There was a time earlier this season when the Pittsburgh Penguins were looking nothing like the potential Stanley Cup-challenging team that many had expected. Having suffered a 4-0 loss to New Jersey midway through November, the third defeat the team had endured in four games, centre Evgeni Malkin called for a team meeting to try and put a stop to their woes. This was a decision fully endorsed by Penguins captain Sidney Crosby.
It wasn’t as though the Pittsburgh skipper didn’t have to ask himself a few questions. The two-time Art Ross Trophy winner had made a slow start to the season, recording just nine points in 17 games. That was a surprisingly dismal opening to the campaign for a player who had averaged more than a point per game heading into this year. It was certainly no coincidence that Crosby’s lack of form coincided with Pittsburgh’s slump and there was a fear that the season was already over before it had really started.
However, the franchise’s fortunes on the ice failed to improve and, with the Penguins 15-10-3 for the season, general manager Jim Rutherford took the decision to sack Mike Johnston as head coach and brought in Mike Sullivan from Pittsburgh’s AHL affiliate, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. With previous NHL experience with his time in charge of the Boston Bruins, where he guided the team to top spot in the Northeast Division with 41 wins in his first season, Johnstone was still seen as something of a risky appointment.
But whether it is the arrival of a new head coach, a change in the Penguins’ system, or the fact Crosby failed to make it into the Metropolitan Division for the All Star Game, Pittsburgh have been on a real charge ever since. Inspired by their skipper, who has raced up the NHL scoring charts, the franchise has leaped into third with 31 goals and 76 points as the season heads into the final few weeks. They have overwhelmingly silenced those critics who had aimed shots at Crosby earlier in the season.
Even the loss of Malkin to injury hasn’t knocked the team off course. While there are still stronger teams on paper heading into the playoffs, there are plenty of people who feel the Penguins could be worth a wager as they are priced at 16/1 with the latest NHL betting odds to go all the way this year.
With Crosby now one of the league’s most in-form centres, while also considering the potential return of Malkin during the playoffs, it’s not hard to picture a scenario where the Penguins upset the odds in the postseason. The five-time All Star has already racked up 17 points in March, five points more than anyone else in the league. This has taken his average since January to an eye-catching 1.46 points per game and has put him in a position to mount a late charge for a third Art Ross Trophy. For the Penguins, anything is now possible.