The Penguins are entering the stretch run of the season and they will do so from the comforts of their own homes. The team will be in Pittsburgh for the next three weeks with eight games scheduled at Mellon Arena over that period, starting Saturday afternoon against the Ottawa Senators at 3 p.m.
“We were on the road for a little while, now we have to take advantage of our fans and try to win some games at home,” Maxime Talbot said. “It’s going to be huge in standings because everybody knows how tight it is. It’s going to be some big games.”
Pittsburgh is currently in the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference standings with 79 points. It’s an extremely tight race right now with only seven points separating No. 4 Philadelphia (82) from No. 10 Buffalo (75).
“Nobody is giving up any ground,” Bill Guerin said. “They’re all tightening up their defense, playing playoff hockey. That’s the way it’s going to be from here on in.”
The eight-game home stand couldn’t have come at a better time for Pittsburgh considering that it can use the home-ice advantage to catapult its way up the standings.
“It’s pretty rare; we don’t see that very often but we’ll take it, especially at this time of year,” Sidney Crosby
said. “We’re in a tough (race) and to be at home is a plus for us. We want to take advantage of it.”
“At this time of the year when you’re watching the standings everyday and looking down the road, you’re glad you have eight home games now,” interim head coach Dan Bylsma said. “Hopefully we can use it to our advantage.”
Even though the Penguins are fortunate to have such a desirable home stand at this juncture of the season, the team had a less favorable schedule earlier in the year. The team played seven games in 11 days and had seven back-to-back contests in a six week span from late November to early January.
“We paid our dues a couple months ago with our schedule and the way that was,” Mark Eaton said. “That was grueling, very demanding and we didn’t fair too well in it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a streak with that amount of games and this amount of time at home. It’s a little different but hopefully we can use it in our favor.”
The Penguins next road game is at Carolina on April 4. Four of the last five games of the season will be played away from Mellon Arena. So that makes it even more important to have a strong home stand and provide some playoff cushioning.
“We just have to bare down and not get too complacent because we’re at home for a long time,” Guerin said. “We can’t take it for granted. We still have a lot of ground to make up. We’re not in as solid of a playoff spot that we want. We’re going to have to really bear down and make some good out of this home stand.”>
Forward Petr Sykora joined his teammates for their Friday afternoon practice at Mellon Arena. Sykora, who is listed as day-to-day with an undisclosed injury, missed the past three games for Pittsburgh.
“He's getting better; we’re hoping he’s a possibility for the weekend but we’ll have to talk to the trainers,” Bylsma said. “He’s been working hard and he’s made an effort to get some extra skating in and keep his legs going. If he’s ready to go and won’t digress then he’s going to get a chance to get in there.”
Defenseman Philippe Boucher, out since having surgery on his left foot in late January, skated prior to the team's practice. There is no word yet on when he'll be ready to begin practice. >
Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury
has started a personal-best 17 straight games in net for Pittsburgh and is 7-0-1 in his past eight games.
With the Penguins playing three games in four days, it is possible that backup Mathieu Garon could see some action this weekend. That being said, if Garon does play this weekend it will be Sunday when Pittsburgh hosts Boston because Bylsma confirmed after practice that Fleury will extend his streak to 18 straight starts against Ottawa on Saturday.
“Marc-Andre is going to play (Saturday),” Bylsma said. “We’ll see after the game. This being three (games) in four nights we’re concerned with Marc-Andre down the road. So there’s a good chance you’ll see Garon on Sunday.”Archive