We Will 'C'
For the past week the Pittsburgh Penguins have been at first hounded and later motivated by not a buzz word so much as a buzz letter.
Regardless though of who told Dejan Kovacevic what (And rest assured Kovacevic would not go to print without impeccable sources for any story, let alone one that impactful.) and where or when some sort of â€œmeetingâ€ may have taken place, and who may have been involved, one thing is indisputable: â€˜Captainâ€™ is the C-word that has had the least to do with the Pensâ€™ turnaround.
For starters, how about â€˜camaraderieâ€™?
During their six-game losing skid, the Penguins spent the majority of each night looking like 19 or 20 equally lost boats adrift at sea. Dragged out into uncertainty by the undertow of doubt and reservation, they played hesitant, timid hockey. Just the kind that will get a team pushed around all over the ice regardless of how many shots they throw to the net.
A team that was apparently unraveling physically, mentally, and emotionally, came together just in time, however. Their Everyone-Wears-A-â€˜Câ€™(Or â€˜Kâ€™) stunt provided some focus in the midst of the depressing doldrums of a season that had become more about Sidney Crosbyâ€™s neurological health than the simple tasks of forechecking with physicality and shutting down neutral zone passing lanes. Suddenly, those aimless ships at sea remembered the lighthouse of Cape Bylsma was calling them back to the system that had been so useful a year ago.
Also in the past seven days, another C-word has replaced all of the aforementioned doubt, hesitance, timidity, and aimlessness.
When the Penguins enjoy a physical advantage over their opponent, they run around more swole than James Harrison at the North American Conference of Diminutive White Quarterbacks. They impose a toll on everybody who handles the puck. It leads to turnovers by opposing defencemen, poor passing by the opposition in their defensive and neutral zones, and a distinct lack of â€˜grindâ€™ from opponents late in games.
After several weeks of getting pummeled by Atlantic Division foes, amongst others, the Pens found that physical advantage again while winning three straight against Southeast Division teams. The real test of all 20-plus â€˜Câ€™s, from the faux kind taped on practice sweaters to the burgeoning confidence & camaraderie once again filling the Penguinsâ€™ locker room, may be Thursday night at Madison Square Garden against a team thatâ€™s been more physical than arguably any other in the league â€“ and has the NHLâ€™s best record to show for it â€“ the New York Rangers.
We will â€˜Câ€™ just how much the Pens have turned things around.