A Tale of Two Games, But Where Do the Penguins Go From Here?

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A Tale of Two Cities. No, not the one written by Charles Dickens in 1859 but rather the one written by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2022.

On Friday night at Madison Square Garden, the Penguins fell flat in the most important game of the season.  They gave up three goals before some fans even figured it out how to find a stream.   They were dominated thoroughly from the Rangers by the outset and never had a fighters chance, losing 5-1.  

Losing that game represented the Penguins’ lowest point of the season. The Blue Shirts are the Penguins’ likely first-round opponent. The Pens see the Rangers three times in the span of 14 days.

Talk about a prequel, huh?

But losing to them in such convincing fashion was real startling to any Penguins fan invested in this wonderful season that’ll see the Penguins enter the playoffs for a 16th consecutive appearance.  Fast forward two days to Sunday, where the Pens played against the lowly Detroit Red Wings, one of the worst goaltending teams in the NHL. The Pittsburgh Penguins did not disappoint.

In need of a huge statement after the Rangers game, the Penguins hung an 11-spot on the Red Wings. They became first team to score 11 goals in the salary cap era which began in 2003.  There have been three different teams reach the ten-goal plateau in a singular game since 2017. The Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, and now, the Pittsburgh Penguins. Ironically, the Red Wings have been the opponent against all three of those teams.

Yikes.

In the process, Evgeni Malkin scored a hat trick, his 16th goal in 30 games since returning from an ACL he tore nearly ten months ago. Any talk of Malkin’s demise is foolish and should be quelled with such a performance. His patented left-handed slapper scored two of the goals and the other was a fancy deke around defenders that would’ve left even 25-year old Malkin stunned.

Rickard Rakell scored the 11th and final tally of the rout for his first as a Pittsburgh Penguin. That weight will certainly be lifted off of his shoulders but he has been very good despite taking four games to finally tally a point. He had a goal and two assists in this one.

Also scoring were Teddy Blueger, Bryan Rust, Sidney Crosby, Jeff Carter, Danton Heinen, Brian Boyle, and Kasperi Kapanen.

You wanted secondary scoring. You got it on Sunday.

So, realistically, what does this all mean?

The Red Wings aren’t good. They’re not the worst team in the NHL but they are not a good hockey team. They have some young talent but they have a ways to go.  However, scoring 11 goals is nothing to scoff at, especially when it hasn’t been done in 19 years.

Mike Sullivan’s team had no choice but to erupt Sunday. Their effort hadn’t been there recently and they paid for it on Friday night.

On Tuesday of this week, the Penguins invite the Rangers into their home arena. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will be honored during the game. The atmosphere should be pretty solid for yet another big time game against the Rangers.

If the Rangers win, they’ll overtake the Penguins for second place in the Metropolitan Division and hold playoff home-ice advantage over them in a potential first-round matchup. If the Penguins win, they’ll hold a three-point lead over the Rangers with one more head-to-head regular season matchup left. The best way to stave off the teams around you is to beat them head-to-head. The Penguins will get another crack at that Tuesday.

Pittsburgh won’t score 11 goals. Especially not on Vezina candidate Igor Shesterkin. But they can come out at home with a higher energy level and prove the Rangers aren’t going to be dancing circles around them in May.

The Penguins will need all of Tristan Jarry, who had no chance Friday night, but responded well Sunday. Another “flu-game” from Malkin would suffice. Secondary scoring? Yeah, that’ll do too.

Above all, they have to win, and preferably do so in regulation. No free points should be handed out to the team you’re in the most competition with.

Take the 11-goal thumping and build off it. It doesn’t matter if it’s against the Detroit Red Wings or the Colorado Avalanche, the confidence to build from such a game is paramount.

Is it Tuesday yet?

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