The Penguins beat Tampa Bay, 6-2, in their only game of 2017 so far.
By Jason Mackey / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
WASHINGTON — At least as far results go, it wasn’t like the Penguins needed the extra work. Their 4-3 win over the Canadiens on New Year’s Eve gave them 12 wins in December, only the fourth time in franchise history that’s happened.
But after the NHL-mandated bye week and four of the past five days spent practicing – a rarity for any season, let alone a compressed one — the Penguins feel their game is in an even better spot than it was around the holiday.
“There’s not a ton of practice time over the season because everything is so condensed,” Bryan Rust said Wednesday morning at Verizon Center ahead of today’s 8 p.m. game against the Capitals.
“To be able to have those practices definitely helps to work on some things that maybe you aren’t as strong at, things we need to build on.”
Coach Mike Sullivan felt his team wasn’t as crisp in the first period of Sunday’s 6-2 win over the Lightning at PPG Paints Arena.
Sullivan spoke after the break about gearing the first two practices back toward puck touches, to help players get something of a feel, but rust was inevitable.
It turned out to be no big thing, as the Penguins pulled away with a four-goal third period. Plenty more puck touches have followed.
“These guys are used to playing the game every day, touching the puck every day,” Sullivan said. “When you take them away from that, their timing tends to establish a little bit of rust.
“Our execution was a little rusty at the first part of the game, but the coaching staff felt we got better as the game went on. After having a few more practice days under our belt, we feel as though our team is in a better place.”
The Capitals side
Alex Ovechkin needs one point for 1,000 in his career. Although the Penguins would rather it not come against them — they gave up the last 1,000th achieved, by San Jose’s Patrick Marleau on Nov. 21 — there’s no shortage of respect for Ovechkin the player.
“The only way to defend him would be to follow him around the ice,” Eric Fehr said. “He seems to find ways to get lost. You know he’s the biggest threat on the ice. You think you know where he is, but somehow he finds a way to elude you. It only takes him a second, and he has one of the quickest releases in the league.”
It’s not just Ovechkin who has been humming. The Capitals have won six in a row, and they’re 13-2-3 in their last 18.
“They’re playing extremely well,” Sullivan said. “They’ve won six games in a row. They’re a hard team to play against. They’re one of the top teams in the league. I think these teams have familiarity with one another with games that we’ve played with one another here over the last while. I don’t think there are any secrets. I think both teams are pretty good teams that are playing pretty good hockey right now.”
The morning skate was optional, and Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel and Matt Cullen took it. They will play tonight, Sullivan said. Kris Letang, who was sick Tuesday, skated and will also play. Chad Ruhwedel remains out with the illness making its way around the Penguins dressing room.
Jason Mackey: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @JMackeyPG
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