Thoughts, musings and observations from the Penguins' 7-3 win against the Ottawa Senators at PPG Paints Arena.
* You knew this was coming. After Penguins captain Sidney Crosby took personal responsibility for the team's six-game losing streak - "I put it on myself" - you knew he would show up and execute a course correction.
As he does on most occasions, Crosby delivered both on the scoresheet and by setting the tone with his effort and commitment at both ends of the ice.
"Any time a player of Sid's caliber takes ownership like that it inspires the group to want to play for him," head coach Mike Sullivan said.
Crosby had a goal and three points as the Penguins demonstratively snapped the losing skid. Crosby's second assist of the night (Jason Zucker) was his 800th career assist. Another marvelous milestone for a generational talent.
* Bryan Rust's remarkable season continued as he picked up three goals in the game to reach 27 on the year while posting his third career hat trick (second against Ottawa).
Rust's offensive explosion this season - his previous career high was 18 goals - has gotten a lot of ink. But Rust has truly developed into one of the team's leaders. And when the team needed its leadership group to step up and stop the bleeding of the losing streak, Rust was one of those players.
* Patrick Marleau picked up his first point (assist) as a Penguin on Rust's second goal.
* Perhaps the biggest factor in Pittsburgh's win was the return of defensemen Brian Dumoulin and John Marino. Their absences has also been a big reason for the team's recent struggles. Both men play such a strong defensive role and eat a ton of minutes. The Penguins were able to shoulder the loss of Dumoulin at first, but losing both really hurt.
With both blueliners back on the blue line, the Penguins were able to better balance their defensive pairs, and looked much stronger in the defensive zone. They're both smart players in their own end and their outlet passes are crisp and on target. Just have them back helped Pittsburgh escape its own zone.
I wasn't surprised at how well Marino looked as he only missed three weeks. But Dumoulin played incredibly well for a guy that hasn't seen action since Nov. 30. I'm sure both men were running on pure adrenaline after missing 37 games (Dumoulin, ankle surgery) and 11 games (Marino, facial surgery). Hopefully, as the adrenaline wanes in the next few games they can keep playing at a high level.
* The Penguins didn't score the first goal in any of their previous six games (all losses). In fact, the Penguins didn't even score a first-period goal in any of those previous six games.
That all changed against Ottawa. It took a mere 48 seconds for Pittsburgh to score the opening goal from Marino (welcome back). Then all of 99 seconds to make it a 2-0 game when Conor Sheary (welcome back) scored on a pass that deflected off the stick of Ottawa's Mike Reilly.
Getting the lead was huge for the psyche of the Penguins, and allowed them to play a more structured game and with less stress. Pittsburgh is 23-3-3 when scoring the game's opening goal. So, it's an important marker for the club.
* On an interesting but maybe not completely unrelated note, the Penguins switched up their order on how they come onto the ice as a team. During the entire Crosby-Malkin era (2006-07 to present) the duo has been the final two players to step onto the ice. Malkin is last preceded by Crosby. But tonight, Marleau took the penultimate position. Perhaps Crosby was showing some love and respect to the 42-year-old? Possibly. But mostly, they were looking to change up the team's luck. Whatever the reason, it worked.
"He's played 1,700-plus games and I just asked him where he usually went," Crosby said. "He usually went somewhere back there, so I just said, 'Let's try that spot tonight.' We got the win, so I'm sure you'll that for now, anyway (laughs)."