Penguins host Devils, seek fast second-half start
The break is over for the Pittsburgh Penguins and New Jersey Devils, who meet Monday night at PPG Paints Arena.
Both teams lost Jan. 19, their last game before entering an NHL-supplied bye week and the All-Star weekend break, but each is in a much different situation overall.
Pittsburgh (26-16-6) is fourth in the Metropolitan Division, where six points separate the top four clubs, and holds a wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.
New Jersey (18-23-7), with 43 points, matches Ottawa for the lowest total in the East, although the Devils have two games in hand on Ottawa.
For the Penguins, there is a chance at quick upward mobility if they can stack together a string of wins, as they did when they won nine of 10 before a 2-3 road trip through the Pacific Division that ended Jan. 19 with a 7-3 loss at Vegas. The game against the Devils begins a three-game homestand.
Teams often refer to the flip side of the All-Star Game as the second half of the season, even though the schedule is past the midpoint, and consider it an opportunity to correct and improve for the stretch drive. It often comes with a harsh assessment.
"I think we show glimpses of what we're able to do," Pittsburgh All-Star Kris Letang said. "Obviously, it's a hard thing to do for 60 minutes. We have to put in our brains that until the end of the year, it's going to be a tough fight to get in the playoffs. We'd better start playing with that same edge that we're able to do (at times)."
Winger Patric Hornqvist, while insisting he wasn't concerned about where the Penguins stand, offered a bit of criticism.
"We can't just have one good period a night. We have to find a way to play hard 60 minutes," he said. "This group has been through a lot, so I have no doubt in this group."
The Devils, meanwhile, have 34 games to make up 15 points in the standings - the difference between them and the Penguins -- to nudge into a playoff spot.
They dropped their last three games before their break, including a 3-2 home loss to Anaheim Jan. 19.
New Jersey All-Star Kyle Palmieri noted that "it's been a roller coaster of a season for us. We've got a lot of games left. There's a lot of hockey to be played. Hopefully, come out of the break and build some momentum."
Coach John Hynes was much more blunt, indicating New Jersey has been playing too soft at times.
"If you look at our team, we do lots of good things, but when push comes to shove, we get shoved," he said.
Hynes pointed to 5-17-3 road record as evidence.
"When you don't win on the road as much as we have not, there is a hardness that you have to have on your team, a mental toughness, a hardness to play in those environments, and we didn't have it in the first half. We need to build it more," he said.
Hynes pointed specifically to his team's play along the boards, in the corners and in front of both nets, often called the gritty areas.
"What we've really seemed to struggle with this year is when there are teams that drag you into the competitive battle, we've had too many passengers in those games," he said.
--Field Level Media
Updated January 27, 2019