“It looks different, but it’s not off the gameplan,” Bylsma said. “It’s not taking chances. It’s the way we want to play as a team.”
Even if for a night it was all about Sid the Kid, who was so fired up after scoring his first goal since Dec. 28, 2010 he let loose a not-so mild profanity. The outburst from the typically reserved Crosby drew a laugh from his teammates and a sheepish postgame apology from their captain.
“Don’t read my lips,” Crosby said.
He’d prefer you read his actions, both his own and those of a team that looks very much like a Stanley Cup favorite.
Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 29 shots to collect his 21st career shutout, the defense was solid and the Penguins — for the first time since losing to Montreal in the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs — are healthy. Monday night was just the third time in the team’s last 103 games Crosby and fellow centers Malkin and Jordan Staal played together. It’s a luxury few teams in the league can match.
It’s also fragile. The Penguins need only point to last season as proof, when all three missed massive chunks of the season with injuries.
“I don’t want to jinx anything,” Orpik said.
Despite the giddy atmosphere at Consol Energy Center on Monday, the Penguins need only point to the calendar for motivation. It’s not even Thanksgiving yet. No need to start thinking about what happens after Easter.
“We didn’t have a party or celebration last night,” Bylsma said. “There are areas we need to get better. We have a long way to go.”
And plenty of time to get there. There are 61 games left in the regular season. Few, if any, will match the electric atmosphere Crosby provided in his return. The next five months will require more than emotion and adrenaline, and the Penguins know it.
“We don’t think we’ve come even close to what our potential is as a hockey club,” forward Steve Sullivan said.
Maybe, but Sullivan knows where that potential can take him. It’s why he signed with the team as a free agent in the offseason, to get a taste of what it’s like to play with arguably the world’s best player.
Crosby more than delivered, putting months of speculation to rest with a mixture of grace and grit. He knows, however, that it was just a start. He’s just thrilled his long, achingly methodical comeback is finished.