By Dan Scifo
From the Point contributor
Several Pittsburgh Penguins, acquired prior to the trade deadline, aren’t having any trouble fitting in.
In fact, Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow, Douglas Murray, and Jussi Jokinen are a big reason why the Penguins have won seven straight and 22 of their last 24 games.
“We’ve been able to come in and be involved and the guys have been great, making us feel comfortable and welcome,” Iginla said. “It feels good to win as a group. It’s been fun.”
It certainly has been a fun ride for Iginla and the Penguins, who are winning despite the loss of captain Sidney Crosby (broken jaw), reigning NHL MVP Evgeni Malkin (upper body) or both for 19 of the last 24 games. Pittsburgh has also spent the majority of its last 24 games without NHL All-Star James Neal (concussion) – a 40-goal scorer – along with defensemen Kris Letang and Paul Martin.
“We’re definitely missing some great players and it will be great to get them back as soon as we can, but we’ve done a lot of different things well as a team and fortunately it has led to continued success,” Iginla said.
“When I got here, I noticed right away that everybody enjoys their different roles and takes pride in them. We have a lot of confidence in the way we play.”
The Penguins clinched the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference on Saturday for the first time in two decades. Pittsburgh moved from Stanley Cup contenders to perhaps prohibitive favorites thanks to general manager Ray Shero, who acquired Iginla, Morrow, Murray, and Jokinen in the span of a week, unbelievably without giving up a player from the active roster.
“The quality of the player and the quality of people you get…what they bring to the team and what they bring to the ice has been a factor,” Penguins’ head coach Dan Bylsma said. “These guys have come over in their own ways and have contributed from the start.”
Bylsma doesn’t believe there will be any issues finding playing time for his players once Crosby, Malkin, Neal and others return from injury.
“In terms of positions and minutes guys are playing, things aren’t going to change,” Bylsma said.
The 35-year-old Iginla, a six-time All-Star, tallied 525 goals and 570 assists in 1,219 regular-season games with Calgary. The former long-time Flames’ captain, who arrived in the midst of a historic 15-game winning streak, waived his no-trade clause, choosing Pittsburgh over Boston as the destination of choice for a chance at what has been an elusive Stanley Cup.
“The first week was a little different, was kind of like a deer caught in the headlights, but that was my own doing because the guys have been great since I’ve been here,” Iginla said. “You learn different things about different guys, you’re part of it, and on the ice feeling more comfortable with the system.”
Iginla, who registered nine goals and 13 assists in 31 games with Calgary, already has four goals and eight points in 10 games with Pittsburgh.
“Since I’ve been here, I haven’t heard guys talk about who we’re playing next, who the big game is against, or whether it’s a streak, trying to keep it going,” Iginla said. “It’s just continuing to try and get better as a group. I think it shows the confidence the group has.”
The 34-year-old Morrow, the long-time Dallas Stars’ captain, has also made his presence felt.
“Just about every game we played since Brenden Morrow has been here, he’s laid a body check, played physical on a certain player, been there on the forecheck, and a net-front presence,” Bylsma said. “He’s had a number of big hits and he’s been a presence.”
Morrow didn’t score until his seventh game, but he has been red-hot recently with five goals and 11 points in 12 games, including back-to-back two-goal games for just the second time in his career. Morrow also recently dropped the gloves with Montreal’s P.K. Subban to cap his sixth career Gordie Howe Hat Trick – a goal, assist, and fight in the same game.
“We just want to keep our good habits going,” Morrow said. “Good habits are contagious and we’re feeling confident, we have momentum, and we’re finding ways to win.”
Murray, like Morrow, is also providing a physical presence, but he’s doing his part on the blueline. He has also provided somewhat of a scoring touch, netting his first goal in 146 games, while also providing two assists in 11 games.
Make no mistake, Murray is in Pittsburgh for his defensive abilities.
“When you see their player go to the net and end up on their backside… those are statements,” Bylsma said. “He has added that element to our team on the back end.”
Jokinen, acquired for a seventh-round pick also provided immediate dividends, scoring the game-tying and shootout winning goals in his first game with the team, a 2-1 victory over the New York Rangers. Jokinen has notched four goals and eight points in seven games with Pittsburgh.
It’s just another important piece the Penguins have added in attempt to win their second Stanley Cup in five years.
“It’s a different guy every night who has been the hero,” said Brandon Sutter, another relative newcomer to Pittsburgh who has 11 goals and 16 points after being acquired last June in a stunning draft day deal that sent popular center Jordan Staal to Carolina.
“It’s tough going to a new team and it takes a few games to adjust. Now, they’re starting to feel more comfortable, and you can see it in their play. We’re just trying to keep it going.”