The gang is nearly all back together for the Pittsburgh Penguins, but questions remain about how well that is translating to success on the ice.
The Buffalo Sabres will find out for themselves on Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.
The Penguins entered the weekend with a depleted lineup due to COVID-19 protocol and dropped a 6-3 decision to the Ottawa Senators on Saturday. On Sunday, all the COVID-19 absentees returned — including coach Mike Sullivan, but it was for naught.
The Penguins fell 6-1 at Washington, their largest margin of defeat this season.
Overall, Pittsburgh has lost four of its past five games (1-2-2). After filling in the gaps left by injuries and COVID-19 for pretty much the whole season, there wasn’t the expected spark Sunday.
“You never want to lose back to back like that, in that fashion,” said Penguins winger Jake Guentzel, who had the team’s only goal Sunday. “It definitely doesn’t feel good, but it’s nice when you can get some guys back and, hopefully, we can move on from these two.
“We’ve got to stop the bleeding here. I think for us we’ve just got to get back on track.”
At this point, the only regular missing from Pittsburgh’s lineup is second-line center Evgeni Malkin, who had offseason knee surgery and is expected back in December.
On Sunday, Sullivan and four players returned after bouts with COVID-19. That included team captain and top-line center Sidney Crosby.
Crosby missed the first seven games this season after wrist surgery. He returned for one game before going into COVID-19 protocol.
The three-time Stanley Cup champion has yet to record a point in two games this season.
“It’s hard,” Sullivan said of Crosby’s situation. “(Sunday was) his second game in six months. I think we have to understand where he’s at. He’s coming off a difficult 10 days that he just went through. … There’s no doubt in my mind he’ll get better and better as each day goes by.”
The Sabres have lost six of their last seven games (1-5-1), however they are coming off a weekend that has them feeling good about themselves.
On Friday, Buffalo posted a 3-2 victory over the high-flying Edmonton Oilers. The Sabres then consistently chased Toronto in a seesaw game on Saturday before falling 5-4 to the Maple Leafs.
It’s the kind of weekend that hasn’t happened in recent years for the struggling club.
“We’ve got guys who have a chip on their shoulder and want to prove something,” said Buffalo center Tage Thompson, who had a goal and an assist Saturday. “That’s infectious, and it’s fun to be a part of.”
One of the Sabres’ most resurgent players is winger Jeff Skinner. He had two goals and an assist Saturday and is in a three-way tie for the team lead with five goals.
Skinner, a one-time 40-goal scorer, had just seven goals in 53 games last season.
Buffalo coach Don Granato attributed Skinner’s start to “the details in his game right now. … He’s refocused on a foundation that is now starting to flourish. It’s starting to hit a rhythm.”
–Field Level Media