In which that really may be a light at the end of this ridiculous, injury-ridden tunnel...
*Opens door slowly.*
*Peers around door slowly.*
Are we sure?
You know the scene at the end of "Twister", after the last storm moved through, the storm clouds dissipate in about 0.5 seconds and you see the people emerging slowly from their storm cellars? That was the Pens fanbase after the Tampa game.
Solid "Twister" reference gets the Dusty Triple-Quality Stamp of Approval.
Maybe more accurately, we were Bill and Jo, riding out the storm in a rickety toolshed, tethered via leather belt to a pipe fixture, and somehow miraculously spared from being struck by debris & sharp tools tossed around by 200-mile-per-hour winds.
What a mess, but through it all, the Pens emerge from the weekend with a rejuvenated locker room, four out of four points at the expense of the Panthers & Lightning, and Carolina on the docket tonight. After the Canes, the Pens close out the month with games against the Rangers, Habs, Craps, Blues and Maple Leafs, so Tuesday's game is a pretty big two points.
(The Blues, by the way, just tied the Rangers for the league lead tonight with 60 points. WHEN THE HELL DID THIS HAPPEN? DAMN YOU, HITCHCOCK.)
Oh, and more good news today, as Kris Letang has been fully cleared and may be back well before the All Star break.
So within the last few games now, Dustin Jeffrey has returned. Staal probably has about three or four weeks left, but he should likely be back before the trade deadline. With Letang's pending return, the defense is almost completely back to the original top seven.
Startin' to come together!
With this in mind, a plethora of thoughts, some final on the Crosby mess from this past weekend...
Much was made about how the Penguins have handled this whole situation since it started, particularly with Crosby. The frustration over the lack of information being communicated from the team to both media and fans has boiled over more than a few times. Those arguments aren't going to be rehashed here, but most suggest that the Pens could've handled this whole thing better.
While I'm inclined to agree that they should've been more forthcoming with information on a regular basis, keep in mind that there wasn't exactly a blueprint here, either. So I'm not sure exactly what "better" is.
Look at it this way - has any team ever gone through something like this, with all the circumstances at play?
An injured player who is at once an icon to a franchise, a league and a nation.
He's suffered an injury that displays little if any outward symptoms and no timetable for recovery, leading some to wonder out loud how hurt a person suffering from it really may be. Yet it can and has ended careers and altered lives.
It's an injury that in just the last three or four years has seen a complete 180-degree turn in the way it was perceived and treated. It has leapt to the forefront not just in hockey, but in sports in general and has done so at all levels. In terms of treatment, there is still very much to learn, as even those who specialize in it have attested.
This is all happening in an era in which fans and media have more access than ever to information that is available quicker than ever, which is both good and bad. It allows the team to communicate directly with its fanbase, yet it also leaves open plenty of space for discussion, along with creating fertile ground for rumor-mongers to work.
To at least some extent, the Pens are probably damned if they did, and damned if they didn't.
Nothing may have better illustrated that than the update that was leaked yesterday, informing us that Crosby was arranging another meeting with Dr. Ted Carrick and the Space Camp machine in Atlanta.
It immediately touched off the usual amount of speculation by fans on Twitter as to whether this was a good or bad sign. That's fine; that's what fans do. The media reports it and talks about it because it's their job. Fans discuss it because they care about the team, and Crosby's obviously part of the team, an integral one at that.
But at this point, no one probably knows whether this is good or bad. The Pens probably don't know. Hell, Crosby probably doesn't even know...at least not yet.
This is where we are now. It has been and still remains a very fluid situation and information - no matter how much or how regularly communicated - does relatively little to quell the amount of speculation that's out there. Talk to little and people think they're hiding something. Talk too much and it allows people more room for conjecture, and also may create artificial deadlines that can't be guaranteed. So I'm not sure there was ever a "right" way to ever handle this. It's impossible to tell if more disclosure would've changed the perception of any of this.
The team has at least seemed to acknowledge that there's nothing really wrong with giving something other than the "there is no update" answers coming from Bylsma in morning skate scrums and postgame pressers, so that seems to be a step forward for fans and media. While today's more regular update did relatively little to change the amount of the speculation and nothing to change Crosby's recovery timeline, it probably gave Pens fans a little bit more to go on as this whole thing moves forward.
How long does that satiate the demands? Who knows?
Advice, if I may? Take the updates for what they are - just updates. Try not to read too much into anything that doesn't say something like, "Crosby cleared to return." People were practically talking themselves into concussions over the weekend with all of this. Yes, we're all frustrated. Yes, we all want him back on the ice sooner rather than later. He'll be back when his symptoms clear up, whether that's next week, next month or next season.
In the meantime, we've got this pretty decent team getting healthy.
Some talk out there that James Neal may take Jamie Benn's place in the All Star Game. It would be pretty cool but honestly, the way the last 12 months have gone for Pens fans, can we just keep him out and let him rest? The last thing Pens fans want is Neal getting in the way of some errant Zdeno Chara slapshot.
I've watched, re-watched and watched again the clip of Mike Milbury and Keith Jones trying to argue that Malkin ducking Lecavaljoke's check was some sort of predatory attack by Malkin on Lecavaljoke's knees. I know Milbury and Jonesy aren't the sharpest knives in the drawer to begin with, but I can't even begin to see how they'd arrive at that.
I guess you consider the source, though. Milbury's diatribes typically read something like "blah blah blah TOUGHNESS blah blah HARD WORK blah blah SOFT EURO". They're both two old-guard clowns who overvalue intangibles like "toughness" and "hard worker" and "good guy". That's why they spend the same amount of time in their pregame shows talking up some random third-liner or a weasel like Marchand instead of focusing a little bit more on marquee talent that can do things with a puck that 93% of the league cannot. Not that those intangible traits aren't worth anything; they absolutely are, especially in hockey. You can't win without those types of players. It just gets overplayed, especially by people like Milbury & Jones. It's the effing NHL. Everyone works hard or you don't stick around.
Unless you're Alexander Semin, although that may change in about six months.
The Paul Martin Theorem: Paul Martin is a decent all-around defenseman. He is not physical, but he often compensates for that with his mobility. He's probably not as reliable in his own zone as I think many expected him to be, but Hans Jonsson he is not. Yes, he turns the puck over more than we'd probably like to see, but that can be a by-product of handling the puck as much as he does, as well as pulling tons of minutes.
Martin's biggest problem may be one of perception. Martin doesn't do enough spectacular things on offense to offset the mistakes he sometimes makes on defense. He's not a big points guy. He's taken shots from the point that may barely break a pane of glass. The things he does very well - distribute the puck and throw decent breakout passes to start a rush - aren't things that always stand out. Unfortunately, like any defensemen, the mistakes he makes often do.
Truth is that Martin at his current salary and cap hit is about the going rate for veteran defensemen like him. When everyone's healthy, he & Michalek make a decent 3-4 pairing. Given the defensemen in the system, it was doubtful as to whether he'd ever see the end of the contract he signed here. Simon Despres's performance this year may have expedited that, probably by this summer, but perhaps as early as this upcoming trade deadline.
Just something to keep an eye on, depending on how some things play out.
Two big points tonight. Eff Eric Staal. Let's go Pens.