ake of a season
Evgeni Malkin made the proclamation more than two months ago http://www.officialhockeyrangersshop.com/authentic-adidas-marc-staal-jersey , minutes after the Pittsburgh Penguins put together three borderline spectacular periods against San Jose on Jan. 30 to pick up their ninth win in 12 games.
”It’s like we’re back to playoffs for sure,” Malkin said.
It was vintage Malkin, who for over a decade has played the blunt dressing room yin to Sidney Crosby’s ever polite yang.
While predicting a playoff spot for the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions isn’t exactly risky, Malkin’s promise came as the Penguins were coming out of a three-month funk in which they flip-flopped between brilliant and blah.
Reminded of his guarantee on Tuesday – with a 12th straight postseason berth secured – Malkin just smiled. Yeah, maybe he was sending a message to the rest of the guys in the room that day that the malaise needed to go.
”Like we talk a lot about this year, like everyone’s `Wait, like what’s going on?”’ Malkin said. ”We lost couple good players but we’re still great.”
They just didn’t always play like it during the first half of the season. While doing his best to avoid using the word ”hangover,” Crosby admitted the Penguins may have suffered from a bit of selective amnesia last fall when they opened the season trying to become the first franchise in 35 years to win three straight titles.
”When you play a couple seasons of important games like that, you come back and you might not have that urgency or you only remember May and June when everything is great and your team is firing on all cylinders but you don’t necessarily remember all the little things that happen,” Crosby said.
The two-time MVP has been around long enough to understand that each year has its own set of unique challenges. The group that basically ran in place from October through December sort of forgot how to deal with it.
”You have to go through that stuff over the course of the year and sometimes it’s not as fresh in your mind as winning is,” he said. ”So I think it took us awhile to go through that.”
Things like trying to find a new identity after the departures of Chris Kunitz Zach Parise Jersey , Marc-Andre Fleury , Nick Bonino, Trevor Daley and Matt Cullen, all vital pieces of Pittsburgh’s 2016 and 2017 titles. Things like defenseman Justin Schultz and forwards Patric Hornqvist and Bryan Rust all missing significant time with injuries, reminders that – as coach Mike Sullivan likes to put it – the Penguins play a ”belligerent sport.”
Sullivan knew adversity was coming when the season started. And while he didn’t panic he kept reminding his players that nothing is inevitable, not even a playoff berth for a team with the longest active streak in the NHL. There was no fiery speech telling them to get it together because none was required.
”There weren’t really any words said,” Rust said. ”Everybody knew. It’s one of those things. You take a look at the standings. You take a look at how we lost a few of those games early in the year and you just, everybody kind of looked in the mirror a little bit and everybody picked up their own game.”
Though the Penguins insist there was no one moment in which they snapped to, Hornqvist pointed to a 4-0 road win against the New York Islanders on Jan. 5 as game when the light started to come on.
The visit to Brooklyn came just 24 hours after a humbling 4-0 home loss to Carolina. Weather issues forced the team to scramble just to get to the arena. They left with two points and a little bit of swagger.
”Since then I think we’ve been playing good hockey and been improving every game and that’s the key to the season,” Hornqvist said.
Having Malkin and Crosby doing Malkin and Crosby things certainly helps.
Malkin is in the running for his second Hart Trophy as league MVP, his 95 points the most on the team Jesper Bratt Jersey Kids , most of them coming during Pittsburgh’s post-New Year’s Day surge, one in which the Penguins became just the fourth defending champion since 1944 to reach the postseason after being on the outside looking in at the season’s midway point.
When Malkin cooled, Crosby put together a five-game goal scoring streak, including a remarkable double-tap score against Montreal’s Carey Price and an overtime winner against New Jersey last Thursday in which he smacked his own rebound out of midair and by Devils goaltender Keith Kinkaid in overtime.
