Thoughts, musings and observations from the Penguins' morning skate at KeyBank Center...
* Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan had a number of injury updates:
- Bryan Rust, who has missed the last seven games with a lower-body injury, joined the team for the first time wearing a red no-contact jersey. "We brought Rusty on the trip because he's getting close," Sullivan said. "We wanted to get him around the team, get him in the practices. He's feeling really good. He's in a non-contact jersey. But his status is day-to-day, he's getting close."
- Kris Letang (upper-body, 8 games missed) and Olli Maatta (upper-body, 14 games missed), stayed in Pittsburgh to skate with skills development coach Ty Hennes. "They're making progress," Sullivan said.
- Finally, Sullivan said he made a mistake the other day when he said Zach Aston-Reese (lower-body, 1 game missed) was day-to-day. "He's longer-term," Sullivan said. The good news is that Aston-Reese will not need surgery and is expected back this season.
* Casey DeSmith was the first goalie off the ice, and Sullivan confirmed he will get the nod tonight against Buffalo - ending Matt Murray's career-high streak of starts at nine. He'll get a well-deserved rest as DeSmith makes his first start since Feb. 21, a 4-0 loss to San Jose.
"Matt's had a pretty heavy workload," Sullivan said. "We're trying to watch that. We're trying to keep him at his best. We're trying to keep everybody at their best, because that's what we're going to need each and every game. Casey's been good for us. We think this is the right decision at this time."
In the big picture, the Penguins netminders have a pretty even workload. Murray has appeared in 39 games (starting 39) while DeSmith has appeared in 34 games (starting 29).
But in the short-term, the Penguins have turned to their franchise netminder as they battle for much-needed points down the stretch, and Murray has responded with his best hockey of the season. Over that stretch of starts - which included two back-to-back sets in a 10-day span - Murray went 6-1-2 with a 2.30 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage.
"For a lot of reasons, Matt's overall workload in the big picture isn't that high," Sullivan said. "But in the short term, his workload has been a lot lately. We're trying to find little pockets or windows where we can give him an opportunity to recover, so that he can continue to be at his best."
* The Penguins are 31-0-3 when leading after two periods. Two of those three setbacks have come recently, and one happened here in Buffalo earlier this month, when the Sabres rallied from a 3-2 deficit to win 4-3 in overtime.
It was interesting - when Sidney Crosby and Justin Schultz were asked how they felt the team was playing with a lead in the third period, they had virtually the same response.
"Better. Better as of late," Schultz said.
"I think we're getting better," Crosby agreed.
They both said that having an aggressive mindset is key.
"The important thing is not to sit back," Crosby said. "It's human nature for every team to do that, but I think the best ones at holding leads manage the puck well, they don't get themselves into penalty trouble and give teams an opportunity to get back. The times that we have slipped up a little bit, it's usually because of power plays or something like that. When that does happen, we have to find a way to kill them and if we don't, find a way to bounce back and get the lead back."
* Sullivan reunited his top power-play unit in Tuesday's 5-3 win over Washington, and they responded with two goals - one from Crosby and one from Phil Kessel.
"I thought we had the right mindset going over the boards," Crosby said. "We were aggressive and we took the shots when they were there. You look at Phil's goal, just a shot from the point, rebound, simple stuff. But when we do the right things the puck seems to find the back of the net."