The Pittsburgh Penguins lines remained the same Thursday morning in advance of hosting the San Jose Sharks. Somehow, lines remaining mostly the same into a third game is cause for news. Tanner Pearson didn’t play Sunday but was a healthy un-scratch Tuesday and looked like a well-rested player with something to prove.
That is to say, Pearson skated hard and was noticeable. And the Penguins have won two straight games after they rescued their season with a monster third period, Sunday and slain the New Jersey Devils dragon, Tuesday.
Pearson did not score but made an impact, which was something his coach noted.
“I thought Pearson had a great game,” Sullivan said Tuesday. “I thought (Cullen’s) line was really good all night long.”
And the Penguins gelling process has begun with Nick Bjugstad at third line center and Jared McCann on third line left wing. After a couple of weeks of injuries, suspension, and experimentation, the Penguins seem to have a clear path forward, even if Sullivan is hesitant to declare Bjugstad his 3C.
Zach Aston-Reese also remained in the top-six, beside Evgeni Malkin. Aston-Reese has been on a heater and driving play deep in the offensive zone, in addition to the gritty defensive work.
“I just want to bring to the table I can bring and that’s just playing a hard two-way game,” Aston-Reese said. “I think I’m starting to get my head up a little quicker and things are starting to see things better.”
The Penguins are waiting for offense from their dominant right wings, Phil Kessel and Patric Hornqvist, who hasn’t scored in 13 games. Sullivan addressed Hornqvist’s Sahara-like dry spell, Thursday morning.
“Well, it’s hard sometimes you can’t always control where the puck is in the net or it doesn’t go in the net. We think his game is getting better,” Sullivan explained. “And from our estimation he’s he’s doing the things that that that he always does. He’s getting in on the forecheck, he’s finishing checks. He Goes to the net. He’s shooting the puck when he has the opportunity.”
The Penguins have scored 10 goals over the last two games and have won both. The Penguins three points ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes for the final playoff spot and two points ahead of Columbus for third place in the Metro Division.
Also, after a rough outing Tuesday, the Penguins will start backup Casey DeSmith in goal. DeSmith, 27, is 14-10-5 with a .915 save percentage and 2.82 goals against.
“Well, we’re in the middle of five games and eight nights and that’s and that’s part of it. Just from a logistics standpoint we’re playing a lot of hockey this week and we needed two guys,” said Sullivan. “The other aspect of this case he’s been very good in the starts he’s had most recently.”