The Pittsburgh Penguins continue their march through the Metropolitan Division on Sunday afternoon when they host the Carolina Hurricanes.
That march — 10 games in a row and 14 of their final 16 games — didn’t start off very well. The Penguins dropped a 5-2 decision to Washington on Saturday afternoon to fall five points out of first place in the division.
The Penguins had won two consecutive contests but played more like they did during their previous six-game losing streak. They fell behind early, giving up odd-man rushes and not generating enough offense.
Pittsburgh is about as healthy as it has been all season. Center Evgeni Malkin, who scored against Washington, put forth an interesting observation about the team’s play now versus when it was scrambling to make up for various absences.
“When a couple guys are injured, everyone steps up. We understand everyone (has to) play better,” Malkin said. “When (nearly) everyone is back, everyone is healthy, we think, ‘Oh, there’s so much skill right now. Easy game. We’ll score every shift.’ No.
“We need to step up. When five or six guys were injured, we played better. It’s a little bit hard to understand right now.”
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said it’s not about skill or manpower, as the team can regularly roll out four lines.
“We’ve got capable people. We’ve got the depth that we need,” Sullivan said. “It’s more about collective effort and paying attention to details.”
Pittsburgh will look for a better special teams effort on Sunday afternoon. The Penguins were 1-for-5 on the power play — and they failed to convert a 5-on-3 opportunity. They also surrendered a short-handed goal.
“You just have to stay with it, evaluate it and find out where you’ve got to be better,” Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby said of the power play. “We’re getting good (offensive) zone time. We’ve just got to generate more and bury our chances.”
Crosby scored the Penguins’ even-strength goal Sunday, giving him a three-game goal streak and 29 points in 22 games since he returned from core muscle surgery.
It seems likely that Tristan Jarry will start in goal against Carolina. After going with a rigid rotation for a month, Pittsburgh gave Matt Murray three starts in a row. He won the first two before giving up five goals on 28 shots Saturday against the Capitals.
Although division rivals, the Penguins and Hurricanes will be meeting for the first time this season.
Carolina is on the outside of the playoff chase but within reach of a wild-card spot and seven points behind Pittsburgh. The Hurricanes topped the New York Islanders 3-2 in overtime Saturday to end a four-game losing streak.
“We just hadn’t been getting the bounces, and we worked for them (Saturday),” Hurricanes forward Vincent Trocheck told Fox Sports Carolinas after he scored the overtime winner.
Trocheck, a Pittsburgh area native, joined the Hurricanes in a trade-deadline move last month. Saturday’s winner was his first goal with his new club.
Both teams would do well to score first Sunday.
Carolina opened the scoring for the first time in seven games in Saturday’s win. The Penguins gave up the first goal in each contest of their recent six-game losing streak, scored first in two subsequent wins in a row, then fell behind again in Saturday’s loss.
“Even if we’ve been playing well, we hadn’t been able to score and get ahead,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “The game’s right there. You’re not chasing it.”
–Field Level Media