The Pittsburgh Penguins would seem to have reason for high confidence entering their game Sunday night against the New Jersey Devils in Newark.
Not only have the Penguins bounced back from two losses — in which they gave up 15 goals — to win two straight, but they are 2-1-1 against the Devils after carving out a 6-4 win Friday in the opener of a their two-game series despite playing at what they consider less than full tilt.
“I don’t think we were at our best,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. “I give our guys credit. I think they had opportunities to score, and we finished. Our power play (2-for-4) was really good. We found a way to win.”
The Penguins built a 5-2 lead midway through the third period, but New Jersey came back with two goals, and Pittsburgh didn’t clinch things until Bryan Rust’s empty-netter with 25 seconds left.
“We could have been better positionally,” Sullivan said of the latter stages of that game. “We could have been better with the decisions we made with the puck.”
One Penguins player who didn’t seem to fit the mold of being less than at the top of his game was Jared McCann, who scored his team-leading sixth power-play goal and added a power-play assist.
McCann is filling in at second-line center while Evgeni Malkin is out — and Malkin has just resumed skating while he recovers from a suspected knee injury, so his return is not imminent — and has been elevated to the top power-play unit.
“I think he does a really good job of working hard and kind of just making plays that are there, whether it’s making a pass or just trying to get the puck to the net,” Rust, another member of the No. 1 power-play unit, said in regard to McCann.
Even New Jersey recognized the way the Penguins won without being at their best.
“They know how to win,” said Miles Wood, who scored twice Friday for the Devils. “You can’t play each game with your ‘A’ game, but they know how to win with their ‘B’ game.
“You know, I feel like for our team, when we’re playing well, we’re hard to beat. But our bad games are, to be honest, so far off. It’s hard to play each game at your best. But you can’t give a ‘C’ game effort.”
One thing going for New Jersey is what seems to be the awakening of 2019 first overall draft pick Jack Hughes.
Thursday, Hughes scored his first goal since March 18 during the Devils’ 6-3 win at Buffalo, along with two assists for his second three-point game of the season. He followed that with a goal Friday against Pittsburgh.
“I mean, I’m just enjoying it, even when the goals aren’t coming,” Hughes said. “It’s fun to come to the rink, but it’s nice to score … and I’ve got to keep shooting the puck and getting those chances.”
After Sunday, the Penguins and Devils will face each other three more times this month.
New Jersey is due to get a boost soon, although it’s not clear it will be as quickly as Sunday. Team captain Nico Hischier, who had surgery to repair a sinus fracture after getting hit with a shot on Feb. 28, is close to returning.
–Field Level Media