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The Penguins begin a three-game road trip up the West Coast in Anaheim, California.

5 THINGS

1. The Pens have won four straight games entering tonight, and a victory against the Ducks would set a new season-high streak. Overall, the Pens are 5-1 in the month of January. “We’re playing fast. We’re playing hungry,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “We’re winning battles, we’re quick on pucks, we’re not spending a lot of time in our own end, which is nice.”

2. Crosby has recorded multiple-point efforts in all four wins, producing 3 goals, 8 assists and 11 points. Phil Kessel has also gotten on the scoresheet in each victory, tallying 3 goals, 5 assists and 8 points.

3. Crosby’s next goal will be his 400th. He will join Mario Lemieux (690) and Jaromir Jagr (439) as the only players in franchise history to reach that number. Since debuting in 2005-06, only Washington’s Alex Ovechkin (586) has scored more often than Crosby.

4. The Pens are looking to bounce back from a 4-0 shutout loss to the Ducks on Dec. 23 at PPG Paints Arena. “I think we just need to be more aggressive and just win more 1-on-1 battles,” winger Carl Hagelin said. “Last game, we just looked sluggish and we just looked like we weren’t the team we want to be. We know what we can do and that’s what we’re going to do next game.”

5. The Ducks are 20-for-21 on the penalty kill in January, ranking 3rd among NHL teams in PK percentage this month. They thwarted both of Pittsburgh’s power plays in the first meeting of the season. Meanwhile, the Pens are 7-for-18 on the man-advantage in January and are tied for 1st in the league overall.

INJURIES

PIT – Chad Ruhwedel  (upper body), Carter Rowney (upper body), Bryan Rust (upper body)

ANA – Patrick Eaves (Guillain-Barre syndrome), Mike Liambas (upper body)

MORNING SKATE

* The Pens have the morning off after practicing on Tuesday at Honda Center. Head coach Mike Sullivan will address the media at 8 p.m. EST with lineup updates.

* The Pens recalled Jean-Sebastien Dea from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League this morning. He is the team’s third-leading scorer this season with 9 goals, 14 assists, 23 points and a plus-13 in 36 games.

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Here are the 3 biggest takeaways from the Penguins’ Tuesday afternoon practice at Honda Center ahead of their matchup with the Ducks on Wednesday night…

1. Murray remains status quo

Goaltender Matt Murray is on the West Coast trip and skated with the team today, but remains status quo. He has missed the last two games for personal reasons.

“His status is the same,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “Matt’s just going to be a day-to-day situation. We’ll see how it goes tomorrow and we’ll make decisions day-to-day.”

2. Happy anniversary

The Ducks traded Carl Hagelin to the Penguins exactly two years ago today. When he first got the news that he was going to Pittsburgh, he never could have envisioned that he would return to Anaheim a two-time Stanley Cup champion just 24 months later.

“At the time, you’re kind of shocked when you get the call,” he said. “Obviously I knew going to Pittsburgh there’s a lot of good players and a great organization, so I was looking forward to that opportunity. There were guys on this team that had won the Cup before and when you have two superstar players like ‘Geno’ and ‘Sid’ and then you add Phil and ‘Tanger’ to the mix, you know you have a good chance.”

Hagelin enters Wednesday’s game against his former team playing his best hockey of the season.

Playing on a line with Malkin and Patric Hornqvist, Hagelin has gotten on the scoresheet in three straight games (1G-3A-4P) and is coming off his first multiple-point effort of the season in Sunday’s 5-2 win over New York. He’s been feeling good for a while now, and it’s translating to the scoresheet.

“For me, it’s all about how I feel on my skates when I feel like I can move the way I want to out there and I can skate the way I want to,” he said. “The game gets a lot easier. It’s different for every guy. Some guys like to have their hands feel a hundred percent and other guys just want their mind to feel 100 percent. But for me, it’s when my skates and my legs are feeling the way they need to feel so that I can play my best.”

Hagelin tends to find his game during the second half of the season, almost like he’s building up steam for the first half of the year before exploding down the stretch.

“I wish it wasn’t like that, but usually that’s been the case,” he admitted. “Around Christmas I start finding my legs and my skating and hopefully that’s the case.”

