The Pittsburgh Penguins showed Wednesday night what they are capable of when they play a focus and committed game.
If they’d done that more often during the previous 70 games, the Penguins probably wouldn’t be in such a tight battle for an Eastern Conference playoff berth.
But daunting as the challenge of winning in Denver, where they earned a 5-2 victory against defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado, was, the one they face tonight might be even greater.
The Penguins still are relying on a defense corps assembled largely from spare parts, and this time they’ll be taking on a team, Dallas, that is ahead of the Avalanche in the Central Division standings.
They’ll do it shortly after 9 p.m. Eastern at the American Airlines Center, little more than 24 hours after what had to be a physically and emotionally draining performance at Ball Arena.
One plus for the Pittsburgh Penguins that might be easy to overlook is that, because all four lines were effective and contributing against Colorado, the workload was relatively spread out, which means Mike Sullivan’s players should be as fresh as possible, under the circumstances, tonight.
No forward played less than 10:48 (Josh Archibald) or more than 19:50 (Sidney Crosby) in Denver and, aside from the indefatigable Kris Letang (a staggering 29:03), no defenseman had an inordinately bloated ice time.
That fairly balanced division of labor was part of the reason that 13 of the Penguins’ 18 skaters blocked at least one shot against Colorado and 14 of them recorded at least one shot on goal.
Their team defense figures to undergo a severe stress test against the Stars, who score an average of 3.44 goals per game to rank seventh in the league, and are averaging 4.72 during March.
Dallas’ offensive headliner is left winger Jason Robertson, who is seventh in the NHL in goals (41) and tied for eighth in points (89), but he is far from his team’s only difference-maker.
Roope Hintz, for example, has 32 goals and Jamie Benn has 30.
Another forward who figures to command some attention from the Penguins is 19-year-old rookie Wyatt Johnston, who has a goal in each of the past five games, albeit only one assist in his past eight.
The Penguins were spared having to deal with one of the NHL’s finest defensemen Wednesday because Cale Makar of the Avalanche was injured.
They won’t be so fortunate this evening, since there’s nothing to indicate that Miro Heiskanen will sit out this game for Dallas. He has an 11-game points streak, with four goals and 15 assists in that span, which is a personal-best and ties the franchise record.
The Stars generally are a strong defensive club — they’re giving up an average of 2.76 goals per game, tied for eighth-lowest in the league — but their spike in goals-scored this month has been mirrored by one in goals-allowed (3.63).
The Penguins broke out of a goal-scoring slump — three goals in the previous three games — in Denver and have launched a total of 94 shots on goal during the past two games.
They probably won’t want to trade scoring chances with the Stars, who had Wednesday off, but might not necessarily be doomed if the game plays out that way.
Expected Pittsburgh Penguins Lines
Expected Dallas Stars Lines
Penguins power play: 53 for 245, 21.6%, 14th in NHL
Penguins penalty-kill: 46 for 225, 79.6%, 16th in NHL
Stars power play: 51 for 217, 23.5%, 8th in NHL
Stars penalty-kill: 37 for 219, 83.1%, 4th in NHL
Pittsburgh Penguins Game Notes
Jeff Carter made a bit of history by getting two goals against the Avalanche. (No, not just because he actually scored.) He made the Penguins the first NHL team ever to have five players who are 35 or older record multiple-goal games in the same season. The others are Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Jeff Petry.
Jake Guentzel’s next multiple-point game will be the 100th of his career. He has seven goals in his past nine games.
Ryan Poehling was a team-best 14-5 on faceoffs against Colorado, bumping his success rate on draws this season to a modest 45 percent.
The Penguins are 6-1-2 in their past nine games against the Stars.
P.O Joseph needs one point to become the 11th rookie defenseman in Penguins history to get 20 or more.
Stars goalie Jake Oettinger has four shutouts, one shy of the league lead.
Dallas is 30-8-4 when scoring the first goal, but only 8-11-10 when allowing it.
Jamie Benn has scored 13 of his 30 goals in the first period. His next power-play goal will be the 100th of his career.
Roope Hintz has four goals in seven career games against the Penguins.
Dallas has lost just 65 man-games to injury and illness.
How to Watch
Radio: 105.9 the X