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- Pittsburgh Penguins forward Conor Sheary is out indefinitely with a lower-body injury.

Coach Mike Sullivan said Thursday that Sheary is “week to week” after getting hurt in a 5-2 win over San Jose on Tuesday.

Sheary has 12 goals and seven assists in 52 games. Bryan Rust, who scored twice against San Jose, took Sheary’s spot on the top line with Sidney Crosby and Dominik Simon during practice Thursday.

The Penguins have won eight of 10 to move into second place in the Metropolitan Division behind Washington. The Capitals visit Pittsburgh on Friday.

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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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Entering Saturday’s game against the Lightning, one storyline was about how Pittsburgh’s 25th ranked penalty kill would fare against Tampa Bay’s top-ranked power play.

That talk had reversed following Pittsburgh’s 5-2 win at PPG Paints Arena.

The Penguins’ power play was the difference in the game, striking three times – with all three goals coming during 5-on-3 play. Sidney Crosby had two while Phil Kessel scored one.

“I don’t know if that’s happened before,” laughed Patric Hornqvist after the game. “When you have a two-man advantage you need to score and I think we did a really good job today. We had different looks. We shot the puck when it was there and when we got those guys on the ice at the same time, they find those seams and it looks easy for them. They did a good job.”

Two of those goals actually came on the same sequence. With 3:48 remaining in the first period, Ondrej Palat high-sticked Crosby and drew blood, earning a double minor. While he was in the box, Anton Stralman tripped Conor Sheary and joined his teammate in timeout.

The Pens went with Kris Letang and Justin Schultz on the points – “Both those two shoot the puck and I think our mindset going into the game was we have to make sure we shoot the puck and retrieve and go from there,” said Hornqvist, who joined Crosby and Kessel up top.

Letang went to take a shot and his stick broke, the puck popping free in the slot. Lightning defenseman Dan Girardi went to clear it, but before he could get to it, Hornqvist lifted his stick and stole the puck for himself. He passed it to Crosby, who fired it across to Kessel at the backdoor for the goal.

“He worked so hard and on that one goal, it was all him,” Schultz said of Hornqvist. “He created it. Second effort and he does that every night, so it’s good.”

Exactly one minute and 23 seconds later, Kessel returned the favor to Crosby. He simply put the puck on net through traffic, where Crosby was waiting at the crease. He reached out and re directed it past Lightning goalie Peter Budaj for the score.

“Phil did a good job getting up high and finding the open seams, moving the puck,” said Schultz, who earned a pair of power-play assists. “Got shots and it worked tonight.”

Crosby struck again just 4:41 into the third period, when the Penguins received their second lengthy 5-on-3. He had the puck all alone at the right faceoff dot, and sniped it far side past Budaj.

“It was a good night. A couple 5-on-3s out there, so that’s nice,” Kessel said. “We needed that win tonight.”

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Here are the 3 biggest takeaways from the Penguins’ Thanksgiving Day practice at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex…

1. Injury updates

Evgeni Malkin, who missed Wednesday’s 5-2 loss to Vancouver with an upper-body injury, was the only player missing from the skate. Head coach Mike Sullivan said his status remains the same.

“He’s not going to travel with us to Boston,” Sullivan said. “We’ll evaluate him when we come back. One of the reasons he’s not going to travel with us is because it’s an afternoon game and he’s got an opportunity to skate here.”

While Malkin is ruled out for Thursday’s game against the Bruins, Sullivan said he is a possibility to play Saturday against the Lightning.

Carter Rowney, who has missed the last 14 games with an upper-body injury, took warmups last night but did not play. The center, who returned to team practice on Nov. 18 and has been taken off injured reserve, said that he continues to feel better and better, though he admitted it’s been tough to stay patient.

“It feels like I’ve been out for months on months right now,” he said. “I’m at the end here hopefully, and as long as there’s no setbacks or anything like that, I’ll hopefully be back soon.”

Rowney did line rushes at practice. Here’s the team’s workflow…





Archibald rotated in with the defense.

2. Turkey time

After practice the Pens got on a flight to Boston, where the players will be treated to a Thanksgiving meal at the team hotel.

New England natives like Conor Sheary, who’s from Massachusetts, and Brian Dumoulin, who’s from Maine, will be dining with their teammates despite being close to home. “I’m going to miss my grandmother’s cooking this time around,” Sheary said with a smile. “I think by the time we get in it will be a little bit late and with the day game tomorrow, I want to make sure I get my rest.”

The Michigan natives on the team, like Bryan Rust, Ian Cole and Matt Hunwick, were all watching the Detroit Lions play in their annual Thanksgiving Day game in the locker room before they left – which is a tradition for those guys.

“We’d watch the Lions every year, they would basically lose every year, so the Lions losing was also a great Thanksgiving day tradition,” joked Cole.

All of the American-born players grew up with different traditions, but one constant was the food. Here’s a few of them talking about their favorite parts of Thanksgiving dinner…

Cole: “I don’t know if I have a favorite part. I’m a big sweet potato casserole guy. Love sweet potatoes, love the sweet potato casserole. Love the brussel sprouts, love the stuffing. The turkey is great too, if you get the nice dark meat.”

Hunwick: “My father in-law makes some really good stuffing. Sausage, there’s so much stuff in there that’s so good, mushrooms. It’s really good I love it, they put some vegetables in there. I’ll be missing it this year.”

Ruhwedel: “Turkey and gravy. You gotta have the good gravy on it. Stuffing too, kind of on the biggest plate possible.”

Rust: “Recently stuffing. I was never a stuffing fan until recently, until the last couple years I was never a fan. My taste buds evolved.”

3. Sullivan’s message

It’s no secret that the Pens are dealing with some adversity right now. The team is coming off its second straight loss, where they didn’t score an even-strength goal in either game, and they’ve struggled in a number of areas – particularly coming out with a consistent effort night in and night out.

The players aren’t happy right now, and neither are the coaches, but the message from the staff today was that they need to have a certain level of resilience and resolve.

“It’s never easy when you don’t win,” Sullivan said. “Our expectation when we go into every game is that we’re going to win. That’s the standard that’s been set here, so when you don’t have success, that’s never an easy experience. I’ve never been one to take losing very easily, and I don’t think our players are either. We’ve got a very competitive group and I think they have an expectation to win as well. I think the important thing is that we react and respond the right way.

“Tomorrow’s a new day, today is a new day. So we went out on the ice today, we had a spirited practice. I thought we got better on the ice today, that was important. And then we’ve got to be ready to play tomorrow.”

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Patric Hornqvist has a knack for bank shots.

You might remember such a finish in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final at Nashville. Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne served as the backboard then. That goal gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead with 95 seconds left and ultimately propelled Pittsburgh to a second straight Stanley Cup.

Hornqvist again worked his magic from below the goal line vs. visiting Buffalo Nov. 14. This time he ricocheted the puck off Sabres forward Ryan O’Reilly to cut the Penguins’ deficit to 2-1 with 19 seconds left in the first period.

Hornqvist finished the game with a goal and two assists. That hiked his stats to six goals and five assists in 17 games and helped the Pens win, 5-4 in OT.

Hornqvist wasn’t exactly basking in the glory of his bank shot against Buffalo, however.

“That was 100 per cent luck, but I’ll take it,” Hornqvist said.

Luck is the residue of where hard work meets design, and the Swedish right winger tries doggedly to execute that formula on a consistent basis.

The Penguins are built on skill and speed, and Hornqvist is hardly bereft of those qualities. But the 6-foot, 188-pounder provides the team with a collisional element that helps greatly along the wall and near the blue paint. Hornqvist is zero fun to play against. Just ask opposing players.

Hornqvist skated on a line with Riley Sheahan and Conor Sheary against Buffalo, and Coach Mike Sullivan gave that trio its due afterward.

“They were our best line,” Sullivan said. “Every time they were on the ice, they were on the puck. They were relentless on the forecheck. They forced a lot of turnovers. They got a lot of pucks to the net. They played on the inside.

“They did a lot of the things we’re trying to establish consistently with our whole team.”

Hornqvist was also happy with his line’s showing. Hornqvist set up Sheary’s goal in the second period to get the Pens to within 3-2. A long pass by Olli Maatta got Hornqvist loose behind Buffalo’s defense to start that sequence.

“We played really hard, and we got some chances,” Hornqvist said. “The puck was bouncing our way, too. My goal was just luck, and then I fed it over to [Sheary]. If you work hard, you get those breaks, and I think we worked hard.”

The win left the Penguins at 10-7-3. Not an ideal start, but Hornqvist remains hopeful.

“I’ll take the two points,” Hornqvist said. “We didn’t play our best. But we put five pucks behind the goaltender, and we’ll take that. But we still need to clean up some things if we want to be where we want to go.

“We haven’t played our best game, but we still have a decent record. That’s what a good team does. But we still need to be way better. We can’t control those [20] games behind us, but we can control the next 60-plus games.”

The Penguins twice bounced back from a two-goal deficit to defeat Buffalo, forging a 3-3 tie on Sidney Crosby’s second-period power-play goal.