3. Workflow

The Pens used the same lines and D-pairs that have been working for them throughout their four-game win streak…

Simon-Crosby-Sprong

Hagelin-Malkin-Hornqvist

Sheary-Guentzel-Kessel

Kuhnhackl-Sheahan-Reaves

Dumoulin-Letang

Maatta-Schultz

Hunwick-Oleksiak

“It’s been good,” Sullivan said about settling into some consistency with the combinations. “We’ve wanted to do this for a long time, it’s just that circumstances haven’t always allowed us. We think our team is the hardest to play against when we have the balance through our lineup, when we have the ability to play four lines because we don’t tax guys. That helps us to play at the pace we want to play. We really haven’t been able to do that with any level of consistency up until probably the last few weeks. We’re going to try and do that as much as we can moving forward because we think it gives our team the best chance to win.”

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Once upon a time, two Stanley Cups ago, it appeared the Pittsburgh Penguins’ chance to win a championship was over. When the team fired head coach Mike Johnston on Dec. 12, 2015, it was in dire straits. Superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin had seen a drop in production, the depth beyond them was weak, the team was up against the salary cap and it had a starting goalie with a poor recent playoff history.

Then a number of things went the Penguins’ way. New coach Mike Sullivan kicked them into high gear, playing aggressive, up-tempo hockey, and GM Jim Rutherford traded for key role players Carl Hagelin and Trevor Daley. Young goalie Matt Murray came out of the AHL to raise two Cups.

Depending on how optimistic you want to be, you could take different morals from the story of the 2015-16 Penguins. Yes, their recent past proves they can rebound quickly so long as Crosby and Malkin are still around. But a lot of things had to break their way — things that are unlikely to be repeated.

After being a popular Stanley Cup pick this preseason, things haven’t gone swimmingly for the Pens in 2017-18, and they’re currently out of a playoff position. Which direction will the remainder of the season go for the Penguins? Let’s have a look.

Is a hot stretch on the way?

It can be challenging to figure out whether a team’s struggles during a stretch is a matter of poor play or simply puck luck. There are certainly reasonable criticisms of the Penguins’ play, but in this case it’s easy to see how luck is impacting their place in the standings.

At even strength, Pittsburgh has the worst goals for percentage in the NHL. Worse than Arizona. Worse than Buffalo. Dead last.

Considering the talent, it seems unfathomable that the Penguins could be dominated so badly. But their play might not be matching up with the results. Pittsburgh has put the second-most shots on goal in the NHL this season, and has outshot opponents by 136 shots. They have a 50-50 split in scoring chances and close shots, according to the analytics website Natural Stat Trick. But Pittsburgh also has both the worst shooting percentage and worst save percentage in the NHL.

Taking more shots on goal and getting the same number of close shots as opponents, and still ending up last in goal differential is quite difficult to do. In fact, Pittsburgh’s numbers in shots and high-danger shots aren’t much different from last season:

Unfortunately for the Pens, the player with the worst luck of anyone has been Crosby. The future Hall of Famer has never posted a 5-on-5 shooting percentage below 10 percent. This season, just 4.2 percent of his even-strength shots have found the back of the net. Last season, he scored 26 goals at 5-on-5, while he has only three this season in that situation. Crosby’s shot rate is down from 2.3 even-strength shots per game to 1.8, but that shouldn’t be expected to sink his 5-on-5 production to the bottom of the league.

Additionally, Crosby has only six assists at 5-on-5 despite his team outshooting opponents 388-321 with him on the ice. Likewise, No. 1 defenseman Kris Letang has been on ice for a 370-323 shot differential — and the team has been outscored 39-15 during that time.

It’s not impossible for superstar players’ numbers to stay this low, it’s just extremely unlikely.

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The Penguins don’t have a problem this season — they have problems, plural, and every time they think they have one figured out, another one pops up.

They’re obviously getting inconsistent scoring throughout the lineup. Jake Guentzel, Conor Sheary and Carl Hagelin are all having down offensive seasons vs. 2016-17. As mentioned here, their even-strength scoring is down overall, and the Penguins have too often looked like a team with a lot of miles on its tires from the past two Stanley Cup championship runs.

But if there’s one number that really sticks out about the Penguins this season, it’s their record in one-goal games. First, it’s the fact that they’ve played a lot of them in a season that has seen its share of large margins of victories. More than half of Pittsburgh’s games — 17 out of 32 this season — have been decided by one goal. Last season, only 22 of its 82 games were one-goal games.

