Last night's 4-3 shootout loss to the league leading Washington Capitals was, oddly enough, a welcomed sight to many Pens fans.
Of course, after the "sleepwalking" effort they put forth Monday night against the Red Wings, anything resembling a "conscious" attempt to compete last night would have been a marked improvement.
Even so, and without question, last night's game was the best the Penguins have looked in some time.
And they still lost...
Sure the Capitals...
own the best record in the NHL...
have the league's leading scorer (going into last night's game)...
(probably) have more scoring depth than any other team in the league...
the Penguins were missing Malkin and Gonchar (arguably our two best offensive players not named Crosby)
So, all those are good reasons why the Penguins shouldn't feel too terribly bad about the 4-3 shootout loss.
But this game, like others against the top teams in the league, showed once again, the distance between where the Penguins ARE and where they NEED TO BE...once the playoffs start.
It's about focus
It's about effort
It's about consistency
It's about confidence
It's about dedication
It's about responsibility
It's about playing like a champion
So, while I am encouraged by what I saw...and many of you should be too...I am still skeptical that this team will be able to regain the form that won them the cup last year.
And even if they can...there's no guarantee that it will be enough to beat a team like the Capitals, which has clearly improved since last season when, even then, they took the Penguins to a 7th game in round 2.
I am hoping that the comments made by some of the players after the game, in particular Brooks Orpik, reflect the true attitude of the team right now.
Brooks was upset about the loss...to him it was a game they should have won...and a game they need to be able to win. EVERY player on that team...and EVERY fan of the team, should feel that way today.
It's OK to feel good about the "step" they made in the right direction...but it's completely necessary to understand that it is a FIRST step and completely necessary to EXPECT more from the team in each of the last 8 regular season games leading into the playoffs.
No team wins the Stanley Cup thinking that their last effort was the best they will have.
Teams that win that cup are the ones that believe their best effort will be in the NEXT game they play.