The Pittsburgh Penguins prepare to launch an eight-game homestand feeling pretty good about themselves, while their opponent Saturday, the Chicago Blackhawks, are still trying to find their footing.
Pittsburgh collected three of a possible four points in opening the season with a road trip to Florida. The Penguins opened their campaign Tuesday with a win over the two-time defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning, and then lost in overtime against the Florida Panthers on Thursday.
“All in all, I think it’s a great start for us,” said Penguins forward Jeff Carter, who collected his 400th career goal Thursday.
That’s pretty much the message Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan delivered to his club.
“I said to the guys that to get three out of four points from two excellent hockey teams, for me, we should take that as a positive,” Sullivan said.
“We know we can be better. There are areas, without a doubt, where we can improve. But we were playing against two outstanding teams. … I just thought our guys competed hard. That’s a positive sign from our standpoint. I think it’s something to build on. We’ll see what we can take out of these (games).”
Chicago also opened with two road games — a loss Wednesday at Colorado and, while the Penguins were resting at home, an overtime loss Friday at New Jersey.
The Blackhawks, unlike Pittsburgh, have a third road game to open the season before getting a chance to play at home.
In both of their games, the Blackhawks fell behind initially.
“We’ve got to find a way to be ready,” Chicago center Kirby Dach said. “It’s not an excuse. We’ve just got to be ready for puck drop.”
Blackhawks newcomer Seth Jones, an offensive-minded defenseman who has no goals and one assist, promised improvement.
“The first game, I wasn’t good,” Jones said. “(Friday) I was a little more sharp. I need to be consistent. I’ve got to do it (Saturday).”
The teams are meeting for the first time since Nov. 9, 2019, a 3-2 Penguins shootout win.
Both teams started their backup goaltender in their most recent game, Casey DeSmith for Pittsburgh and Kevin Lankinen for the Blackhawks.
That means the expected matchup Saturday will be Tristan Jarry for the Penguins and Marc-Andre Fleury for Chicago.
It will be Pittsburgh’s first look at Fleury, their former franchise goalie, in a Blackhawks jersey. Fleury, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, spent the past four seasons with Vegas.
The Penguins, meanwhile, are awaiting a game when they might have their top line intact.
Star center Sidney Crosby has been practicing as he recovers from wrist surgery, but he is unlikely to play Saturday.
Top-line left winger Jake Guentzel scored Thursday in his season debut after he missed the opener while coming out of COVID-19 protocol.
Top-line right winger Bryan Rust left early in the third period Thursday after taking a hit. There was no update on him Friday as Pittsburgh canceled its practice.
An off-ice development for Pittsburgh is the status of its 632-game home sellout streak (includes full capacity as allowed last season), which could be in jeopardy. It covers regular season and playoff games and dates to Feb. 14, 2007, at now-razed Mellon Arena.
That night, Fleury made 28 saves for the Penguins in a 5-4 shootout win over, as fate would have it, Chicago.
–Field Level Media