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Penguins notebook: Well-rested unit equates to success on ice

| Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016, 2:21 p.m.
USA Today Sports
Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) reacts to a penalty called during the second period against the Blackhawks on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016, in Chicago.

One of the best predictors of how the Penguins will fare in a given game has nothing to do with advanced stats, goaltending matchups or home-road splits.

It comes down to something as simple as rest.

When the Penguins have played on back-to-back days this season, they're 2-6-1, including a thorough 3-1 loss at Chicago on Wednesday night.

When the Penguins have played with one or two days of rest, they're 12-8-4. With three or more days of rest they're 5-1-0.

That come-from-behind 3-1 win at Washington on Oct. 28, the one that looks good now considering the tear the Capitals have been on? It came after three days off.

A dominant 3-1 win over Minnesota on Dec. 26 that kick-started Sidney Crosby's offensive resurgence? That came after the team's longest break of the season: four days over Christmas.

Players generally are averse to excuse-making and take pride in their conditioning, so good luck finding someone in the Penguins locker room who will say some of their poorer performances came because of fatigue.

“I don't think it's an issue. We just didn't come out with our best game,” forward Eric Fehr said after Wednesday night's loss in Chicago.

Still, making sure players stay rested is something coach Mike Sullivan is keenly aware of.

“That's part of the challenge of this league, providing enough recovery time and sufficient rest so these guys can be at their best,” Sullivan said. “The question that the coaches always throw around is, ‘Are we going to become a better team if we practice, or are we going to be better if we give them the recovery that they need?' ”

No snubs

As brilliant as Marc-Andre Fleury has been at times this season, it's hard to label his omission from the NHL All-Star Game as a snub.

That's because two of the goalies in the Metropolitan Division, as hard as it is to believe for those who have watched Fleury this season, are having better years.

Washington's Braden Holtby is 25-4-2. New Jersey's Cory Schneider has slightly better numbers than Fleury in all pertinent statistical categories.

Not that Fleury's teammates would be swayed by those kinds of arguments.

“He's a goaltender that deserves to be there,” All-Star defenseman Kris Letang said.

Roster moves

The Penguins shuffled Wilkes-Barre/Scranton call-ups Thursday, sending down Conor Sheary and Scott Wilson and calling up Tom Kuhnhackl and Bryan Rust in their place.

Kuhnhackl, 23, has yet to make his NHL debut. He's a 6-foot-2 winger who was a scorer in junior hockey but has evolved into a defensive forward and penalty killer as a pro.

Rust has played 19 games for the Penguins during the past two seasons.

Sheary had a goal and an assist against Boston in his second game up from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last month, but no points in eight games after that.

Wilson had an assist, a fight and three hits in his first NHL game this season. He had no points and four hits in three games after that.

Shoot first

When the Penguins were outshot 37-18 by Chicago on Wednesday, it ended their streak of 13 games with at least 30 shots on goal. According to Elias Sports Bureau, that was the longest such streak in the NHL this season.

The Penguins have outshot opponents in 10 of Sullivan's first 12 games behind the bench.

Baby Pens stars

Three 21-year-old Penguins prospects — goalie Matt Murray, defenseman Derrick Pouliot and forward Dominik Simon — were selected Thursday to play in the AHL All-Star Game on Feb. 1. Murray is 14-4-0 with a league-leading .942 save percentage.

Pouliot, a two-time AHL All-Star, is among the top-20 highest-scoring defensemen in the league with five goals and 18 points. Simon leads all AHL rookies in scoring with 12 goals and 29 points.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.

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