The Penguins need look no further than the Steelers to see that losing in the preseason can have an effect. The Steelers went 0-4 in exhibition games, and are facing a lot of pointed fingers after an 0-2 to start the regular season.
The Penguins are 0-2 in the preseason going into a game tonight at Chicago and have been outscored, 9-5. Even though the team fielded different lineups against different clubs (Columbus and Detroit) and there were no standings points on the line, the losses were a little disheartening.
"You want to be feeling good about your game," center and team captain Sidney Crosby said Wednesday. "You want to get results.
"Everyone's going through the same thing. So to say you're rusty, that's part of it, but so are the teams we're playing. You definitely want to get results from the way you play."
Crosby is expected to play tonight, his second preseason game, after getting no points, giving the puck away twice and taking two penalties Monday in a 4-1 loss against Detroit at Consol Energy Center.
Forward Jussi Jokinen, who is expected to sit out after playing Monday, said there is a bit of a boomerang effect for those returnees who were swept by Boston in the Eastern Conference final.
"It's a fine line," he said. "[For those players] the biggest challenge is that you're coming from a peak emotional playoffs, and then to preseason games. That's the toughest thing -- how to get your desperation, how to get your battle level, how to get your compete level [back].
"Against Detroit, we didn't have that. We need to be better."
At the same time, players are trying to work on individual things such as timing, and coaches are teaching systems and evaluating players.
"You try to balance it," Crosby said. "You have to evaluate yourself realistically and know that you're doing the right things. Ultimately, the score does matter, but, sometimes, you're going to make mistakes just based on being rusty, that kind of thing.
"But I think overall you want to feel good about your game for the regular season. It's not something where you can struggle in the preseason and then just turn a switch on."
The encouraging thing is that there are four more preseason games, beginning tonight, and by the end of the exhibition schedule the lineup should be close to what it will be for the regular season.
"I'd rather lose the first three games and then win the last three games than have it the other way," Jokinen said. "You want to get better in training camp and you want to get your game to a better level the closer you get to opening night.
"The last two or three games, you want to have that winning feeling, get comfortable and get back to winning."
The Penguins will use some different forward line combinations tonight as indicated by their lineup.
For example, the Chris Kunitz-Crosby-Pascal Dupuis line won't be intact; Dupuis is not on the travel list. Perhaps Beau Bennett will play in Dupuis' spot or on Brandon Sutter's line. Bennett so far has practiced and played with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal.
Goaltender Tomas Vokoun is expected to start and play the full game, with Marc-Andre Fleury starting Saturday at home against Columbus, coach Dan Bylsma said.
Jeff Zatkoff will serve as backup goalie tonight. The defensemen are Matt Niskanen, Deryk Engelland, Brendan Mikkelson, Robert Bortuzzo, Simon Despres, Derrick Pouliot and Phil Samuelsson. The forwards are Crosby, Kunitz, Bennett, Sutter, Chuck Kobasew, Dustin Jeffrey, Matt D'Agostini, Steve MacIntyre, Zach Sill, Adam Payerl, Joe Vitale and Jayson Megna.
Winger Andrew Ebbett returned to practice, but defenseman Brian Dumoulin and forward Bobby Farnham remained out. All three were injured in an exhibition game Sunday at Columbus, Ohio.
For much more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Shelly Anderson: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.