Stars have set the tone as rest of the pieces are falling into place for the Champs

Following Saturday night’s 5-3 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Penguins have won 11 straight games at home and Pittsburgh is 8-1-1 in their last 10 games.

It’s been clear for 10-14 days the Penguins are back and in a big way.

Pittsburgh’s last two games vs the LA Kings and Toronto Maple Leafs have only further proved the point that the Penguins are back and the way the Penguins are rolling is only more bad news for the rest of the NHL and most notably the Eastern Conference when it was looking like 4-5 weeks ago that the Penguins were not going to be so mighty this spring.

The Penguins are striking fear into the rest of the league again and the two-time defending Champions might even get better at the deadline as Jim Rutherford is currently involved in a number of conversations.

What has changed is how motivated this group looks and it has started at the top with the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel.

Playoff mode has started with the stars and everything else is starting to fall in place.

1. Matt Murray has returned to being Matt Murray.

He’s 7-0-1 in his last eight starts with a .922 save percentage during that span and hasn’t lost in regulation since January 4. Timely saves at crucial moments were on display big time in this week’s wins over the Senators, Kings and Leafs.

2. The role players are shining.

— Carl Hagelin’s game has transformed since the all-star break and he’s back to making a major impact in hunting the puck and starting to give the Penguins something offensively. There’s a reason he’s been locked into the second line left winger spot for a few weeks.

A goal, assist vs the Leafs, Hagelin has 4 goals and 5 assists in his last 10 games. The Penguins had worried that Hagelin’s body was starting to break down because of all the hockey he’s played the last four years but Hagelin looks fresh again.

Bryan Rust is performing over the last little while like playoff Bryan Rust. A Goal, 2 assists in last night’s 5-3 win over the Leafs, Rust has 5 goals and 7 assists over 11 games since returning from injury and he’s making an impact wherever the coaches are playing him as he’s played on all four lines since coming back.

Against Toronto, the Hagelin – Malkin – Rust line was phenomenal.

Then there’s Zach Aston-Reese who is showing great ability to play at the NHL level in how he does the little things very well below the dots and he’s making an impact offensively. A goal vs the Leafs, Aston-Reese has 3 goals in his last three games and had a great screen on Letang’s game winning goal vs the Kings Thursday night.

How he tracks the rest of the season makes things very interesting regarding Patric Hornqvist, a pending free agent, who will be 32 years old next season and is seeking a 5 year deal.

It’s such a short-sample, but the Penguins have believed before this call-up Aston-Reese had some Hornqvist intangibles in him and we’re seeing it in how well he can score around the net.

The more pressing question is whether this glimpse of Aston-Reese the Penguins are getting has an impact on the deadline towards whether the Penguins decide to make an offer for To read this insider news, subscribe to get “Inside Access”!

3. What has been a key telling point with the Penguins that has played a major factor in them taking their game to another level is how they’re putting teams away in the third period, that coincides with this group starting to see what’s ahead of them in a couple months.

In a 3-3 game after forty minutes, Pittsburgh outscored the Leafs 2-0 in the third period and outshot them 11-5 where the Penguins were playing locked down defense for stretches.

Entering tonight’s game vs Columbus, the Penguins have outscored the opposition 25-10 in the third period over their last 10 games.