Last season, the Penguins won 19 of their one-goal games and only lost three. This season? They’ve won 10 and lost seven — the most losses in games decided by one goal in the NHL. That doesn’t include three overtime losses, which are obviously also by a one-goal margin.

Their offensive woes are part of these struggles in close games, but there’s another significant change from last season on the defensive side: The Penguins have gone from a .914 team save percentage to an .896 this season. It’s no secret that Pittsburgh has gotten substandard goaltending from its backup netminders in 2017 — it was swell, Antti Niemi — but starter Matt Murray has been no great shakes either, with a very ordinary .910 EV save percentage, down from .932 last season.

The Penguins hope that Murray will bounce back now that he’s off injured reserve, and the Penguins can start picking up wins in the closely decided games.

Emily Kaplan, national NHL reporter: Score more goals at even strength! That’s a panacea for any ailing team, but the Penguins’ 5-on-5 production doesn’t resemble what we’re used to from the two-time defending Stanley Cup champs. As of Tuesday, the Penguins had 45 goals at even strength. Where does that rank in the league? A measly 29th. Only the San Jose Sharks and Buffalo Sabres are worse. Pittsburgh has also allowed 103 goals at even strength, which is tied for the second-worst mark in the league. The Arizona Coyotes and Florida Panthers join Pittsburgh in the cellar. So what gives?

Slow starts also plagued the Pens early in the season and haven’t improved much since. Bottom-six depth has been a concern for this team since it parted ways with veterans Nick Bonino and Matt Cullen. Preseason darling Greg McKegg just couldn’t keep up and landed on the waiver wire last week.

When I watch Pittsburgh, I see a team that looks tired. Maybe the past few seasons are finally taking a toll. How can this be fixed, Penguins fans might ask? An injection of energy — perhaps via a trade — can’t hurt. Offer this roster some fresh legs. Remain hopeful that 23-year-old Dominik Simon can sustain some of the excitement he brought while playing top-line minutes with Sidney Crosby this week. And score early and often on 5-on-5. For as much as the Penguins haven’t looked like themselves early on, and as wild as it is to see them fifth in the division, they’re still in the hunt.

Chris Peters, NHL Insider: I think the Penguins could potentially benefit from a trade, particularly to bring in some scoring depth to make their bottom six more of a threat. Pittsburgh has somewhat limited assets to make such a trade, however. Ian Cole seems like the obvious candidate based on the reports and rumors about him, but I feel like that might plug one hole by creating another in the defensive-depth department. I do potentially like the idea of fresh blood coming in — players who are hungry for an opportunity. Pittsburgh had been able to do that internally with Bryan Rust, Sheary and Murray two years ago, and Guentzel last year. It would be awfully hard for Simon to move the needle as much as those guys did, hence the need for [Penguins GM Jim] Rutherford to look externally.

Then again, I think the Pens still have enough talent on the roster to get out of the funk. It just may take a little more creativity. Staying the course may be an uninteresting option, but Pittsburgh has the worst 5-on-5 shooting percentage in the league right now. It’s hard to expect that to continue. It may not be as easy as snapping one’s fingers so that the goals magically start dropping, but it’s easier to expect things to change when you have this particular roster. Also, if they’re really trying to get that ol’ shooting percentage up, just keep passing the puck to Phil Kessel. The Thrill is on fire right now, with seven goals in his past nine games, and is on a career-best goal-scoring pace.

Finally, now that Murray is back, the Pens have to figure out the right workload for him. With Tristan Jarry showing that he might be ready to take on a few more starts, they can take some of the burden off of their young No. 1 goalie. The amount of hockey this team has played, coming off of back-to-back Cup seasons, undoubtedly puts a strain on the whole team, but especially on Murray, who was essentially thrust into the role while he was still figuring out how to be a goalie in the NHL (and that’s not just about stopping pucks and playing games). He has a pair of Stanley Cups to show he passed the test, but this is still his first full year as The Guy. Keeping him healthy and as fresh as possible should be a priority going forward, especially if the team keeps struggling to score.

