The NHL has a new rule that was implemented this past season. Each team must take a five-day Bye Week. This was part of the negotiation with the NHL Players’ Association to sign off on the All-Start format changes. Each team must take a Bye Week between January 1 and February 28. What this means is that there is no team activity for five consecutive days. If a team has a game on the sixth day, then they are allowed to practice on the fifth day but only after 4:00 pm. The Pittsburgh Penguins are now ready to play. [Kim]
The Penguins were one of the first teams to take their break. The Penguins had not played a game in 2017 until Sunday evening.
The last game the Pens had before the Bye Week was a New Year’s Eve 4-3 win over the Montreal Canadiens in overtime. They went into their mandatory break on a hot streak and it would be interesting to find out if they could come back a full seven days later with the same hotness.
Fast forward to Sunday. The City of Pittsburgh was riding high off a blowout AFC Wild Card round against the Miami Dolphins. Even the Penguins game was pushed back from a 1 pm start until a 5 pm start, after the Steelers game.
The Penguins weren’t about to let the Steelers be the only team to beat a Florida team on Sunday. They not only had the support of the home crowd, but the 2009 Stanley Cup team was being recognized the same night. This is a team that still has five players still currently playing for the Penguins.
Most hockey fans would say that the Penguins were still on a bye Sunday evening. They were playing a struggling Tampa Bay Lightning team. The Lightning is a team that has been plagued by injuries and their captain Steven Stamkos will not be returning until sometime in March.
In the first period, the Pens looked a little slower and not so in sync. The first period was just a lot of skating around and getting their feet back under them. They were not without chances but they couldn’t get any puck luck to start the game.
The second period was just underway when Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury allowed a goal by Jonathan Drouin and Tampa took the early lead. Pittsburgh tied it up on a goal by Conor Sheary 4 minutes later. Eric Fehr joined the party with his fifth goal of the season, shorthanded on an assist from Matt Cullen.
The third period was all Pittsburgh Penguins. Goals were scored by Chris Kunitz, Scott Wilson, Phil Kessel, and Kris Letang. Tampa’s Vladislav Namestnikov scored a power-play goal 5 minutes into the third period and that would be it for the struggling Lightning.[Mark3]
It took a good two periods for the Pens to get back to where they had left off. The Penguins Bye Week did not hurt them in the tight Metropolitan Division nor in the standings. Most importantly, the Bye Week did not hurt the Penguins momentum at home. They came off it as hot as they went into it.