to dance with Lord Stanley’s Cup again in June they’ll do it on the backs of the two-headed monster and names like Neal, Kunitz, and Staal.
For 124 seconds though, the Penguins were the grittiest thing on ice since the Charlestown Chiefs’ improbable run to the Federal League finals. And the joke’s on the rest of the league if they forget that Bylsma’s team is just as capable of “grinding these bitches down” as they are of burying highlight reel backhands.