The Pittsburgh Penguins are three days into their time in the Sunshine State and are preparing to face a Tampa Bay Lightning team that, like them, has 71 points and is near the top of the NHL standings. But Penguins center Evgeni Malkin is still basking some in the team’s most recent game.
Sunday, they topped Washington 4-3 on the road. The Capitals sit atop the league standings.
“We were playing against probably the best team right now,” Malkin said after the team practiced Wednesday at Amalie Arena. “Finally, we’re playing like a tight group. I think we’re playing 60 minutes.”
That includes, he said, hanging on defensively late in games, as the Penguins did Sunday. Malkin said that was like a playoff game.
“I like how we supported each other, how we talked in the locker room before the game, after the game. We play three more times against Washington before the playoffs. It’s a great test for us for sure.”
Although it was already planned, the Penguins got a bit of a reward with a day Tuesday off in Florida, giving them nearly 48 hours between Monday’s practice there and Wednesday’s practice there.
“Couple days vacation in Florida,” Malkin said. “Enjoyed a day off (Tuesday). Practice (Wednesday). And play against a good team (Thursday).”
Malkin said the Lightning represents another test, as Washington did.
“We’re ready,” he said. “We played (well) against Washington. We had much confidence. We play against Tampa – good the last five games. It’s a good test. We’re ready.”
The Lightning has won four straight and five of six (5-0-1). Nikita Kucherov leads the team with 63 points, Steven Stamkos has 57, they both have 24 goals, and Stamkos has seven goals, 13 points during his eight-game point streak.
“You exhale out there or you lose your focus, and Tampa has the type of team that can hurt you,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.
In addition to the firepower, the Lightning has a hot goaltender. Andrei Vasilevskiy has a personal 16-game point streak (14-0-2) and will set a franchise record if he extends it to 17.
“They have a good team,” Malkin said. “They have everything – goalie, defensemen, power play, forwards.
“But we have a good team, too.”
Penguins winger Bryan Rust, who sat out Monday’s practice in Tampa, was a full participant in practice, and the line combinations and defensive pairings remained the same.
— Pens Inside Scoop (@PensInsideScoop) February 5, 2020
A guess would be that Matt Murray will make his second straight start after a strong game Sunday in a win a Washington.
First goalie off after practice is Matt Murray. Tristan Jarry is still out on the ice getting in extra work. #Pens
— Matt Vensel (@mattvensel) February 5, 2020