…the tough get goin.’ At least according to the old adage.
It’s crunch time for our Penguins…in more ways than one. Over the next eight days, the black and gold play a murderous stretch of five games. All on the road. Starting Wednesday night with the Winnipeg Jets.
Yes, those Winnipeg Jets. The ones who kayoed star defenseman Justin Schultz and injured sidekick Olli Maatta in a matter of minutes back on February 16, while hammering us to the tune of 49 hits. Giving the overall appearance the Pens had encountered a runaway Zamboni.
I wouldn’t expect special treatment tomorrow night. Or an easy game. Not with the Jets in the thick of the hunt for a Western Conference wild-card spot.
Frankly, I’m (more than) a little concerned about the health and well-being of some of our guys.
Especially Evgeni Malkin.
You see, “Geno” stood up for the team during the recent clash with the Jets. Or delivered payback, if you will, in the form of a leaping shoulder check to the head of Winnipeg’s Blake Wheeler. Flattening the unsuspecting Jets captain and igniting a wild 5-on-5 scrum in front of the locals’ bench.
While the league looked the other way, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Jets attempt to exact a little frontier justice. Hockey players have notoriously long memories when it comes to matters of etiquette.
Heck, the Jets were leading, 3-2, at the time of the incident, yet still went out of their way to target No. 71 each subsequent time he took to the ice. Especially behemoth defenseman Dustin Byfuglien, who repeatedly hacked at Geno’s legs and ankles with his stick.
Talk about a human road grader.
“Big Buff’s” not a guy I’d want searching for my number. Or more to the point, having Geno in his crosshairs.
Nor his partner in crime, Adam Lowry. Six-foot-five and ornery, Lowry dished out 10 hits that night. Including the kill shot on Maatta.
A saving grace? Malkin dials it up a notch when riled. He responded to Winnipeg’s chippy play by bulling past defenseman Jacob Trouba like an M62 locomotive to set up Sidney Crosby for the overtime winner.
Still, the last thing the Penguins need is for the rangy Russian to get hurt. He’s been on fire of late, piling up seven goals and 13 points in his past 10 games. All the while performing at a rarified level that harkens back to his MVP season of 2011-12.
Although the Pens are hardly lacking in collective heart and grit, I wish they’d call up heavyweight Tom Sestito from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for the trip. Big Tom can play a little (16 points in 33 games with the Baby Pens) and he certainly provides a reassuring and protective presence.
Forlorn hope, I’m afraid. That’s not Mike Sullivan’s style.
Let’s hope the refs bring their whistles. And the Jets play nice and stick to hockey.
The Road Ahead
The Pens play back-to-back games in Edmonton and Vancouver on Friday and Saturday, before wrapping up their trek through western Canada next Monday against Calgary. The Pens then square-off with the Flyers in Philadelphia next Wednesday (the 13th) before returning home to play New Jersey next Friday.