In the final stretch of games before the postseason, every point is coveted by the playoff hopefuls.
With that being said, the Penguins couldn’t have picked a better time to gel.
After a period of time that saw an influx of players being sidelined with injuries and new faces being added to the locker room via trades and call-ups, the ship has steadied in Pittsburgh and the Penguins are now on quite a roll.
Injured players are starting to filter back into the lineup instead of out, and James Neal
, Matt Niskanen
and Alex Kovalev all seem acclimated in their new surroundings.
“I do sense after the trade deadline, with some of the changes in the room and some of the injuries, that we had a different look in this room,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “And it took us a while, I think, to really get back to how we were playing. ... Guys are starting to know we can win hockey games, know we can be a good team playing together on the same page and are building on that.”
“We do have some more people in the locker room, some different people,” defenseman Paul Martin
said. “So I think by now, we’re starting to get used to the guys in the locker room and we’re used to what we’re doing, which is important especially now down the stretch.”
I do sense after the trade deadline, with some of the changes in the room and some of the injuries, that we had a different look in this room. And it took us a while, I think, to really get back to how we were playing. ... Guys are starting to know we can win hockey games, know we can be a good team playing together on the same page and are building on that. - Head coach Dan Bylsma
Pittsburgh is now 5-1-2 in their last eight games and coming off a pair of resounding 5-1 victories over Edmonton on Sunday and Ottawa on Tuesday, where seven different players scored a goal, 12 different players scored a point and six different players recorded at least one multiple-point game.
The Penguins are firing on all cylinders in all areas of the ice. They’ve been playing a total team game, as the forwards are getting on the board consistently, the defensemen look comfortable and confident and Marc-Andre Fleury
and Brent Johnson
continue to star between the pipes.
But what’s important to keep in mind is that despite their solid stretch of hockey over their last eight games, the “1” in the Penguins’ 5-1-2 record represents one of their most disappointing losses of the season, a tough 3-0 blanking at the hands of Montreal on March 12.
But much like they’ve been doing all season, the team responded with a vengeance to that measure of adversity with two of their best efforts of the season and have moved themselves ever closer to their goal of catching Philadelphia for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
“The team had been playing well, but as far as a loss like that, we hadn’t had one of those in a while,” Martin said. “So it’s something that is definitely a wake-up call. You’re not used to that and you try to figure out why that happened. ... It’s tough, but I think we did realize that’s not acceptable and you’re not going to win playing like that.”
The Penguins are four points within the Flyers for the conference lead and have two big games coming up against their cross-state rival. They know if they keep playing the way they have been, they have a realistic chance of snatching first place.
“I think our goal is to get a certain amount of wins, and we’re close to that,” Martin said. “So I think that’s what we’re shooting for, and if we do that, that gives us a good chance to catch Philly.”
The team isn’t worried about having a four-day break after putting together such an overall fantastic stretch of hockey – in fact, they welcome it.
“A chance to get some rest and regroup and to take two days off at this point to give the guys a chance to rejuvenate and to get ready for that push, we are playing a lot of hockey in the next few days coming up – some big games,” Bylsma said. “So we’ll use these four days wisely.”