Here are the 3 biggest takeaways from the Penguins' Monday morning practice at PPG Paints Arena…
1. Ready for some home cooking
The Penguins have had a road-heavy slate to begin the season, with 13 of their first 19 games being played away from PPG Paints Arena, and six of those being back-to-backs.
"Being on the road for that long, you miss your family, you miss everything you're accustomed to," defenseman Brian Dumoulin said. "It's tough packing up and traveling to different cities, getting in late nights. It takes a toll and it's a grind, but it's good to have some home games here coming up."
Beginning with Tuesday's game against Buffalo, the schedule will flip for the Penguins, as they will play 13 of their next 19 games at home. And while much has been made of Pittsburgh's struggles on the road and their record in back-to-backs, overall, they head into this stretch in a good position within the Metro Division.
They have a a 9-7-3 record for 21 points, the same amount as Columbus and Washington, second only to New Jersey's 24. And for the rest of the calendar year, they'll be playing the majority of their games in a building where they are unbeaten so far this season. It's a big opportunity for them to get back on track.
"With back-to-backs and being on the road, that's some adversity you face right away," Sidney Crosby said. "For sure there's some games we look at that we'd love to have back. We put ourselves in some bad spots early on in games, but we definitely are excited for the fact that we're going to be here a little bit more. We've got to string some wins together, put some good games together and we've got to build off of last game. But I think when you talk about looking at it as a whole, a chunk of games coming up, we can build some momentum."
While they try to play the same game whether at home or on the road, they are aware that the results have been different, and it's been a process for them working on having the same mindset regardless of the game's location.
"On the road, I think there's a lot of things that come into play, with scheduling," Sullivan said. "Our players have a certain comfort level playing at home, we're so fortunate to have the fan base and fan support that we have, and in a lot of instances I think it gives our team a big boost. There's a certain mindset that we have when we're at home, that we have to find a way to travel with it, and I think if we do that we'll have more success on the road."
In the meantime, they're looking forward to building on the 5-0-1 record they've established at home so far this season.
"Being home is certainly more comfortable," defenseman Ian Cole said. "You can get into the same routine which is nice. A lot of travel and long road trips certainly has a fatiguing effect."
The Penguins' exceptional play at PPG Paints Arena dates back to last spring, as they've gone 13 games without a loss in regulation, possessing a 11-0-2 record.
"We like playing at home," Hagelin said. "We like getting some pretty good matchups at home, and obviously having our fans behind us, it's exciting to be out there on the ice. You want to do everything you can to give the fans what they want, and that's a win."
"We don't play as many games in as many days coming up," Rust said. "We play a lot of them at home. That's a time for us to try to step up our game, play a little better, and get some wins together."
2. Shaking off the Rust
Rust tallied the Penguins' second shorthanded goal of the season in the first period of their 5-4 shootout loss to Nashville on Saturday, picking up a puck in the defensive zone and rushing up the ice before firing a shot past Pekka Rinne.
Rust's goal was his second of the season and broke a 13-game scoreless draught dating back to Oct. 12 versus Tampa Bay. Rust assisted on the Penguins' lone goal against the Capitals on Friday, and he's been showing signs of the confidence that helped him get off to such a strong start to begin this year's campaign.
"It was definitely nice to get one," Rust said. "For me, I was kind of losing a bit of confidence there, so to be able to put one in the net, it's big for me. As far as our teams goes, we scored a few more goals, and I think that's big for our team, knowing our offense can kick in at any time. That's something we're looking for moving forward."
He lined up alongside Crosby and Jake Guentzel at today's practice, so look for Rust to continue his strong play and help provide a spark to the line.
3. Practice Details
The Penguins used the following workflow…
Guentzel - Crosby - Rust
Hagelin - Malkin - Kessel
Sheary - Sheahan - Hornqvist
Kuhnhackl - McKegg - Reaves
Dumoulin - Letang
Maatta - Ruhwedel
Cole - Schultz