Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Mack: Wake-Up Call Awaits In Toronto

Will Sullivan, Crosby, Pens find kickstart north of the border?

Chris Mack
October 18, 2018 - 9:20 am

Just five games in to an 82-game regular season that many view as negligible in importance to begin with, you're not going to find any panic among fans of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Sidney Crosby hasn't scored yet? Big deal. He had three different scoring droughts at least that long last season and it didn't stop him from continuing his reign as the best all-around player in the National Hockey League.

Matt Murray spent the last two games as a back-up to Casey DeSmith in goal after missing time with a concussion? Meh. He'll show up in the spring when it matters.

A catastrophic injury to a defenseman they count on as on offensive catalyst both at even strength and their 2nd power play unit? Well, they'll work around it somehow. They always do.

Those self-reassurances among Pens' fans haven't been felt within the coaching staff, at least not with Head Coach Mike Sullivan, whose line-shuffling and tweaking of defensive pairs continued at Wednesday's practice in Cranberry ahead of a 4-game, 10-day Canadian road trip.

"We believe in the group we have," said Sullivan after Wednesday's workout.

It's just a matter of figuring out how what they have fits together. 

The day before their jaunt to the Great White North, Derick Brassard was dropped back down to his customary third line center spot, Bryan Rust was bumped up to Crosby's right wing alongside the captain and Jake Guentzel, and Daniel Sprong was relegated to a spot alongside Derek Grant alternating on the fourth line left wing.

Sully is still searching for something, clearly. Whether it's a spark that shows his team is cognizant of the 2018-19 regular season actually being underway, a chemistry alongside Crosby, or a little bit of both, the juggling of forward lines is on what feels like a 48-72 hours rotation. 

Maybe that's why it feels like the Pens are still in preseason mode, trying to find their legs, trying to get to their game, and trying to kickstart a season, that while just five games old, has very little positive traction at this point.

Maybe that's why it feels like if they're ever going to get going, Thursday night in Toronto against the hottest team in the league and Canada's darling Maple Leafs is the time it needs to happen. Leading the NHL in scoring with 33 goals in seven games, the Leafs have four of the top six scorers in the league, capped by Auston Matthews' 16 points.

If a week and a half on the road, under the intense media spotlight of an entire nation that usually hangs on every breath Crosby takes, doesn't get Sullivan and the Pens some clarity, they might want to reconsider hitting the snooze button on their '18-'19 campaign yet again, and actually heed the wake-up call that's coming in Toronto.