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After a rough start to the season due to injury and illness, Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby has his game in order, and it comes at a perfect time.

As the Penguins kick off a five-game road trip with Monday’s clash at the Calgary Flames, it’s on the heels of Crosby’s one-goal, two-assist performance in Saturday’s 6-3 home loss to the Montreal Canadiens, which snapped Pittsburgh’s five-game winning streak.

Crosby, who played one game after finally returning from offseason wrist surgery only to be sidelined due to a bout with COVID-19, collected one goal and two assists in eight games before Saturday’s clash.

“He’s getting better with every game that he plays,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “The puck follows him around. That’s always just been a characteristic of his game. With each game that he plays, he’s getting stronger, his stamina is improving and his execution is getting better.”

Crosby agreed his game has hit the next level.

“The biggest thing the last few games is there’s been a lot more chances,” he said. “It was tough the first few games. I think I had more games than practices after three or four games. That’s something that I knew was going to take a little bit of time.”

However, it wasn’t enough to beat the struggling Canadiens because of a brilliant game from goaltender Jake Allen, who made a career-high 47 saves. Penguins forward Evan Rodrigues recorded 12 shots on net, the third most in franchise history.

“There are games during the year that you might not deserve to win and you end up with two points,” Rodrigues said. “Then there are games you deserve to win and you (don’t). Today was one of those.”

The Flames are also coming off a disappointing loss that snapped a winning streak. After staking a 2-0 first-period lead, the Flames surrendered four unanswered goals in a 4-2 home loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday, their first loss in five games.

“At the end of the day, we’ve got to find a way to get this game into overtime or try to get two (points) before that,” forward Matthew Tkachuk said. “You can’t lose that one in regulation. Those ones hurt. Those are the games that don’t sit too well with you.”

The Flames were dominating the third period, but couldn’t find the needed go-ahead goal against Connor Hellebuyck — who stopped all 16 third-period shots he faced — before Winnipeg’s Kyle Connor’s late game-winning goal proved to be the difference.

“In the third, we were pushing hard for the third one, but it just didn’t go our way tonight,” said forward Elias Lindholm, who scored to extend his point-scoring streak to seven games, in which he’s collected two goals and nine points. “Then they get one with four minutes left. I think all of us on the ice could have made a better read, but that’s just the way it goes sometimes.”

Not that coach Darryl Sutter was about to let his team off the hook that easily.

“We didn’t finish enough opportunities,” Sutter said. “Break it down and I’d say we out-chanced them by quite a bit. We made a couple mistakes and they ended up in our net. We had lots of opportunities to break the tie, or go up by two, and we just didn’t finish. And that’s an issue.”

–Field Level Media