Too early to envision Penguins winning Stanley Cup?
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That was New York Islanders defenseman Andrew MacDonald whom Sidney Crosby blew by Monday night on his way to scoring his first goal in 328 days. Is it so hard to imagine Crosby doing it to Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith in June?
That was Islanders goaltender Anders Nilsson whom Brooks Orpik beat with a wicked one-timer after a great pass from Crosby. Is it hard to imagine that shot soaring past San Jose Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi in June?
That was Nilsson ...
What's that, you say?
You're right. Shame on me for looking so far ahead. It's November 22. There still is much hockey to play, 61 regular-season games before the playoffs. A lot can happen. Heaven knows injuries can happen.
I realize all of that.
But if you watched Crosby and the Penguins blow away the Islanders, 5-0, how could you not at least be tempted to look ahead? How could you not begin to formulate a picture in your mind of Crosby holding up the Stanley Cup on Consol Energy Center ice?
I pictured it quite clearly, actually.
That was the Penguins team Monday night, their whole team. With defenseman Zbynek Michalek and that Crosby fellow back in the lineup, they were complete for the first time this season. And they were spectacular.
"You saw it, man," winger Matt Cooke said. "You saw in relative quick fashion the potential of this hockey club."
Certainly, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury saw it.
"I felt like a fan out there with a good seat. We have a lot of good players."
Tens years, 20 years, 50 years from now, a million people will say they were at Consol for the Crosby comeback. He put on a sensational show. Two goals. Two assists. Eight shots on net.
Crosby even got hit hard a couple of times in the first period, taking a cross-check from defenseman Milan Jurcina to draw a penalty and a hit into the boards from defenseman Travis Hamonic. He bounced up each time. "I was kind of glad I got that over with early on," he said.
Crosby's second goal -- he beat Nilsson with a backhander early in the third after fighting off Jurcina -- was better than the first, which was terrific. Crosby scored on his first shot just a little more than five minutes in, when he turned on the speed through the neutral zone and flew by winger Jay Pandolfo and then MacDonald before putting a backhander behind Nilsson.
So much for Crosby's concussion-like symptoms.
So much for being unprepared for game speed after missing 68 contests, including playoffs.
"Crosby! Crosby! Crosby!"
The chant reverberated through the building long after the game ended.
"It felt like I was waiting forever," Crosby said of this night.
Said Cooke: "Obviously, he was ready ... He's Sidney Crosby. The guy loves the stage. He loves to play."
The Crosby performance overshadowed another shutout by Fleury, who had 29 saves. You might be able to come up with a goaltender whom you would rather have on your team. I can't.
Crosby also overshadowed a goal-and-assist performance by Evgeni Malkin. Steve Sullivan's second-period goal completed a marvelous bing-bang-boom passing play from James Neal to Malkin to Sullivan for an easy tap-in.
It was about that time that you probably wanted to jump up and scream, "These guys are pretty good!" There isn't a more talented team in the NHL when the Penguins are healthy.
The Chris Kunitz-Crosby-Pascal Dupuis line picked up right where it left off when Crosby was injured early in January. Dupuis had a strong game, setting up the first Crosby goal with a pass, diving to keep the puck in the offensive zone before Orpik's slapper and then assisting on Crosby's second goal.
The Sullivan-Malkin-Neal line had another big game with two goals and two assists.
The Cooke-Jordan Staal-Tyler Kennedy line didn't get on the score sheet, but you know how good those guys are.
The power-play unit got a goal from Malkin, who knocked in the rebound of a Kris Letang shot. Don't be surprised if it jumps to the top of the NHL rankings.
The penalty-killing unit was perfect on six kills against the Islanders. It has been among the best in the league even though it had an off weekend in Florida a few days ago.
Fleury is Fleury.
The depth is outstanding, to the point Fleury said, "It doesn't seem to matter who's in the lineup and who isn't."
What isn't there to like?
Coach Dan Bylsma acknowledged "a little different feel on the bench" Monday night because he had Crosby, Malkin and Staal playing together for the first time since Jan. 5 and in just the third game since the 2010 playoff series against the Montreal Canadiens.
"It's a feel I hope to get used to for more than just one game," Bylsma said.
What a wonderful thought.
For the Penguins and their fans, that is.
What a nightmarish thought for the 29 other NHL clubs.
First Published November 22, 2011 12:00 am