When you take a look to the opening three-game losing streak at the start of the season for the Pittsburgh Penguins, their coach Mike Johnston told media he understood why a team everyone labelled a powerhouse offensively, struggled to get out of the gate.
The main reasons were that their new players were still adjusting and getting used to new systems, a new environment and new teammates. All of which doesn’t happen in training camp but in real game situations when two points are on the line. Going into tonight’s game against the Vancouver Canucks, the Pens Coach has realized that finally there is no longer a need to give reasons for their initial failure.
The Penguins are right now 7-4-0, and are on a streak having won seven of eight since, with a shot at their first five-game winning streak since they had a seven-game run exactly this time last year. The Canucks who are 6-2-4 are also working on turning things around and setting themselves up for success.
Pittsburgh is coming off a convincing win on Friday, with a 4-0 win against bottomfeeder Toronto, which provided for their largest margin of victory this season. It was their second straight game with four goals, after failing to get score through nine games.
Matt Cullen and Eric Fehr now have each scored their first goals with the Penguins since newly joining the team, and they added an assist too. Patric Hornqvist scored in two straight games after going without a goal in the same nine games.
“We had quite a few new players in the group. Every line was changed and every defense pair was different from the way we ended the season last year,” Johnston told the team’s official website. “I think the chemistry of the group is starting to come right now. … Guys know their roles and know how they need to contribute. Our depth is really good in a lot of areas.”
Pens goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury wasn’t the one who can be blamed for being bad in the season-opening skid where the team scored only three goals. Now that the team is scoring he’s in a better position with two shutouts, a 1.29 goals-against average and .955 save percentage over a 6-1-0 span. He’s also got a great record against Vancouver, where he won four straight. Though he’s allowed 10 goals in the last three. But his team has picked up the slack.
Special teams are also improved with the penalty kill going 23 of 24 in the last eight games, while the power play is beginning to surge with a 2 for 4 mark in the last two game. Before the Toronto game they were a poorly 2 for 31. Still, Fleury isn’t one to make any bold statements.
“It was one of our better games in the past weeks,” Fleury said after making 21 saves against Toronto. “From start to finish, our penalty kill, our power play looked good. I felt like our four lines contributed, did well. I felt pretty confident in (Friday’s) game.”
Vancouver has also has put on a display with an impressive penalty kill, thwarting 90.6 percent of power plays for the season so far. The Canucks are 9 for 9 over a 3-0-1 span, which coincides with their rising offense this season. They had a solid 4-1 home win over the Philadelphia Flyers.
Rookie Jake Virtanen scored his first NHL goal the day after the club announced he and fellow rookie 19-year-old Jared McCann would remain with the club beyond the nine-game mark, which initiates the start of their contract making 2015-16 the first year of their entry-level contracts.
McCann actually leads the team with five goals scored in 10 games. Canucks coach Willie Desjardins thinks he probably feels more confident now that the feeling of no longer needing to audition has disappeared.
“If I were those guys, I think I would feel a little bit more relaxed, but at the same time, in this league every shift there’s pressure,” Desjardins said. “If you have a bad shift, we’re in trouble.”
Last year, the Canucks won both meetings with an 8-0 scoring advantage after shutting out Pittsburgh once in their previous 108 all-time meetings. Ryan Miller got that shutout in the game in Vancouver. But the 3.15 GAA he has in 26 games against Pittsburgh is his fourth highest which means if he plays tonight this could be a high scoring affair.
On home ice, Miller started the season 0-2-3 with a 2.96 GAA, but since he beat Montreal and the Flyers with just two goals allowed on a massive total 54 shots.
Another interesting storyline is the Brandon Sutter one. He was traded from Pittsburgh to Vancouver in a three-player deal this past July, and so far he has three goals and four assists with the Canucks. While on the other side of the trade, Nick Bonino has two goals and an assist for the Penguins. So they should be eager to face up against the teams who traded them.
It seems like the Pens are just surging and getting into their offensive flow, so we’ll bet that the Pens will beat the Canucks tonight at home.
Our Prediction: Pens over Canucks, 4-3 in OT