Here is a look at 3 takeaways from the Penguins’ Monday afternoon practice at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.
1. McKegg fitting in
Center Greg McKegg has been a pleasant surprise in the early onset of the season, both as a third-line center and as a member of the Penguins’ penalty killing unit.
McKegg picked up his first goal as a Penguin – shorthanded – in a 4-3 victory against Florida on Saturday night.
“It’s always nice getting the first one out of the way as quick as possible to start the season,” McKegg said. “It’s been great to be here so far. I think we’re getting better with each game. We just have to build off of that.”
The Penguins currently have the 8th-ranked penalty killing group in the NHL with an 86.2-percent conversion rate, which includes a run of 18 straight kills. McKegg has big part of that early-season success.
“It’s nice getting familiar with some of the guy’s tendencies and things like that,” McKegg said. “We’re working off of each other. We’ve been able to find some chemistry.”
Though McKegg is currently in the third-line center role, a position he won out of training camp, he knows that the Penguins could make a move at any time to acquire another center. That has given him the hunger to prove that he deserves to keep that role for the season.
“I’m taking it day-by-day and putting my best foot forward anytime you’re on the ice,” McKegg said. “I just want to help the team any way I can.”
2. Pens hitting the road
Tuesday, the Penguins will embark on a three-game road trip, taking on the New York Rangers on Oct. 17, before a back-to-back against Florida and Tampa Bay on Oct. 20-21. Pittsburgh finished second in the NHL with a home record of 31-6-4 last season, but were only 19-15-7 on the road.
“It’s not like we draw up a game plan for the home games and a game plan for the away games,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “There is an element of simplifying the game early on when you are on the road to take some momentum away and take the crowd out of it.”
Goaltender Matt Murray believes it is more about their attitude than actual execution.
“I think it’s just a mindset,” Murray said. “It’s about playing with the confidence as if we were at home.”
Dating back to 2016, the Penguins have won six of their last seven games at Madison Square Garden against the Blueshirts, which includes two playoff contests. The Penguins have already faced the Panthers and Lightning this season, topping Florida 4-3 at home, and falling to the Lightning 5-4 on the road.
“We just have to play a simple game and a speed game,” defenseman Justin Schultz said. “It’s tough to win on the road in this league, so we have to be ready to play.”
With the pair of games against the league’s two Florida franchises, that makes three back-to-back sets through the first three weeks of the season for Pittsburgh, a trait of the Penguins’ schedule no other team can attest to. Their 19 back-to-back sets this season are tied for the league lead with Ottawa.
“I think we just need to be a little bit better in back-to-backs,” Murray said. “It’s a tough scenario, with travel, and we have a whole lot of team so it’s not going to be easy this year, but we have to be better and start winning some of those back-to-backs.”
The Pens used the following workflow at practice…