A win over the Canadiens last Saturday night turned Malkin’s January guarantee into a reality. Though a loss to Washington on Sunday allowed the Capitals to wrap up a third consecutive Metropolitan Division title, the Penguins aren’t particularly concerned. All three Cup parades during the Malkin-Crosby era have followed regular seasons in which the Penguins finished second in their division.
All that matters to Malkin is that Pittsburgh is in the conversation. Just as the Penguins have always been since he arrived in 2007.
”I will always believe my team,” Malkin said. ”I always believe this group. I see these guys every day and we’re still hungry.”
A look at what’s happening around the majors today:
HOT AS THE WEATHER
Evan Gattis and the World Series champion Astros have the longest active winning streak in the majors. They go for their 10th straight victory when they play at Kansas City, where temperatures are expected to approach triple digits. Houston left-hander Dallas Keuchel (3-8) pitches against Danny Duffy (3-6). Keuchel, the 2015 AL Cy Young Award winner, has allowed 13 runs over 11 innings in two June starts – raising his ERA from 3.65 to 4.45. The Royals have lost four in a row and 10 of 11.
With a franchise-record 15 players on the disabled list, the Angels try for a second consecutive victory in Oakland. Los Angeles added four more players to the DL on Friday: infielder Zack Cozart (partially dislocated right shoulder), right-hander Jim Johnson (lower back strain) Youth Sebastian Aho Jersey , right-hander Garrett Richards (strained left hamstring) and right-hander Nick Tropeano (right shoulder inflammation). Only 12 players from the opening day roster were active Friday.
Paul Goldschmidt tries to keep up his torrid pace at the plate when the Diamondbacks host the slumping Mets. Goldschmidt entered this month batting a paltry .209 after slogging his way through May, when he had only 14 hits in 97 at-bats (.144). The All-Star slugger has returned to form in June with seven homers, 15 RBIs and 17 runs. In 14 games, he’s raised his batting average 56 points to .265. He homered for the second consecutive night Friday, finishing with three hits and two RBIs in a 7-3 victory. He has nine homers and 21 RBIs in his past 20 games. Meanwhile, the NL West leaders have won seven of eight and 11 of 14. The freefalling Mets have dropped four straight, 12 of 13 and 19 of 23.
Washington ace Max Scherzer has won the last two NL Cy Young Awards. The right-hander appears well on his way to a third straight – and fourth Cy Young overall – going into his start at Toronto. Scherzer (10-2, 2.00 ERA) leads the majors with 142 strikeouts in 94 2/3 innings, and he’s allowed more than five hits in a game only twice in 13 starts this season.
Giants lefty Madison Bumgarner takes the mound in Los Angeles against the rival Dodgers. Bumgarner is 0-1 with a 4.76 ERA in two starts this season following a two-month stay on the disabled list. He allowed six hits and four runs over 5 1/3 innings last time out vs. Miami. The 2014 World Series MVP is 15-9 with a 2.53 ERA in 29 career outings vs. the Dodgers.
Red Sox knuckleballer Steven Wright (2-0, 1.21 ERA) brings the longest current shutout streak in the majors into his start at Seattle. Wright has thrown 22 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings, including back-to-back starts when he went seven innings in a win against Detroit and 6 2/3 innings in a no-decision at Baltimore. Wade Leblanc (7-3 Authentic Blake Wheeler Jersey , 4.26) goes for the surprising Mariners, who are 45-25.
Orioles first baseman Chris Davis has essentially been benched in the wake of a season-long slump. Davis is batting .150 with four home runs, 15 RBIs and 86 strikeouts in 52 games. Making matters worse, he’s in the third year of a $161 million, seven-year contract. Davis hasn’t played since Monday, and there’s no telling when he will be back in the lineup. ”Chris is continuing with some things that he’s working on,” manager Buck Showalter said. ”When they come to me and say they think he’s ready to get back in the lineup, we’ll put him back in there. But it’s nothing imminent.” Baltimore has lost eight straight, its longest skid since July 2011. The Orioles have dropped 15 of 17 overall and 10 straight at home, scoring only 14 runs.
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