Penguins notebook: West Coast trip presents sizable challenge
The resurgent Penguins, winners of four in a row, will test out how far their game has come in the past few weeks with a California back-to-back this week.
The Penguins will face Anaheim on Wednesday night and Los Angeles on Thursday before finishing the trip with a stop in San Jose on Saturday.
Neither California club is in particularly great form. Anaheim has lost three of four and Los Angeles has dropped four in a row. Still, their size and physicality should present a different type of challenge for a Penguins team in the midst of its most dangerous offensive stretch of the season.
The Penguins have scored 19 goals during the four-game winning streak. They scored 17 goals in the eight games before that.
“We're playing fast. We're playing hungry. We're winning battles. We're quick on pucks,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “We're not spending a lot of time in our own end, which is nice. You don't want to have to be spending time in there. It's way more fun to play the other way and create chances. Each line is feeding off the other. That's when you know you're playing well as a group.”
Goalie Matt Murray's status remains day to day for personal reasons, coach Mike Sullivan said Tuesday.
Murray made the trip with his teammates and was on the ice for Tuesday's practice in Anaheim, but his availability for Wednesday night's game is up in the air.
“We'll see how it goes (Wednesday), and we'll make decisions day to day,” Sullivan said.
After shuffling his line combinations regularly throughout November and December, Sullivan has stuck with the same trios throughout the team's four-game winning streak.
Crosby is centering youngsters Daniel Sprong and Dominik Simon. Evgeni Malkin is playing between Swedish wingers Carl Hagelin and Patric Hornqvist. Conor Sheary, Jake Guentzel and Phil Kessel are playing on an All-American third line. Tom Kuhnhackl, Riley Sheahan and Ryan Reaves make up a physical fourth line.
Sullivan said he'd like to keep the combinations together as long as possible.
“It's been good,” Sullivan said. “We've wanted to do this for a long time, just circumstances haven't allowed us. We think our team is the hardest to play against when we have the balance through our lineup, when we have the ability play four lines so we don't overtax guys. That helps us to play at the pace we want to play. We really haven't been able to do that with any consistency until probably the last few weeks. We're going to try to do that as much as we can moving forward.”