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Thoughts, musings and observations from the Penguins’ 4-3 overtime win against the New York Islanders…

* What an entertaining final frame. After an average first two periods, the Pens had appeared to break it open with goals from Phil Kessel and Riley Sheahan just 32 seconds apart in the first half, and from there, they continued to dominate both ends of the ice. Not only did they create chances offensively, they locked it down defensively, holding the Islanders to just one shot for most of the period.

But while the Isles were on the ropes, they weren’t knocked out. They began punching back, applying pressure on the forecheck and making it difficult for the Pens to get out of their zone. They ended up scoring twice to force overtime, where Matt Hunwick played the hero to get Pittsburgh the win. The players weren’t thrilled about letting their lead go – “When you’re up two with five minutes to go we have to be able to close those games out,” Hunwick said – but they did a good job of resetting and making sure they at least got the extra point in a heated Metro Division battle.

* The Pens dominated the special teams battle in this game. They went 2-for-2 on the power play with goals from Kessel and Jake Guentzel. The biggest reason for their success? Shooting the puck. Seems simple, but it’s not always for a team this talented. “I think if we do that it gets the PK running around a little bit,” Guentzel said. Kris Letang let one go on the first power play that Guentzel got his stick on to extend his season-long point streak to five games (4G-3A-7P). Later, Letang fed a pass to Kessel that he sniped for his 14th of the year.

Meanwhile, the Pens got into some penalty trouble during the first 40 minutes, taking four over that span – three of them being those frustrating stick infractions. But the Pens’ shorthanded specialists did a tremendous job of killing all of those off with their willingess and commitment to blocking shots. When those shots did get through, Tristan Jarry made some tough stops through traffic, with net-front presence Anders Lee, one of the best in the league at screening netminders, planted directly in front of him.

* Overall, Jarry was terrific tonight. The Islanders entered tonight’s game with the NHL’s No. 2 ranked offense, featuring two of the NHL’s top-five goal scorers in Lee and John Tavares. And they had plenty of chances in all situations, but Jarry came up with some huge saves. He had one in the opening minutes on a point-blank chance from Andrew Ladd at the top of the crease and continued from there. Even when the Isles tied it up to force overtime, Jarry remained calm, kept his team in it and gave them a chance to win, which is all you can ask of your goaltender.

* Over the last couple of days, the Pens have talked about needing to make simple plays and get behind teams. They didn’t do it as often as they probably would have liked, but when they did they got rewarded with Sheahan’s goal. On the play, the Pens got the puck in deep. Isles goalie Jaroslav Halak went to play it, and Carl Hagelin was all over him. He forced a turnover that got to Sheahan in front, and he whipped it into the top corner of the net before Halak could scramble back into position. The Pens’ speed is their strength, and when they use it to their advantage they’re so difficult to play against.

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 Thoughts, musings and observations from the Pens’ 5-4 overtime win against the Buffalo Sabres at PPG Paints Arena.

* The script on this one played out just like Saturday in Nashville, except the ending was much better for Pittsburgh. The Penguins had a rough start, surrendering turnovers and odd-man rushes, and fell behind, 3-1 and 4-3. Pittsburgh would charge back to even the score late, just like in Nashville. But this time, the Penguins completed the comeback by netting the winning tally.

* The Pens have shown the ability to comeback in any game and against any opponent. It’s a nice weapon in your arsenal. But no doubt they would much prefer to have better starts, play with the lead and used their puck possession game to tilt games in their favor.

* How boss was that headman pass by Olli Maatta on the Pens’ second goal? Maatta had the puck behind his own net and banked a pass up to Patric Hornqvist at the opposing blue line. That sent Hornqvist up ice with speed to create a 2-on-1 and a Pittsburgh goal on Conor Sheary’s finish.

* Sidney Crosby found the back of the net for the first time in 12 games. A Crosby turnover in the opening seconds of the second period led to a Sabres goal. After that, Crosby responded by playing with energy and vigor. He tied the game at 3-3 with his power-play tally.

* I love seeing the “dump and retrieve” plays between Phil Kessel and Carl Hagelin – harkening back to the HBK days. When Kessel gets the puck anywhere on the ice, even in his own zone, and Hagelin has a clear lane up ice, Kessel will flip the puck into a corner in the offensive zone. Hagelin then has to win a footrace to retrieve the puck, negating the icing and giving the Pens a de facto entry. It was an effective tool with HBK, and Kessel and Hagelin are going back to the well.

