The Pittsburgh Penguins will tell you their second period Tuesday – when they gave up three goals en route to a 4-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens – was in part because of fluky goals and weird bounces.
They also will tell you that they have the character and the buy-in to make sure it was a one-off. It’s how they have more than kept their heads above water this season despite an incredible amount of injuries.
So they fully expect that Thursday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets at PPG Paints Arena they will double down on the responsible style balanced with speed and skill that has kept them on track for a playoff spot.
“It’s just the fact that we see the result,” defenseman Kris Letang said of the Penguins’ commitment to eliminating risks, cutting down on costly penalties, rolling up their sleeves to manage the puck and play well at both ends of the rink.
“It’s like every recipe: When you master that recipe, you want to always do the same thing because you know it brings you success,” Letang said.
That lull against Montreal was just glaring enough to get the Penguins’ attention, beginning with a stronger third period.
“That was definitely one of those whacks in the face – OK, wake up a little bit,” winger Bryan Rust said. “We have to get back to the way we were playing. I think we did that in the third. We’ve just got to learn from it.”
Cynics, or even realists, might have expected that the Penguins would hit a mental fatigue factor after having to make up for the absence of several injured players essentially all season.
Part of one game – Nov. 2 at home against Edmonton, a 2-1 overtime loss – the Penguins had their full, as-general-manager-Jim-Rutherford-built-it lineup.
In that game, center Evgeni Malkin played for the first time since he got hurt in the second game of the season, but winger Patric Hornqvist got hurt and left in the third period.
Still, the Penguins are sixth in the Eastern Conference and holding down a wildcard spot with 38 points. They are among the NHL’s top teams with 103 goals and among the stingiest teams with 85 goals against.
“We just have a lot of good character guys in the (locker) room who know that it takes hard work and dedication to win,” Rust said. “It takes that extra percent of paying attention to details and doing the right of things that allow teams to win.”
Especially with key parts missing. Right now, forwards Sidney Crosby, Nick Bjugstad and Patric Hornqvist as well as defenseman Brian Dumoulin are out.
“When you don’t have the firepower without Sid or Bjugstad, Horny, Dumo, sometimes you want to simplify things and … try to grind things out,” Letang said. “We try to play even more simple.”
The way winger Zach Aston-Reese sees it, a game against Metropolitan Division rival Columbus is the perfect opportunity to prove that.
In fact, he pretty much guaranteed the Penguins will do that.
“All season I don’t think there’s ever been a time where our effort has gotten worse or it consecutively stayed back,” Aston-Reese said.
“After a game like that (Tuesday), it’s pretty apparent that it’s not even so much a systems thing as it is an effort thing. We know that, and we’re going to respond right away. There’s no better test than playing Columbus. They’re a high-energy team. It’s going to be a good test for us to see how we bounce back.”