Gameday 65: Senators on Super Tuesday

The Penguins are back home after they took their three-game losing streak to California and turned it into a six-game losing streak. Tonight marks their 1st of 16 games in the month of March and is just one of three of those 16 games not against the Metro Division. Tonight they welcome the Senators of Ottawa, and I’m not sure there is a better team to come to town at a time like this.

With their worst regular-season losing streak in recent memory some members of the fanbase, and even more embarrassingly, the media, have collectively lost their shit. In February. With 5 starters STILL out of the lineup. With just under 20 games remaining. While STILL holding a playoff spot. While getting healthier. Besides all the positives, the turmoil has made some of us forget how bad the times could be. Currently, the team is on their worst losing streak in the Sidney Crosby era. For 15 years our spoiled asses haven’t experienced a 5+ game losing skid. The current reactions are out of anger, but they are mostly out of confusion because we have become complacent with victory. Usually losing skids for good teams help them become better teams. Maybe this skid will help the fanbase become more appreciable fans. Maybe we will finally realize that there are no off nights in the NHL despite the opposing teams record. Maybe we will finally appreciate every regular-season win as much as we bitch about every Kris Letang turnover. Of course, we could keep acting like we have it as bad as the fans of the Penguins opponent tonight.

It was 1,013 days ago, May 25th, 2017, when the Penguins and Senators went to battle in game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. The Penguins were familiar with ECF game 7s. They had just been through one the year before after going down 3-2 in the series to the heavily favored Lightning. It’s amazing that fans crippling under a 6-game regular season losing skid even made it through that Tampa series that featured Penguins wins in two elimination games. Now a year later, the Pens had a similar fate against the Senators.

Despite it being nearly 2 AM that goal undoubtedly brought you out of your seat. It’s goals like that that bring an entire fanbase together. Goals that make everyone who complained about Conor Sheary falling down every shift ignore his impressive hustle to not only win a 50-50 puck in the corner but turn it to the blue line. You don’t get big goals like this from teams who are not all in. You don’t get teams who are all in who have a walkthrough in the regular season. There is a reason President Trophy winners don’t often win the Stanley Cup. The Penguins have been tested with injuries but have kept floating. Now they are getting their much needed starting defense back together. They have three new players who are yet to win in a Penguins jersey. On the surface, this may seem awful because it is the worst losing streak since Sidney Crosby became a captain. Deeper down, emerging from this skid could be exactly what the Penguins need as they gear up for a run. Which would you rather be, a team who wins 60 games and plays their last meaningful hockey game March 6th, or a team who realizes that they can win hockey games with half their team out and emerge from a losing streak? Adversity builds champions. The Penguins are made of more Stanley Cup winning players than any other team in the league. Give your balls a tug. Put away your bitching card and relocate your fan card. It’s time.

Since the Chris Kunitz 2OT goal the Senators have turned over their entire roster. In just over 3 calendar years the Sens have moved just about every player who got the team one goal away from the Stanley Cup, with just Craig Anderson and Bobby Ryan remaining from that series. That is impressive. In comparison, the Penguins have Crosby, Sheary (technically), Malkin, Rust, Hornqvist, Letang, Dumoulin, Schultz, Murray, ZAR, and Guentzel still on their roster. Both teams were equal prior to the Kunitz shot going in. Now one is pushing for another run and the other is giving Ron Hainsey top pairing minutes.

I put Marino and Dumoulin in the graphic, not because I have inside info but because I am overly optimistic. Both are listed as game-time decisions. Both participated fully in practice yesterday and more importantly both took shifts on their respected PK and PP lines, which usually indicates they are good to go. If anything, Marino would be closer than Dumoulin, but both are likely. Nick Bjugstad is out for this game but is also getting very close to coming back.

It’s a hockey night in Pittsburgh baby. Sidney Crosby took the personal blame from the Sharks game and has had two days to sit in his bedroom listening to My Chemical Romance songs to prepare for this game. Malkin said he would be fire when Sid was out and he was. What will Sid, the man with 43 points in 39 games, do when he says he needs to be better? The only way to find out is to watch. Losing streaks aren’t fun, but the impact they can have on teams that overcome them is huge. A team emerging from this streak is a team that doesn’t blink when down 3-2 in a series against the Lightning in 2015. A team that fights through this much injury is a team that trusts every player, so Conor Sheary feels comfortable passing the puck back to Justin Schultz who is covered by two opposing players instead of forcing it behind the net to empty space. Teams that overcome adversity win. This team knows how to win, and the only 6 this group cares about isn’t the number of losses in a row in February.