* Ian Cole leveled Sam Reinhart in the neutral zone with a clean open-ice hit. Right after the hit both Jack Eichel and Evander Kane dropped the gloves and went after Cole. It was a clean hit, but in this day of age in the NHL any big hit seems to demand a response by the inflicted team. Why must every hit warrant a response? Next time, Reinhart will probably keep his head up.

* Riley Sheahan had to wait 80 games before scoring his first goal of the year during last season. He’s been snake-bitten again so far this season, goal-less 19. But he came darn close to breaking through when he carried a puck across the crease and tried to tuck the puck in. If not for the outstretched pad of Robin Lehner, Sheahan would be on the board.

Sheahan did pick up an assist when his hustle created a turnover late in the second period, and let to a Hornqvist tally.

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Thoughts, musings and observations from the Penguins’ 4-1 loss to Washington on Friday at Capital One Arena…

* The difference in this game was special teams. The Caps went 2-for-6 on the power play and held the Pens scoreless on all of their opportunities, including two chances in the first five minutes of the third period. The teams played a fairly even game at even-strength, with a decent amount of scoring chances on both sides.

* The Caps may have scored twice on the man-advantage, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a reflection on Pittsburgh’s penalty killers. They did a good job considering the circumstances. The Pens gave the Caps too many opportunities, exemplified when Kris Letang got called for two penalties on the same play like Jake Guentzel did earlier this season. The PKers didn’t give up much, and seemed set to kill it off when an opportunistic T.J. Oshie was able to sneak a shot in with just one second left to break a 1-1 tie, and it stood as the game-winner. Tough break for the Pens, who certainly have to be more disciplined moving forward. They can’t give up that many opportunities to a dangerous power play like that without any consequences.

* The Pens talked afterward about needing to be more resilient. That goal by Oshie, as Sullivan put it, definitely stung, but they needed to have a better pushback, especially on the first shift coming out of it.

* The Caps were able to get timely, opportunistic goals on their power plays, while the Pens were not. It wasn’t for lack of trying. The Pens had a lot of zone time and puck movement, but just weren’t putting it on net enough. “I thought we had opportunities to shoot the puck. We’ve been reluctant for whatever reason the last couple of games to shoot the puck, and I think we can generate offense off of it,” Mike Sullivan said after the game. “When we have that shot-first mindset, I think that’s when the power play is at its best.” I thought Patric Hornqvist was the glue out there tonight. His battle level and work ethic created a lot for his teammates.

* As Sullivan said this morning, there’s always a heightened emotional level between the Pens and Caps because of the rivalry and some of the high-stakes games they’ve played the last couple of the years. That manifested tonight in the form of physicality. Players on both teams were hitting everything that moved and making sure to finish their checks, which meant a lot of bodies flying. Brian Dumoulin took a check in the first period that sent him to the locker room, but he was able to return. Ryan Reaves dropped the gloves for a fight with Liam O’Brien, quickly laying him out with a few well-placed right hooks.

* Sullivan decided to switch up his lines towards the end of the second period, and I thought the team got a spark. He put Guentzel with Sidney Crosby and Patric Hornqvist, Bryan Rust with Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, and Conor Sheary with Riley Sheahan and Carl Hagelin. The trios were connecting for some pretty passing plays, which was exemplified on Kessel’s goal from Rust and Malkin, the lone tally of the night for Pittsburgh.

* Kessel has been consistently producing for the Pens this season. His goal was his sixth of the year, and team-leading 20th point. He has tallied at least a point in all but four of the Pens’ 18 games, including goals in two straight. Both have come at even strength, which is positive step considering most of his production had been coming on the power play.

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Thoughts, musings and observations from the Penguins’ 2-1 win over Edmonton on Tuesday at PPG Paints Arena…

 The biggest storyline heading into this game was Sidney Crosby versus Connor McDavid. The biggest storyline coming out of it was Matt Murray versus Cam Talbot. The goaltenders were spectacular and put on quite the show. With so much talent on both teams, this wasn’t an easy game for the netminders, but they did a terrific job. I thought they were both particularly impressive during power plays.

