Winnipeg Jets coach Claude Noel got an up-close look during Pittsburgh's 4-0 romp on Thursday night, a victory that pulled the Penguins within three games of the NHL record for consecutive wins. Crosby collected two assists — including a ridiculous no-look backhand feed to Chris Kuntiz for the game's first goal — and Malkin scored in his return after missing nine games with an upper-body injury.
"They're playing with a lot of will and you can see who drives that team," Noel said. "When that happens you watch that team go."
Noel, however, was quick to add the Penguins "can be beaten" even though it's been more than a month since anyone has been able to do it for a full three periods.
Pittsburgh's biggest enemy — other than the pressure that comes with being anointed the Stanley Cup favorite — may be itself. Crosby knows for every 1994 New York Rangers there's a team that loaded up and nothing happened.
The Washington Capitals were sailing to the Presidents' Trophy three years ago when they added four players — namely defensemen Joe Corvo and Milan Jurcina — and were bounced in the first round by Montreal.
The St. Louis Blues sent three players and two draft picks to the Los Angeles Kings in 1996 for Wayne Gretzky. The Great One helped the Blues to the playoffs, but they lost to Detroit in the Western Conference semifinals and Gretzky was out the door for New York less than two months later.
Crosby, who considers himself a bit of a hockey historian, is well aware of the pitfalls that lay ahead.
"I think everyone knows there are a ton of teams that have been (considered the favorite) that haven't panned out," Crosby said. "That's not a team that we want to be."
In a way, spending most of the final month of the season on the road will help. Leaving Pittsburgh will allow the newcomers to spend extended periods of time off the ice with their more established teammates, hopefully creating the kind of positive energy that can help overcome bumps in the road.
And it's not like the new guys are anonymous. Iginla and Morrow played with Crosby and Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury on Team Canada's gold-medal winning team in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. In Vancouver the quartet helped carry a nation.