Throughout the course of every season teams are forced to deal with adversity.
It is how a team deals with that adversity that separates the contenders from the pretenders.
Adversity is what fans and analysts will look back on when the team is hoisting the Stanley Cup, or is hitting the links in early April.
Back in 2009, the Penguins overcame adversity en route to their third Stanley Cup title.
The team was mired in a slump and had fallen out of the top eight in the Eastern Conference by the middle of February.
On Valentine’s Day, the Penguins marched into the Air Canada Centre and jumped out to a 2-0 lead. In the third period, the team completely fell apart as the Maple Leafs buried five goals to cap a 6-2 win.
Sadly, I was in attendance that day. Though looking back on it, maybe sad isn’t the right word. I was there for the turning point of the season that ended in glory for the Penguins.
As we exited the building, fans of the home team were coming up to me and apologizing. They said things like, “You shouldn’t be losing to teams like us. We suck.”
I had no response for them. The only thing I remember saying about the game to my buddy, Greg, was that Michel Therrien should be fired.
That, and “This entire trip was a waste after that pathetic game.” As a Toronto fan, he could only laugh and enjoy the win.
Anyway, the 2010-11 Penguins have battled adversity all season long.
Injuries to Jordan Staal kept him out of the lineup until New Year’s Day. As he started to regain his full game form, Sidney Crosby goes down with a mild concussion.
Now, add Evgeni Malkin to the list of injured flightless birds. While it’s not yet known how severe the undisclosed injury is, he has been dealing with a bum knee for much of the year. Granted, he’s only missed five of the team’s 47 games, he’s looked a bit off all year.
The Penguins announced today that Geno will not make the trip to New Jersey to take on the Devils Thursday.
Injuries aside, the team has had some of the highest highs and lowest lows a team can experience on the ice.
The team stumbled out of the gate and finished the month of October with a 6-5-1 record. After a 7-4 loss to the Boston Bruins on Nov. 10, the team rattled off a streak of 15 games without a loss in regulation. Of course, that included a 12-game winning streak.
Since then, the team is 8-6-2 and is currently riding a three-game winning streak.
Individual players have even struggled through some rough patches this season.
Take Marc-Andre Fleury for example. Anyone remember all the critics and naysayers saying he’d “lost it,” and “just trade him now.” Where are they now?
The Flower was 1-5 in October and 3-6-1 overall before going on an 11-game win streak of his own.
Fleury is now in the top ten in the league in save percentage (.922), wins (21) and goals against average (2.26).
The knock on Fleury has always been that his numbers are average, but when the game is on the line, he’s the guy you want in the cage.
Goaltending statistics can also be flawed. While Martin Brodeur will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest to ever play the game, he also had the benefit of playing for some of the best (if not the most boring) defensive teams in the league. It’s impossible to try and figure out how much he benefitted from that, but it’s worth noting.
I could go down the whole road of breaking down the comparative numbers between him and some of his predecessors like Patrick Roy, but we’ll save that for another day.
The point is, Fleury battled through the rough times at the start of the season and has arguably been the Pens’ best player this season.
Fun fact: Crosby has missed the last six games and still leads the NHL scoring race by three points over Steven Stamkos. Crosby has played 41 games this season, while Stamkos has played in all 47 games for the Bolts.
Despite all the trials and tribulations the team has endured this season, they are still second in the Atlantic Division, just three points behind Philadelphia. In addition they are fourth in the Eastern Conference standings. Overall, the Pens are the second best team in the conference, but due to the rule about division leaders getting a 1, 2, or 3 seed, Pittsburgh sits in the fourth position.
Their biggest test could be coming if Crosby continues to have concussion symptoms and if Geno is forced to miss a significant amount of time.
It’s now up to the team to face this adversity head on and continue to show that they are one of the top teams in the National Hockey League.
The next test begins tomorrow night in New Jersey.
You can follow me on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/CaseySheaPens