* Murray made a stop during a second-period man-advantage that’s a candidate for Save of the Year. It was absolutely magnificent. On a broken play the puck skipped right to Mark Letestu, who was wide open on the back door. It looked like Murray wouldn’t be able to recover in time, but he dove across and was able to knock the puck away with the shaft of his stick. Murray is a technically sound goaltender who’s usually in a position where he doesn’t have to make those desperation saves, but power plays are a different story. That was just incredible work by him to get across and keep the puck out of his net.

* Murray was the Pens’ best penalty killer all night, but he certainly got some help from his teammates. Right after that crazy save, chaos erupted in the crease. There were bodies everywhere, and Carl Hagelin ended up saving the day when he reached out and deflected the puck into the corner when the Oilers had another open net. Murray was down and out at that point, but Brian Dumoulin was crouched into a butterfly ready to cover for him if needed. Overall, the Pens did a better job of staying disciplined after getting into penalty trouble their last couple of games.

* The Pens lost Justin Schultz with about five minutes left in the first period when he took an elbow up high. He went to the locker room and did not return, and head coach Mike Sullivan said afterward he had been diagnosed with a concussion. Not only did the Pens go down to five defensemen; but the guys that remained took a beating in this game, particularly when it came to blocking shots. Kris Letang and Chad Ruhwedel both took shots off the lower body that left them in some pain, but they were able to remain in the game. Those guys definitely gutted it out in what turned out to be a surprisingly gritty effort, and Murray couldn’t have been more complimentary of them after the game.

* A win is a win, but this one is particularly satisfying considering how the Pens’ last game went. After allowing seven goals in a loss to Tampa Bay on Saturday they tightened up defensively tonight, especially at even strength. Sullivan said he liked the compete from his guys and that it was certainly a step in the right direction. Now they just need to have more efforts like this on a consistent basis moving forward.

* The goaltenders and defensemen were fantastic, but that’s not to say the stars didn’t shine. It’s a shame we only get to see Connor McDavid twice a year and once in Pittsburgh, because he’s truly a pleasure to watch. The Pens talked this morning about his incredible speed – not just when it comes to skating, but also skating with the puck and making plays. He showed that on a sequence where he danced around Letang and flipped a backhand at Murray that he was able to absorb with his chest, and later he sniped one late in regulation to tie the game.

On the other side, Phil Kessel had a ton of chances all night and finally converted when his team needed it most – 42 seconds into overtime. All in all, the game started off slow, but became an entertaining affair as it went on.

Finally, Riley Sheahan had a real solid effort in his first game wearing black and gold. It was a strong two-way game for the center, who was responsible defensively and made plays offensively. He capped off an excellent shift by earning the secondary assist on Ian Cole’s regulation goal before providing a tremendous screen for the defenseman. All in all, Sullivan said they were real encouraged by Sheahan’s game.

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Thoughts, musings and observations from the Pens’ win against the Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena.

* There’s no doubt that Patric Hornqvist is the heart of this Pens team. His grit and enthusiasm are contagious and inspiring. His return to the lineup tonight after missing the first three games of the season due to surgery on his hand gave the team a shot of life.

Hornqvist found his normal spot around the opposing teams crease and helped create two Pittsburgh goals, both on the power play. On that first power-play goal, in which the penalty itself was drawn by Hornqvist, he passed the puck from the side of the goal to Bryan Rust. A net-front battle ensued and Letang would finish off that play.

On the second man-advantage tally, Hornqvist would be the one finishing the play. As Sidney Crosby put a shot on net, a scrum followed for the rebound. Hornqvist dove and took a swat with his stick that knocked the puck into the net for his first goal of the year.

Hornqvist finished the game with two points (1G-1A) and infinite energy. He only has one speed and he was full throttle.

* The Pens power-play units were a bit of a hodgepodge of personnel setups, but the result was three goals on the night. Letang scored his first goal of the season – and first since Feb. 4 at St. Louis – while working with the second unit.

At the tail end of a man-advantage in the second period, the Pens actually had the forward trio of Hornqvist, Crosby and Tom Kuhnhackl. They hooked up to score the Pens’ second goal of the game with a Crosby shot, Kuhnhackl screen, Hornqvist rebound tally.

