Disclaimer: This is a completely random and even somewhat ill-time observation after last night's game. Additionally, it's not even remotely rooted in anything tangible. But hear us out.
We watched a replay of a Penguins-Capitals game from Dec. 2006 last week on NHL Network. The game stood out to us because we remember waking up that morning and just for the heck of it, checking out the Capitals' Web site to see if any tickets were available. They were and without thinking we just bought the best one we could find. Roughly five minutes and $95 later, we then fully realized we bought a ticket to a game four hours away without really putting any thought into the process.
After driving down without out any maps or plan or any sense of direction, we got to the game almost literally as the puck was dropping. We were a few rows behind the Capitals' bench and could hear Bob Harwood interviewing members of the Capitals for Versus and we could see first hand Matt Pettinger taking off his skate and giving it to an attendant to sharpen.
The Capitals stormed out to a 4-0 lead and we began to wonder what in heck did we make this trip.
Then slowly but surely, the Penguins began chipping away at the lead. A goal by Maxime Talbot gave the Penguins a heartbeat. Erik Christensen's made it a game. Sidney Crosby's score put the Capitals on their heels. Then Evgeni Malkin tied it up.
The game moved to overtime where the Penguins put in a gutsy effort to kill a Malkin penalty. Neither team could get a goal in the extra period.
A shootout followed. The Capitals got a goal from Alex Ovechkin. The Penguins got two from Christensen and Malkin. Marc-Andre Fleury stoned Chris Clark on the final attempt and sealed a 5-4 win in what we would argue is the greatest regular season game in the Crosby-Malkin era. We will fully admit we're completely biased in that assessment due to the trek we made to attend the game. Were we in attendance for the 7-6 overtime win in Detroit this past November, we might have a different opinion.
We've seen highlights of the game but never actually watched a complete broadcast until last week, why concentrating on the area behind the Capitals' bench hoping to see if we got on camera, we noticed something that is really absent from this season's team.
That team seemed to have so much more fun back then. A perfect example of that can be seen in shootout:
At roughly the 3:40 mark of the above video, Malkin scores the winning shootout goal and his teammates are seen on the bench cheering with their helmets on backwards. They were rally caps. At that time, they were doing that during shootouts. When Fleury stopped Clark, every player in a white jersey comes off the bench and tapped Fleury's mask with their backwards lids.
We have such a hard time seeing this season's team doing anything like that in a public manner.
There are quite a few differences between the December 2006 Penguins and the January 2009 Penguins. The biggest one might be pressure. Those Penguins didn't have any. There weren't expectations of reaching the Stanley Cup final for the Penguins at that time. Heck the playoffs were still something of a question mark at that time.
Obviously the Penguins have not lived up to this season's lofty hopes and are struggling to stay in the Eastern Conference's top eight. Things like that will suck the fun out of any locker room.
But regardless of the differences between that squad and the current crop of Penguins, there seems to a general lack of fun or joy on this team. At least on the ice. We don't know how they get it back. Winning games like last night's blow out of the Rangers is a good start. When you're having fun, winning games just seems to be an easier task.