5 things we learned from wild weekend for Penguins
A weekend road trip brought wild swings of emotion for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
On Friday night in Buffalo, frustration. They gave up a tying goal with less than three minutes left in regulation and lost 4-3 in overtime on a knife-twisting goal by old pal Conor Sheary.
On Saturday night in Montreal, elation. A new top-line combination of Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel and Jared McCann torched Carey Price for four goals in a 5-1 Penguins victory.
Get used to it.
The Penguins, Canadiens, Columbus Blue Jackets and Carolina Hurricanes are locked in a battle for the final three playoff spots in the Eastern Conference that seems destined to go down to the final week of the season. A losing streak – even a single loss – will make missing the playoffs seem like a very real possibility for the Penguins.
On the other hand, the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals, who hold down the top two spots in the Metropolitan Division standings, are only a few points ahead of the Penguins. A winning streak – or even a single victory, depending on the opponent – will make a high seed and a long playoff run seem completely feasible.
With 17 games left in the regular season, the roller-coaster ride is just getting started.
“They’re going to be important all the way through here,” Crosby said. “Everyone’s trying to do their part. Especially with the injuries we have, everyone’s just trying to make sure that they’re contributing in any way they can. All those little things, much like the playoffs, add up right now.”
Here are five things we learned from the Penguins’ 1-0-1 weekend.
1. Staying above water
The Penguins are 2-0-2 since losing top-pair defensemen Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin to injury. More impressively, they’ve allowed only three five-on-five goals in 11 periods with Letang and Dumoulin sidelined.
It’s impossible to predict how long the patchwork defense corps will hold up, but for now, it has helped the Penguins put together a sneaky little 6-2-2 hot streak in their last 10 games.
2. Chasing the ‘Canes
Know who is not impressed by the Penguins’ recent run? The Carolina Hurricanes, who are 8-2-0 in their past 10 games.
The Hurricanes have a league-best 20-6-1 record since Jan. 1. If the other Eastern Conference playoff hopefuls have been waiting for the upstart ‘Canes to go away, they’re probably going to be disappointed.
3. Murray’s answer
Coach Mike Sullivan took a calculated risk by starting Matt Murray on Saturday night in Montreal. The 24-year-old has rarely played on back-to-back nights in his career.
Coming into the game, Murray was 15-5-2 with a .926 save percentage since returning from an injury Dec. 15. He went 4-3-1 with a .920 save percentage in February.
Sullivan wasn’t asking Murray to completely overhaul his game. He was just asking him to stop leaking in a few ill-timed goals that had plagued him lately.
Murray responded with a 36-save performance.
“He certainly answered the challenge,” Sullivan said.
4. Speed for Sid
Don’t be surprised if the McCann-Crosby-Guentzel combination sticks together for a little while. Crosby has always been at his best with speed on his wings. That’s a big reason why he clicked so famously with Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis for so long.
And that’s precisely why Sullivan put the combination together Saturday night.
“We just thought playing against a team that was a speed team like Montreal, it would give Sid a little bit of speed on the line,” he said.
5. Slump updates
Patric Hornqvist snapped a 17-game goal drought when he scored on the power play in Buffalo. Now the Penguins need Phil Kessel to do the same.
Kessel hasn’t scored in 15 games, but he has shown a pulse lately, getting 20 shots on goal in his past five games. He had a total of 19 shots in the 13 games before that.
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .