OUT OF THE GATES: Blue “throwbacks”

In my opinion, the baby blue third jerseys Pittsburgh wears shouldn’t be called “throwbacks” anymore.

The word “throwback” implies that they are jerseys that were worn in the past and have been brought back for a special occasion — a blast from the past, if you will. However, the Penguins wear their baby blue uniforms so often that the magic and appeal they once possessed — from the 2007 Winter Classic — has vanished quicker than X-Generation players from the National Hockey League (if anyone knows where Ramzi Abid or Rico Fata is, please let me know.)

It’s just disappointing. When the uniforms debuted, it was the first outdoor regular season game in the National Hockey League’s history, played at Ralph Wilson Stadium in front of over 70,000 fans in the snow, taking a shootout to decide the winner. The blue jerseys were forever cemented in history after that game.

Yet we now see the Penguins in baby blue jerseys in roughly one of every eight games. They’re no longer special and it’s a shame.

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Streaks end in win over Florida

One win can’t solve all problems.

Penguins 3 — Panthers 2 FOT

But the Penguins sure tried to Saturday night, putting an end to multiple streaks they’d prefer not to be associated with.

Carrying a struggling power play and a few struggling scorers in to the contest, Pittsburgh saw Ruslan Fedotenko and Evgeni Malkin each score to end personal droughts in a 3-2 win against Florida. Malkin’s came on the power play in overtime — a power play ranked 29th in the league entering the game.

“I hope it’s what we needed,” said coach Dan Bylsma of the power play goal. “We have had some good power plays (lately) and not scored.

“Sometimes the only thing we hadn’t done was score the goal. Tonight I think you saw us squeezing our sticks a little bit out there on the power play and sometimes you need a goal to release that. We were pretty happy to see that slap shot go in.”

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Penguins finding their identity

December is typically where teams develop their identity.

Florida Panthers (11-14-6, 28 pts.) vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (21-10-1, 43 pts.)

October is for shaking off the rust of the offseason, November is where players begin to get comfortable and find their groove, and when December hits, it’s time to find out who’s for real and who’s not.

So far, the Penguins have established their identity as a pretty complete team. They’re right on pace with the 1992-93 Penguins, which was the best regular season team in franchise history, displaying scoring strength, stout defense and toughness throughout the roster.

“I think that we’ve worked on our identity the last 15 games a lot,” Matt Cooke said. “I think that teams underestimate how physical our team is. That’s probably a good thing for us. We realize where we have to play to be successful. If we make the commitment to play there then on most nights we’re giving ourselves the best chance to win.”

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Malkin passing up his shots

Only in rare cases does four points in five games raise an eyebrow in concern.

But when you’re Evgeni Malkin, things are just different.

The Russian superstar has been held without a goal in the last five games. His trio of assists against Colorado on Dec. 3 combined with another against Chicago a week ago are the only points he has registered in the last five contests.

Malkin has been caught passing in situations he would normally shoot, and in Pittsburgh’s recent 3-2 win at Montreal, passed up on four different opportunities in which he had an open look to shoot. In each situation he passed and in each situation the result was nothing.

“Sometimes, in trying to make the right play, he might look to pass when his confidence is lower,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “He is a guy who attacks, attacks through the defense and attacks the net. When he is shooting the puck he is a threat to score and he is a better player all around. Getting him focused in the right direction is what he is trying to do right now.”

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Rant: Lee’s whistle, right or wrong?

It’s no surprise that the Montreal fanbase is up in arms today after losing to the Penguins 3-2 last night at home.

Referee Chris Lee disallowed what appeared to be a goal by Scott Gomez with less than six minutes left in the game. The whistle blew at the same time Gomez wacked it in and was met by a resounding thunder of boos from the Montreal crowd — lasting for the rest of the game, almost non-stop.

Fans and bloggers of the Canadiens had gripes against Lee before the game even started. Apparently Lee sent Andrei Kostitsyn to the box against Boston last year, which eventually developed in to a 5-on-3 power play in which the Bruins scored.

That was a mid-January game with Northeast Division impolications. This, however, was a non-divisional game in early December.

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Dupuis’ goal lifts Pens to win

Pascal Dupuis put all he had into the puck when streaking down the left wing tied 2-2 in the third period.

Pittsburgh Penguins 3 — Montreal Canadiens 2

In other words, he used a mentality that had escaped the Penguins at times over the last week. His all was enough to will a fluttering puck in and out of Carey Price’s glove hand and give the Penguins a 3-2 lead they would not relinquish.

“(The puck) was a little bit on the edge so I just tried to hit it as hard as I could,” said Dupuis of his eighth goal of the season — a game winner in his hometown of Montreal. “I don’t know where it went. I think it went in his glove and behind him. But you know what, I’ll take it here in Montreal.”

Pittsburgh got off to a great start and received a little bit of late luck to earn the victory, improving to 21-10-1 on the season.

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Montreal presents difficult scenario

All at once, Montreal presents a potentially dangerous situation along with a chance for the Penguins to change their recent struggles.

Pittsburgh Penguins (20-10-1, 41 pts.) at Montreal Canadiens (15-14-2, 32 pts.)

No team in the National Hockey League is better than the Canadiens at protecting an early lead — they are 10-1-0 when scoring the first goal this year.

That could spell tragedy for a Pittsburgh team that has fallen down 1-0 in the last six games and in seven of the last eight. However, knowing Montreal’s success when scoring first could serve the Penguins with the motivation needed to play a strong first period and earn an early lead of their own.

“They have a great crowd there so I’m sure they get momentum from that,” Sidney Crosby said when asked about why it has been so hard to come back on the Canadiens this year. “I don’t think we’re going to think about it a whole lot. We wanna make sure that we start well. Sometimes you can have a great first period and be down 1-0. We’ll look for our play to be where it needs to be and usually, if that’s the case, we’ll come out with the lead.”

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