That the Penguins could suffer a lapse following the Winter Classic hoopla -- and HBO cameras that came with it -- was a fairly legitimate concern following New Year's Day.
Instead, the team responded with its most thorough performance of the season.
Evgeni Malkin scored just seven seconds into the game as the Penguins dominated the Tampa Bay Lightning, one of hockey's best teams, in an 8-1 win Wednesday.
Quite simply, everything was working for the Penguins on this night. Coach Dan Bylsma put the team through two of its longest practices of the season during the previous two mornings, clearly concerned about a possible hangover from the game. This team, though, has emerged as one of the NHL's most mature units, as was on display against Tampa Bay.
Even though the team's stars, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, combined for only two points, the Penguins flexed their muscles and made it clear that, at the season's halfway point, they are among the league's best teams.
PENGUINS 8, LIGHTNING 1: Steven Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lightning had a night to forget, while the Penguins produced arguably their best game of the season. Chris Kunitz had his second career hat trick, Alex Goligoski produced a career-high four points, Kris Letang added three assists and Evgeni Malkin scored seven seconds into the contest. The Penguins were ahead 5-0 before the first intermission. Tyler Kennedy, Mark Letestu and Chris Conner added goals for the Penguins.
The Lightning were only 24 hours removed from perhaps their most inspired performance of the season, a 1-0 overtime victory over the Capitals in Washington. They looked like a spent team, failing to beat the Penguins to loose pucks throughout the entire evening.
At the season's halfway point, the Penguins have the Eastern Conference's best record (26-12-3) and are on pace for 110 points, which would be the second highest total in franchise history.
Sidney Crosby was held to an assist but leads the league with 32 goals and 66 points. He is on pace for 64 goals and 132 points, both of which would be career highs.
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