PITTSBURGH, Pa. – There are no TV cameras recording their every move on and off the ice, no cellphones filled with messages requesting tickets from friends and family members.
The regular season finally is regular again for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
After three months of hype and buildup for the Winter Classic, a game that feels like a Stanley Cup final plunked down into the middle of the season, the Penguins are focusing again on playing games that count just as much as the outdoor game 3-1 loss to the Capitals on Saturday night. Only they won’t be played in a football stadium.
Even if those games—including five in eight days—will lack the drama and the distractions that accompanied playing in what was the NHL’s most-watched regular-season game in 35 years, based on NBC’s ratings.
“It was nice to go through that but, when it’s over and when you’re past it, you’re ready to move on,” captain Sidney Crosby said Tuesday. “I don’t think anybody looks back on that and says it was terrible. It was a lot of fun to be part of.
“But we’re used to our routine and habits. To able to move forward and into the second half of the season, when games become more important, this is a fun time of year.”
Without the Winter Classic, there won’t be as many text messages to answer. Or as many relatives bunking in spare rooms. And mom probably won’t be around to cook dinner.
“Everyone’s families are getting out of town,” defenceman Brooks Orpik said. “It seems like there was all that buildup to that one game, all the ticket requests and hotels and all that stuff. It kind of swamped you all at once.
“We’ve gotten all the cameras out of here, which I think most of us like. I think it’s good for everybody.”
The schedule isn’t easy, with Steven Stamkos and Tampa Bay visiting Wednesday, one night after playing in Washington. Then comes a trip to Montreal a night later. The Penguins then return home to play Minnesota on Saturday and Boston on Monday, followed by a return visit to Montreal next Wednesday.
Yeah, it’s back to normal. Even if normal is very hectic.
“It was a little crazy that weekend,” goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. “I’m very glad we did it. I’m disappointed we didn’t get the win, but it was a great time and a great opportunity. It’s kind of nice to go and relax a bit for those three days and get back to normal.”
Playing in the Winter Classic probably took a toll on some teams. Boston won it last season, then went on to lose 14 of 16. But the Penguins feel rested after playing only once in six days and, despite losing their last two, they’ve won 16-of-21 during a stretch that included a 12-game winning streak.
“If we had played Monday, there might have been room for a letdown,” Orpik said. “The first game being Tampa Bay, after having a couple of hard practices, I think is definitely good for us. It was important to have some hard practices.”
The Penguins’ season reaches its midpoint Wednesday and, so far, there’s a lot to like from a team that is 25-12-3 after starting 7-8-1.
They have four of the top six vote getters for the NHL all-star game in scoring leader Crosby, forward Evgeni Malkin, defenceman Kris Letang—a write-in candidate—and Fleury, who started his season by losing six of seven. The improved penalty kill is No. 2 in the league. And they’ve won 10 of their last 11 at their new Consol Energy Center home, where they lost their first three.
“The first half is the story of the NHL in general—you go through a lot and there’s a lot of things that go on in a short period of time,” Crosby said. “You’ve got to be persistent and consistent and I think that’s what we were. We found a way to get through some adversity and put a streak together like that. … Looking at the first half overall, I think we’re pretty happy. We like our chances every night.”