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Pens work to end 3-game skid

by Sam Kasan @PensInsideScoop / Pittsburgh Penguins

The Pens won 11 of 13 games (11-1-1) and collected 23 of 26 possible points in a one-month span from late January to late February. The run allowed Pittsburgh to climb from the 10th position in the Eastern Conference into the top spot in the Metro Division.

But since that time, Pittsburgh has dropped three straight games, including an ugly 8-4 loss to the Boston Bruins on Thursday night.

"We went through a long stretch of hockey where we played extremely well and we got results for a reason," head coach Mike Sullivan said. "We just have to make sure we hit the reset button and get back to our game."

Veteran blueliner Kris Letang agreed with his coach's sentiment.

"Last week, we were winning and we had all the confidence in the world," Letang said. "We hit a rough patch and we just have to regroup, play better, play harder defensively and things will take care of themselves."

The Pens' difficulties of late have several contributing factors. But one reoccurring theme was puck battles.

"The last two games especially we haven't been good enough when it comes to puck battles," winger Carl Hagelin said. "It's not about running guys or getting at everyone, it's more about winning your battle you need to."

"We lost a lot of puck battles," defenseman Olli Maatta said. "That was huge for us. We want to play with the puck."

The Pens lost the first two games of this stretch by just one goal. The Pens battle back to tie Florida at 5-5 only to lose 6-5 in the final minute of regulation last Saturday.

Pittsburgh followed that with a hard-fought and tight 3-2 loss to New Jersey on Tuesday. But the 8-4 loss to Boston had a different feel as Pittsburgh struggled to get out of its own zone and didn't put up much fight or push back. It provided a lesson that registered with the team.

"It was a wakeup call, letting in five goals in the first period. You're not going to win that way," winger Patric Hornqvist said. "We just have to make sure we defend harder and play for one another out there. If someone is in trouble, make sure to help them out, and always have close support."

"We just have to have an answer. That was a wakeup call for how hard it is to win, how good the teams are," Maatta said. "That's one of the better teams in the league. We have to make sure every game we play we expect it to be hard."

The Pens watched film of the Boston loss on Friday morning before practice and the coaching staff delivered a message to the club.

"We talked to them about the details of our game and trying to get to our game more consistently, more often," Sullivan said, "in the areas where when we don't play the game the right way how games like last night can occur. We feel as though as a coaching staff that these things are correctable.

"Right now we have to have a playoff mindset where we heed the lessons, move by it and get ready for the next one."

The Pens have an opportunity to correct those elements on Saturday as they host the NY Islanders at PPG Paints Arena at 5 p.m.

"It's that time of year where the stakes are high," Sullivan said. "We're going to have to be ready to hit the reset button and elevate our game to try to get the result we wanted."

"We're all excited for tomorrow," Hornqvist said. "We want to turn it around here."

Note: Goaltender Matt Murray (concussion) skated Friday morning in full gear, but did not take any shots against. It's the latest step in his recovery.

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