OTTAWA – The Pittsburgh Penguins arrived to play the Ottawa Senators at Canadian Tire Centre on Thursday on the heels of a snowstorm and spinning their wheels.
The Penguins, who always have another Stanley Cup as their goal, are 9-9-4 since Dec. 22 and haven't been able to win more than two games in a row in that stretch.
Their power play has been spotty since Christmas and has scored 10 goals in the past 22 games. It's 0-for-12 in the past five games.
Despite the Penguins' middling record over the past six weeks, they are in second place in the Metropolitan Division, one point behind the New York Islanders.
An encouraging note is the Penguins are coming off a 4-1 win against the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday. They got a spark from forward Blake Comeau, who scored the winning goal and had an assist in his return after a 20-game absence because of a wrist injury.
Penguins coach Mike Johnston said the return of players like Comeau, in addition to center Evgeni Malkin and wing Patric Hornqvist, who have all missed time because of injuries, makes the Penguins a tough team to match up against on the road and takes some of the checking heat off captain Sidney Crosby.
"It gives us depth. Ten days ago, Hornqvist, [Malkin] and Comeau were out and last night we had them all playing together as a line," he said. "That adds a lot of depth to our team. Sid is going to have his checking pressure, but now it's going to have to be spread out."
With the Penguins playing back-to-back games, goaltender Thomas Greiss will start. He gave up five goals on 27 shots in his last start, a 5-0 loss at the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday.
Greiss has given up at least three goals in six of his seven starts since Dec. 1.
The Senators, 12 points out of the second Eastern Conference wild-card spot for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, are coming off a 2-1 win against the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday. The victory ended a three-game losing streak in which the Senators scored one goal in each of the losses.
Goalie Robin Lehner will make his seventh-straight start for the Senators. No. 1 goaltender Craig Anderson remains out with a hand injury.
The Senators defeated the Sabres despite being outshot 21-4 in the second period. The Senators outshot the Sabres 14-8 in the first period.
That was typical of the inconsistency the Senators have shown this season from game to game and period and to period.
"It's a mindset," Senators coach Dave Cameron said. "To me, the switch went on and they thought they were going to score their way out of this funk. We're not there as a team. We're not going to score our way out of it.
"In that second period, I think we had five forechecks. It means we were turning pucks over, we weren't physical and we weren't getting out of our own end. If you don't do those things, you have no hope of scoring."
Lehner had his own take.
"The simple way to put it is we had two good periods and one bad one," he said. "It comes down to consistency. We don't want that huge a swing in our game.
"I think it's experience. We've just got to get more experience. We've got to get more games and we've got to start playing better shift to shift."
Cameron said defenseman Cody Ceci, a healthy scratch against the Sabres, will return to the lineup Thursday. Patrick Wiercioch will be scratched.
Cameron said sitting Ceci out was just part of his rotation of the Senators young players, particularly with an eye towards the NHL Trade Deadline on March 2 at 3 p.m. ET.
"He didn't come out because of his play," Cameron said. "He came out because I'm rotating young guys and trying to get a handle on everybody. The deadline is coming here and I'm probably going to get asked questions and I want to be able to give answers."
Here are the projected lineups:
Chris Kunitz – Sidney Crosby – David Perron
Blake Comeau – Evgeni Malkin – Patric Hornqvist
Nick Spaling – Brandon Sutter – Beau Bennett
Steve Downie – Maxim Lapierre – Craig Adams
Paul Martin – Kris Letang
Rob Scuderi – Simon Despres
Derrick Pouliot – Robert Bortuzzo
Scratched: Zach Sill
Injured: Christian Ehrhoff (concussion), Olli Maatta (illness), Pascal Dupuis (blood clots).
Clarke MacArthur – Mika Zibanejad – Bobby Ryan
Milan Michalek – Kyle Turris – Mark Stone
Mike Hoffman – Curtis Lazar – Alex Chiasson
Erik Condra – David Legwand – Chris Neil
Marc Methot – Erik Karlsson
Jared Cowen – Cody Ceci
Mark Borowiecki – Eric Gryba
Scratched: Patrick Wiercioch, Jean-Gabriel Pageau
Injured: Chris Phillips (undisclosed), Craig Anderson (hand), Zack Smith (wrist)
Status report: Anderson was on the ice Thursday morning, but worked out without a stick. He still can't hold it because of his injured right hand. … Smith took part in the optional practice for the first time since dislocating his wrist Dec. 15. He said no date has been set for his return, but he hopes to play again this season. … Johnston said Ehroff won't play on this short road trip which concludes Sunday against the Chicago Blackhawks, but could practice Saturday.
Who's hot: Karlsson has five goals in his past 10 games.