A loss to the top team in the Eastern Conference wasn't the way the struggling Pittsburgh Penguins wanted to close out the calendar year.
Another matchup with the Boston Bruins, however, might not provide a pleasant start to 2009 either.
Looking to break out of a slump, the Penguins conclude a home-and-home series on Thursday night against the Bruins, winners of nine straight overall and 13 in a row at TD Banknorth Garden.
Last season, Pittsburgh (19-14-4) clinched the East and advanced to the Stanley Cup finals before falling to eventual champion Detroit. The Penguins were expected to contend again in 2008-09, but hasn't quite met those expectations.
The Penguins are fourth in the Atlantic Division, and seventh in the conference with 42 points - 18 behind the first-place Bruins (28-5-4).
Additionally, Pittsburgh is just 8-10-2 since its season-high six-game winning streak from Nov. 1-15. Following its fourth consecutive home defeat, 5-2 to Boston on Tuesday, the team held a players-only meeting to address its struggles as it prepares to play four contests in six days.
"It really comes down to team attitude and preparation, or lack of preparation, that we're putting in as a team," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "There are no easy games in the league any more. You can't really afford to take a night off and, if you don't have all 20 guys at their best, it's going to cost you."
Boston, meanwhile, has been red-hot, outscoring opponents 106-51 while going 23-2-1 since the start of November.
On Tuesday, the Bruins capped a perfect five-game road trip and secured their ninth straight victory overall. They haven't won 10 in a row since March 9-28, 1973.
"We just want to win every game," said defenseman Zdeno Chara, who had a goal and an assist on Tuesday. "The stats and the history is one thing, but playing every game the best we can is another thing. After each game we want to look forward instead of back on whatever the record is."
Boston also seeks 14 consecutive home wins for the first time since a 16-game run from Jan. 10-March 25, 1976.
Pittsburgh - riding a three-game road winning streak - and Toronto are the only teams to have beaten the Bruins at home, winning 2-1 in a shootout on Oct. 20.
Tops in the league with 137 tallies, Boston has averaged 4.67 goals during its current run. That surge has been keyed by David Krejci (five goals, 11 assists), Phil Kessel (six goals, seven assists) and Marc Savard (four goals, 10 assists)
Savard leads the Bruins with 34 assists and 46 points.
Scoring, though, has been a problem for Pittsburgh lately despite scoring 118 goals this season and having Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby on its roster. The Penguins have been held to four tallies in losing three of its last four, while the star centers have combined for a goal and three assists.
Malkin leads the NHL with 44 assists and 59 points, while Crosby has 15 goals and 50 points.
They seek to regain their scoring touch against Boston's defense, which has conceded a conference-low 82 tallies as Tim Thomas and Manny Fernandez have limited teams to a collective 2.22 goals per contest during the winning streak.
Thomas won his seventh straight start on Tuesday, but Fernandez could be in the crease on Thursday as he's 8-0-0 with a 2.04 goals-against average in nine home appearances.
He's also 2-1-0 with a tie, a shutout and a 1.23 GAA in four games versus the Penguins.
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