The stars are aligning for the Pittsburgh Penguins

Saturday night, the Pittsburgh Penguins again defeated the Washington Capitals on their home ice, 6-2. The Penguins have a 2-0 advantage, and the series is coming back to Pittsburgh for Game 3.

Things are looking good for Mike Sullivan & Co.

Even though the Capitals have outshot and outhit the Penguins by double digits in both games this series, Pittsburgh is still finding ways to win, and the credit should be going to Pittsburgh’s star players.

The 3-headed monster —Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel— has been out in full force this series.

Let’s start with Crosby. He has proven in this series that he is, and never stopped being, the best player in the world. In Game 1, he scored twice in 66 seconds to give the Penguins a 2-0 lead early in the second period. In Game 2, he assisted on both Kessel’s and Jake Guentzel’s goals.

His assist on Kessel’s beautiful top-shelf rocket was vintage Sid. His stickhandling and skating abilities are still world-class.

It’s not just Crosby’s offense that is building up the Penguins to another Stanley Cup run this year, however. Crosby’s defense was on full display in Game 2.

Crosby went to his knees to block a Justin Williams shot, dove onto the ice and shoved the puck ahead to Guentzel, who broke away from the defense to beat Braden Holtby, which extended Pittsburgh’s lead to 3-1. He also disrupted shots in front of the Penguins’ net all night.

Malkin was quiet offensively in Game 1, but tallied a goal and assisted on Kessel’s second goal of the night, which came in the third period. What Malkin has been doing best in this series is facilitating the puck. He keeps the offense moving at all times, and he always knows where Kessel is lurking.

Much of Kessel’s Game 2 contributions have been listed above, but here they are again: two goals on four total SOG, and an assist on Malkin’s third period score. Kessel’s plus-minus is also stands at +9, which is tied for highest this postseason.

The three stars are also No. 1, 2 and 3 in total points this postseason. Malkin leads the league with 13, with Crosby and Kessel tied for second at 11. Oh, and it should be noted that Guentzel holds the No. 4 spot with 10 total points.

Something else that should solidify Crosby’s place as the best in the world is his ability to elevate the play of the players around him. He turned Bryan Rust and Conor Sheary into postseason heroes in 2016, and Guentzel is his latest project.

Guentzel leads the league in postseason goals (7), and Crosby has assisted on four of them.

The Penguins are scoring, but they are also playing tremendous defense.

Marc-Andre Fleury is playing some of his best career postseason hockey right now. He’s stopped 67-71 of the Capitals’ shots (a .944 SV%) and made an absolutely ridiculous series of saves (4:12) in the final minutes of Game 1 to protect a one-goal lead.

Ian Cole has also stepped up big-time in the absence of Kris Letang. He blocked a game-high eight shots in Game 1 against the Capitals, and has also picked up an assist in both games this series.

Veteran Ron Hainsey, who is playing in his first postseason after 16 years in the NHL, has been a workhorse for Pittsburgh this series. He led all defenseman in ice time in Game 1, and still was second behind Brian Dumoulin after taking an Alex Ovechkin shot to the ear late in the third period. His timetable to return is uncertain, but the Penguins know they will need him to continue their great play.

Overall, the Penguins are looking stronger and tougher to beat each game. Pittsburgh is at its best when the star players perform to their highest potential (its safe to say that’s happening).

If Crosby can continue to dominate throughout the postseason like he has in this series, Sullivan and GM Jim Rutherford should feel pretty good about their chances at a Stanley Cup repeat (which hasn’t happened since 1997-98).

The Penguins are doing a tremendous job of exploiting the Capitals mistakes and taking an advantage when one is presented to them, which is the only way to beat the best team in hockey.

Game 3 is scheduled for Monday in Pittsburgh (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Yardbarker: NHL

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