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Penguins Hope to Ride Road Trip Success Into Olympic Break

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins
“We know it’s going to be a tough trip. We’ve had a few of these over the past couple of years and had success, so we have to do the same thing here.”

Those were the words from a disappointed Sidney Crosby following the Penguins’ 7-4 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Jan. 7 – the night before they embarked from Pittsburgh on a five-game, nine day road trip through Toronto, Minnesota, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver.

Like all great players, Crosby sure has a way of being impeccable – both with his words and his play on the ice. Leading by example with six points (4G-2A) during the trip, Crosby and the Penguins were able to return home with a successful 3-2 record, allowing for a much happier Crosby as he assessed the Penguins’ performance after practice on Monday at Mellon Arena.

“I think it went pretty well,” he said. “We played some good hockey. It was a tough way to finish but I think for the most part we played some pretty good hockey. We played some good teams as well.”

Pretty well might actually be an understatement considering the Penguins played five games in three time zones and faced yet another back-to-back situation on their excursion. Add in the fact that two teams – the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks – were fighting for the top spot in their division and you realize just how well the Penguins played.

The trip began with a 4-1 defeat of the Toronto Maple Leafs in a nationally televised contest on Hockey Night in Canada on Jan. 9. Sergei Gonchar returned from a four-game absence and scored twice in a 2:37 span in the second period to break a 1-1 tie. Marc-Andre Fleury was sensational in goal with 42 saves.

Following a 4-3 setback in Minnesota two nights later despite two goals from Crosby, the Penguins rebounded by sweeping back-to-back games from the Calgary Flames, 3-1, and Edmonton Oilers, 3-2.

I think we got back to the way we played before Christmas. I think it was important to get our game back. We did a good job of that and we will try to build off that going into the Olympic break. - Sidney Crosby
Fleury put on another brilliant performance with a 37-save effort against the Flames. In the Edmonton game the Penguins erased a 2-0 third-period deficit thanks to some heroics in the final frame from Jordan Staal. The 6-foot-4 center continued his recent hot stretch where he has begun emerging from the shadows cast by Crosby and fellow superstar Evgeni Malkin to become a front-line center opponents need to game plan around in the offensive zone.

Staal picked up the primary helper on all three Penguins’ tallies – one each by Tyler Kennedy, Matt Cooke and Pascal Dupuis – as he was named the game’s No. 1 star for his efforts. Crosby credited Staal’s tenacious work below the opposition goal line as a primary reason he was able to carry the Penguins’ offense at times on the trip.

“I think Staalsy – his size is something that he uses well,” Crosby said. “He is not a big guy who stays away from traffic. He goes into traffic and creates loose pucks because of it. He is really tough to play against defensively and he is tough to control down low. When he gets that puck down low it is hard to take it from him. He creates a lot from that. He has been shooting the puck and creating a lot from that.”

Although the trip ended with a 6-2 setback in Vancouver on Saturday night, the positives from the trip far outweigh the negatives. Especially when you factor in the Penguins used two inexperienced netminders who had a combined three appearances on their resume prior to the game against the Canucks and one (Alexander Pechurski) was a 19-year-old who had been in North America for a month and played without his own equipment.

Head coach Dan Bylsma was certainly pleased with his team’s effort.

“We set out on the trip to get a little more attention into our game and into the details and how we want to play,” Bylsma said. “I think we did a much better job of being able to get to our game. We were more attentive to the details that make us a good team, and we saw that throughout the trip.

“I think we saw some good results of that – of us being able to get to our game, and certainly we would have liked to have won all of them on our trip. But, we certainly did draw that from the trip, and now we have to translate that at home here and make a push toward the break.”

When reporters tried to compare this road trip to the Penguins’ season-saving five-game road swing where they went 5-0 from Feb. 27-Mar. 8 last season, Crosby wasn’t ready to go that far, but he did agree with Bylsma that the Penguins must take the success of past nine days and apply it over the course of the next 12 games prior to the Olympic stoppage – a stretch which includes eight games at Mellon Arena.

“It was a solid trip,” Crosby said. “To come out (with a record of) 3-2, I think we are pretty happy. I think we got back to the way we played before Christmas. I think it was important to get our game back. We did a good job of that and we will try to build off that going into the Olympic break.”

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