Penguins notebook: Return to normalcy should help chemistry



A lot has happened since the last time the Penguins won a game.

Nearly a month has passed since their 5-1 victory Feb. 12 in Buffalo.

Seven of their players and two of their coaches have participated in the Olympics.

They have taken part in the third outdoor game in franchise history, a 5-1 loss to Chicago Saturday night at Soldier Field.

But the spectacles, sideshows and distractions — OK, all the ones except the looming NHL trade deadline — are over now, and the Penguins can focus on the final 22 games of the regular season, beginning Tuesday night with a visit to Nashville.

“There was a little bit of a whirlwind over the last couple of weeks for everybody, and then getting back to playing hockey here in the NHL,” coach Dan Bylsma said.

“A lot of the first games back [after the Olympic break] weren’t the prettiest games around the league. Then you step right into a game where you’re outdoors in the elements.

“So, yes, we’ll look to regroup and … maybe get back to some normalcy, and we’re going to have to do it going on the road for some tough games coming up.”

Bylsma, who coached Team USA at the Olympics, came home disappointed in his club’s fourth-place finish.

Center Sidney Crosby, who captained Canada to a gold medal, was infinitely more happy with how the Games played out, but shared Bylsma’s perspective on how the Penguins have to get their game back in synch for the weeks ahead.

“We definitely have some work to do,” Crosby said. “We’ll make sure to get back at it.”

Ratings bonanza

The game Saturday night was an abject flop for the Penguins, but an unqualified success for some others.

The crowd of 62,921 was the fourth largest in NHL history, topped only by the crowd of 105,491 at Michigan Stadium for the 2014 Winter Classic, the 71,217 fans at Ralph Wilson Stadium for the 2008 NHL Winter Classic and the 68,111 at Heinz Field for the 2011 Winter Classic.

The Penguins participated in all of those games except for this year’s Winter Classic, which pitted Detroit against Toronto.

What’s more, the Penguins-Blackhawks game drew the highest overnight rating, 2.1, for any regular-season game, other than a Winter Classic, on NBC.

The game had a 13.3 rating in Pittsburgh and a 14.9 in Chicago. NBC was the highest-rated network in both cities from 8-11:15 p.m.

The other locker room

The Blackhawks adapted to the snow and wind at Soldier Field faster and better than the Penguins, which might be part of the reason Chicago never really was seriously threatened over the course of the game.

“You’ve got to be mentally prepared for a game like this,” Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith said. “I’m not saying this is the biggest game in the history of the world, but in the sense of the conditions, you’ve got to be ready for that.”

Chicago clearly was.

“We simplified,” Blackhawks forward Bryan Bickell said. “We chipped [the puck in] and scored. Got the puck to the net.

“We were able to get second opportunities. We had some highlight goals. … But [the goal was] to just keep it simple. We did and we executed.”

Credit Chicago winger Kris Versteeg with perhaps the most succinct — and accurate — assessment of the Blackhawks’ lopsided victory.

“They had their chances,” he said. “And we capitalized on ours.”

Tip-ins

Chicago forward Brandon Saad, a native of Gibsonia, not only had an assist, but recorded a game-best plus-minus rating of plus-4. … Bickell, on the greatest challenge players faced Saturday night: “[To] not think about our toes. Our toes were frozen.” … The Penguins had a scheduled day off Sunday. They will practice this morning before flying to Nashville.


Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.

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