By the time the Pittsburgh Penguins step on Mellon Arena ice Thursday at 7:30 p.m., they will have had one day of rest and four quality practices.
That might not seem like anything special, but it should provide the Penguins with the boost they need for a while.
“I think it was a productive week,” said Penguins forward John LeClair. “We were able to go over a few more things and shore up a few things, so I think that will push us over the edge and we can get a win and get rolling.”
The Penguins (0-2-4) are still searching for their first win of the season. They will go for it Thursday night against the New Jersey Devils, who beat the Penguins, 5-1, on Oct. 5 in New Jersey. Tickets are still available for the contest, which will be televised on FSN Pittsburgh and broadcast on the radio on 94.5 3WS. The radio broadcast begins at 7 p.m.
“We worked on a lot of things this week and we should be well-rested [Thursday] night for New Jersey,” Penguins coach Eddie Olczyk said. “It’s going to be a great challenge.”
A 3-1 loss to Tampa Bay on Saturday broke a string of four-straight overtime games for the Penguins. Obviously, the difference in those games – one goal.
“I think there are 18 teams in the league that haven’t had an overtime game and there’s only [three] other teams who have two,” Olczyk said. “For us, it’s the fact that we haven’t won a game. We really feel like we’re heading in the right direction. That just doesn’t mean that it’s all of a sudden going to turn. We expect better of ourselves. I expect better of our players and I expect better of myself.”
While the Penguins remain the only winless NHL team, the players realize streaks – good and bad – are part of the game.
“It’s a bump in the road right now and every team goes through it,” said Penguins defenseman Lyle Odelein, a 16-year season veteran. “You never like to go through a bump, but you always do at some point down the line. If you’re going to have it, I think you better have it once a year and that’s at the start of the year and not at the middle or end.”
Regardless, that doesn’t mean the players aren’t working hard to transform the rough streak into a good one.
“When you have the guys who have lived through it, they certainly have a calm about themselves,” Olczyk said. “They understand there’s peer pressure that’s going on – guys pushing one another and accepting nothing less but the very best. That’s what I expect.”
The Penguins devoted a lot of their practice time on defensive zone coverage. They are tied in the NHL with the second-most goals allowed at 27.
“Practice was good. We really worked on our defensive coverage,” Odelein said. “It was a good week of practice so far.”
Overall, the Penguins enjoyed an intense and productive week of practice. Play has been spirited during the team’s practice sessions and the players seem very focused.
“We’re ready to go. I think we’re real sharp,” Olczyk said. “But, I think actions speak louder than words and we need to come out and play as well as we can. We feel if we do that, we’ll give ourselves every opportunity to win. It’s 60 minutes and that’s the consistency we’re looking for.”
The players believe this week of practice will benefit them for the rest of the schedule as well as Thursday’s game. It was the last “break” the team had before it begins a grueling stretch. Thanks to a compressed schedule because of a nearly three-week hiatus for Olympics in February, the Penguins play 21 games in the next 45 days, starting with the Devils game. The Penguins close out October with five games in 12 days and play 14 games in 30 days in November. The team’s next break of more than two days is Dec. 4-7.
“It’s good that we had [the break] early in the season like this. Especially with the way we started, we really needed this time here,” LeClair said. “Now, we’re kicking into it and we’re going to play almost every other night from now until Christmas. We have to make sure we have everything down and everyone knows what their assignments are.”
Odelein believes playing so many games close together will help foster the team’s chemistry. “It’s good. We play Jersey, then keep going every other day,” he said. “That’s better than playing two and being off for four or five days.”