Pittsburgh opened the third period on the power play and used a unit of Crosby, Hornqvist and Conor Sheary up front with Olli Maatta and Justin Schultz on the backend. Maatta’s shot-pass was re-directed in by Sheary at the crease.

Head coach Mike Sullivan began three power-play opportunities by letting the second unit start and take the majority of the minutes. No doubt a reward for their effort and contributions.

* Heading into tonight’s contest the Caps’ power play had converted on three of their nine opportunities. Last year they boasted the NHL’s third-ranked power play with a 23.1-percent scoring rate. Pittsburgh knew that the key to winning tonight’s game would be the work of its penalty kill.

The PK was up to the task. The Pens killed off all four power-play chances for Washington – and stretched their consecutive kill streak to 17.

* Stick tap to Carl Hagelin for an excellent game. No, he didn’t figure in on the scoring sheet. But he was a factor on the ice. Hagelin’s work on the PK helped the Pens thwart four Caps’ man-advantages. He used his speed to give himself a breakaway chance in the second period. Hagelin also drew a penalty when he poked a puck at the blue line, then forced goaltender Braden Holtby to race for the puck and cover with his glove resulting in a delay of game penalty.

Hagelin will score soon enough. But you can’t knock the effort.

* Pens goalie Matt Murray had a rough opening to the season by allowing 10 goals in the opening 5.5 periods of play. But since then, Murray has allowed just two goals in his last two games, which includes one shutout and a shutout sequence of 105:23 minutes.

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With their back-to-back Stanley Cup championships, the Pittsburgh Penguins have dealt with the shortest offseasons of any NHL team in the past two years. The shorter summer caused by a deep playoff run has an impact on training, recovery, and the much-needed aspect of rest after a long season.

No one knows the tribulations of a short summer more than Carl Hagelin, who has played in 39 playoff games with the Penguins the past two years, while his 112 postseason contests in his career are the most among any NHLer since he came into the league in 2011-12.

“My body feels the best when there is a good amount of workload,” Hagelin said. “I’m an energetic guy and I need to stay on top of things, make sure I’m eating the right things, and training the right way. I pride myself on being in good condition coming into camp.”

Last year Hagelin finished with six goals and 16 assists in 61 games, his first full season with the Penguins. Despite being a healthy scratch on occasion during the championship run once he recovered from a broken fibula suffered on March 10 that forced him to miss the end of the regular season and part of the playoffs, Hagelin ended up dressing for postseason contests and scored two goals, including the empty-netter in Pittsburgh’s Cup-clinching Game 6 win.

“I try not to dwell on the past at all, we won the Cup,” Hagelin said. “I’m just happy my leg is back healed the way it should be. That’s my take on last year. I played the last four games and it felt good, and now my leg is feeling fine.”

Hagelin did miss some time due to injuries last year as well, and is feeling good and recovered as the preseason schedule begins to wind down.

“This summer I felt pretty fresh, in terms of physically and mentally,” Hagelin said. “Right when the playoffs ended, I was feeling good and able to do the things I wanted to do. It was a good summer, I got a lot of energy from it and I’m excited for a new season here.”

Coming into camp fresh, it’s been evident through skating drills, just how much Hagelin’s quickness is unrivaled. He’s frequently almost a full zone ahead on conditioning drills with his mesmerizing speed, the biggest asset to his game. In the 2012 Skills Competition, Hagelin won the fastest skater event.

His speed can create chances and keeps the opposing team’s defenseman on their toes, while his two-way ability allows him to be an effective penalty killer.

“He’s been one of our core penalty killers since he got here,” head coach Mike Sullivan said.

This year, he’s spent some of the preseason on a line with Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, where his speed is on display by tracking down pucks and creating space for Malkin and Kessel.

“Hagelin is a smart player, he reads the game well,” Kessel said. “He flies out there, he’s fast. When you’re playing with someone with so much speed, they create a lot of opportunities because they’re always in the opponents face and don’t give them a lot of time.”

While that line is something that is likely to be played around with, according to Sullivan, he also is complimentary to what Hagelin brings to whichever line he plays on.

“What I like about Hagelin is he brings that same game regardless of who he plays with,” Sullivan said. “He brings that element of speed, puck pursuit, forces turnovers, and is a responsible player. He’s a really good two-way player that brings a defensive conscious to any line he plays on.”W