PITTSBURGH – The Stanley Cup celebrations were barely two weeks old when Sidney Crosby started thinking about a remedy for the championship hangover.
The Pittsburgh Penguins captain went on vacation with teammate Max Talbot shortly after the Game 7 victory over Detroit and was already looking ahead to this season. Just like that, another long championship pursuit had begun.
“I remember that trip with Sid,” Talbot recalled Tuesday. “It was a celebration and everything, but (he was saying) ‘Let’s do it again’ – that was his first thought. That’s a big reason why we don’t have a hangover right now.”
Indeed, the Penguins are off to a start that suggests they’re as hungry as ever to win the Stanley Cup. With only Wednesday’s game against Ottawa remaining before the Christmas break, Pittsburgh is hovering around the top of the Eastern Conference with a 25-11-1 record.
There’s no doubt in Talbot’s mind why things have gone so well.
“This guy, Sid,” he said, motioning towards Crosby’s locker. “Sid is the main reason.
“He would never let himself or let us have a bad start. I don’t think we’re satisfied as a group in winning one.”
It’s interesting to see how few reminders there are of last year’s championship season. Another banner hangs in the rafters of Mellon Arena and a small Stanley Cup adorned with “2009” has been put up in the dressing room, but there aren’t really any massive tributes to be found.
The Penguins appear to have turned the page.
While the team’s roster experienced a few changes over the summer, the core remains the same – Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, Brooks Orpik and Marc-Andre Fleury, all signed through at least the 2011-12 season.
“Our chemistry is still the same, it’s still solid,” said Fleury. “The guys that came in are great fits.
“Everyone is getting along very good with everybody. On the ice, I think we’ve shown we’re built to win again – that’s the main thing.”
A major hurdle in winning another championship appears to be the New Jersey Devils, who beat the Penguins 4-0 on Monday night. The league-leading Devils have already won three games against the defending champs this season.
Even still, the Penguins were upbeat at practice Tuesday and appeared to have put the latest defeat behind them.
“I think our attitude and our preparation was all there,” said Crosby. “We’ll forget about it.”
Staal isn’t likely to forget an incident during the second period of Monday’s game when he was struck in the nose with the puck. It was a scary moment for the 21-year-old centre, who left a trail of blood while being helped off the ice by a trainer.
He got stitched up and returned in the third period with a full face shield. The incident might prompt him to put on a visor once the cut heals.
“It’s obviously something that I’ll think about a little bit more,” said Staal. “I wore a visor in junior. I don’t mind wearing it so we’ll see what happens.”
The decision to return to Monday’s game earned him a little respect from his teammates.
“That was pretty gutsy,” said Crosby. “As players, we were really happy to get him back. He’s a tough guy, he’s got three brothers who have probably done worse than that.”
One of Pittsburgh’s major strengths has been its ability to avoid a long losing streak. The team has only dropped more than two games in a row once since Dan Bylsma was hired as coach on Feb. 15 – and the four-game skid in early November came when the Penguins were decimated by injuries.
A victory in last year’s Stanley Cup has given the team the confidence that it can rebound.
“It only changed what we think,” said Talbot. “We’re getting more experience as the same core group. We’re more laid back when we lose a game like last night (against the Devils), we know that it’s not the end of the world. We know it’s still a long way from the playoffs and the Stanley Cup.”