I already had a story idea in my head by the end of the second period of the Penguins' contest against the Boston Bruins on Monday night.
With the Pens missing Sidney Crosby and desperately looking for some offensive leadership, Kris Letang produced a memorable shift on a late-period power play opportunity. At the time, the Penguins seemed to be running out of ideas on offense, the enigmatic Evgeni Malkin looking uninspired and power forward Chris Kunitz relatively inept.
Letang, though, seemed to put the team upon his shoulders for a short while, marauding up the ice, on either flank or through the middle, getting the puck deep, trying to set up the power play.
By sheer force of will, Letang seemed to be dragging the power play along on his own, and if the rest of the team felt like joining in, well, that would have been fine by him.
As the Bruins' penalty inched closer and closer to expiration, Malkin, in one of his occasional spurts of genius, sent an inch-perfect cross-ice saucer pass to Letang, who made no mistake in putting his entire 201-pound frame behind the shot. 2-0 Penguins. The crowd erupted as the Penguins' offensive woes vanished, at least for a while, and the young Norris Trophy candidate flexed his offensive muscle. The hometown team moved closer to a victory, showing that they could, indeed, win without Crosby.
But, then, a funny thing happened in the third period: the Penguins collapsed, defense, discipline and all.
Hockey, like life, is funny in that way. You can imagine the storyline, some epic tale of a hero overcoming adversity or a long-forgotten face finding redemption. But things don't always work out that way.
While Letang has earned almost every word of praise that has come his way this season, to the victor goes the spoils, to the loser goes questions. And the story from Monday night, now, instead of Letang's brilliant two minutes on the power play, quickly transformed into the Penguins' collapse.
We now look back at the Penguins' breakdowns. We look at Letang getting burned on a head-fake from Marc Savard behind his own net, leading to a prime scoring chance from the slot that Marc-Andre Fleury managed to save. We look at Letang briefly losing his balance on a power play shortly after, giving Dennis Seidenberg a clear lane to the net, only to be denied. We look at Letang being on the ice for two of Boston's four goals, registering a -1 for the night.
The Penguins are now, officially, in a funk, with three straight losses, a sputtering offense, and their leader sidelined. With that, we will look at everything that has gone wrong with the team under a microscope. The lack of depth behind Crosby, the aforementioned punchless offense, the late-game collapses.
Instead, the reality is a bit closer to the middle. The Penguins are a good team going through a skid. Without Crosby, they are much less potent and it is on players like Letang that the team must rely. With that, the focus on the young defenseman will be heightened, support will be lessened. Every mistake will be magnified. But times like these are where players show their worth. Letang, despite Monday's result, is showing his.