Originally posted on Red Light District Hockey  |  Last updated 2/3/12

VANCOUVER, CANADA - JANUARY 16: Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins stretches during the team warm-up prior to NHL action against the Vancouver Canucks on January 16, 2010 at General Motors Place in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)

The Pittsburgh Penguins may be without their team captain and superstar Sidney Crosby, but it certainly has not spelled bad news for their hockey club.

Despite being without a player of Crosby's caliber, the Penguins have won eight of their last nine games. The team is currently fifth in the Eastern Conference but just four points behind the Philadelphia Flyers and seven points behind the conference-leading New York Rangers.
For avid hockey followers, this should not come as a surprise for a number of reasons. For starters, it all begins with the return to form by offensive machine Evgeni Malkin.
With Crosby out of the lineup, Malkin has raised his game to another level, a level that looks familiar to the one he achieved during the 2008-09 season. In 44 games this season, Malkin has 27 goals and 32 assists for 59 points, which is good for first in the NHL. Furthermore, he has 35 points in the 23 games since Crosby suffered his neck injury on Dec. 5.
Malkin has stepped up in a big way by being a player that can put the puck in the net or make a play when the team needs it the most (especially of late). His seven game-winning goals rank second in the league and are a major reason why the Penguins are clutch when it comes to scoring late in games to either tie it or win it; and that doesn't count the many times he has scored a big third period goal to tie a game or has tallied a shootout winner.
Another reason for the Penguins' success this season has been the play of Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury may not have the stats of a Jimmy Howard or Henrik Lundqvist, but Fleury continues to get the job done and win hockey games.
This season, Fleury has 27 wins (third in the NHL), a 2.28 goals against average (10th), a .913 save percentage and two shutouts. He is a tough goaltender to beat and has come up with the saves when his team has needed him the most.
The team's head coach, Dan Bylsma has also been instrumental in not only keeping the Penguins afloat without Crosby, but also continuing to make them one of the best teams in the NHL. He knows how to work his team the right way, knows which players belong with which and also believes in his hockey club.
With all of this said, can you imagine what the Penguins will be like when Crosby returns to the lineup this season? It could certainly mean game over for the rest of the Eastern Conference if the Penguins play their cards right.

Photo credit: Getty Images
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