The tally, Crosby’s first in 12 games, came when he netted a rebound after Hornqvist got a piece of Phil Kessel’s shot. The Pens were 1-for-5 on the PP.

“We moved the puck around really well,” Hornqvist said. “Phil did a good job to hold onto the puck and find a lane to shoot it. Both me and Sid were on the doorstep and Sid found the puck.

“We might have to shoot a little more [on the power play], but we still created a lot of chances. I liked our power play tonight.”

The Penguins didn’t hold a lead against Buffalo until Sheary scored in OT. Hornqvist was happy with the comeback, nothing that the Penguins battled back from a two-goal deficit to get a point at Nashville in the previous game, losing 5-4 via shootout Nov. 11.

“When we come back in this kind of game, it gives us confidence,” Hornqvist said. “It gives us a good boost, to know what we’re capable to do. Today was a step in the right direction.”


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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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While the Penguins picked up just three points on their season-long five-game road swing through western Canada, one of the positives taken from the trip was the impact Chad Ruhwedel has had on keeping a battered blue line afloat.

Since Oct. 24, a span of seven games, Ruhwedel has averaged 19 minutes of ice time per game – fourth highest among Penguins defenseman. After starting the year as the team’s seventh defenseman, Ruhwedel got an opportunity to enter the lineup due to injuries and has since been quietly consistent.

“It means a lot, their trust in me,” Ruhwedel said. “The more you play, the better you’ll get every week, and you can just get into the game a little easier. Having some more minutes is nice, and I just have to stay with it.”

Thrusted into the lineup after Ian Cole’s injury from a blocked shot, the San Diego, Calif. native has seen an increased workload with Matt Hunwick and Justin Schultz both sidelined with concussions. He’s handled it well, and a lot of that coincides with his fit within the Penguins system.

“He’s played really well for us,” head coach Mike Sullivan reflected. “He’s a guy that you know exactly what you’re going to get, night in and night out from him. He’s really increased his intensity level since he’s been playing with us. He’s played a real solid two-way game.”

While Hunwick and Schultz are both on the verge of returning, as they are cleared for contact and practiced with regular jerseys on Monday, Ruhwedel’s play has provided a case to leave him in the lineup.

While the Penguins have had a lethal power play this season, as their 28.8-percent conversion rate is tied for second in the league, they have struggled to score at even strength throughout the first five weeks of the season. Ruhwedel, playing primarily all his minutes 5-on-5, has been arguably the Penguins’ strongest defenseman at even strength.

The UMass-Lowell product has provided a smooth game, highlighted by his skating ability and on-ice awareness.

“The thing we really like about Chad is his mobility,” Sullivan said. “He can get back to pucks quickly, he helps us get out of our end zone. He’s defending hard, he has a good stick, and he’s coachable. He’s done really a good job for us, he quietly goes about his business and plays an important role for this team.”

One of his biggest assets is his quick decision-making with the puck. This was showcased brilliantly on Oct. 12 against Tampa Bay, when Ruhwedel corralled a rebound in the defensive zone, and rather than just clearing the puck, took a few strides before launching a full-ice pass to Conor Sheary. He snuck behind the Lightning defense and buried the goal on a quick counter-attack play.

“He’s a solid player, he’s very dependable,” defenseman Brian Dumoulin said. “I know what he’s going to do with the puck, and that’s a good thing to have in a partner, the predictability. He’s a good skater, has a good shot, and he can work well with anyone.”

The 5’11″, 192-pound blueliner’s steady defensive game is what led to the Penguins pursuing him last off season after three years in the Buffalo Sabres organization, mostly spent with their American Hockey League affiliate, the Rochester Americans.

Ruhwedel initially started the 2016-17 season with Wilkes-Barre, but a strong start and banged-up blueline led to him playing in 34 NHL contests with Pittsburgh, scoring two goals, picking up eight assists, and finishing a plus-9.

It earned him a Stanley Cup ring and a two-year, one-way NHL contract this most recent offseason, and the next big step is becoming a constant presence in the lineup, even when everyone is healthy.

“I just need to play my game, keep doing what I’m doing,” Ruhwedel said. “Do more with the opportunities that I’m getting, and just try to make the most of it.”

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Thoughts, musings and observations from the Pens’ 3-2 win against the Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Place.

* To help get the Pens out of their current funk, head coach Mike Sullivan is going back to an old formulat. It’s the one he used when he first arrived in Pittsburgh in December of 2015. At that time, the Pens had little confidence and many faults in their game. Rather than try to fix everything at once, he used a step-by-step approach. Focus on one thing at practice or in a game. As the team mastered that, he incorporated another detail while all along preaching that the team “embrace the process.”

Sullivan is once again preaching to his team to embrace the process. Tonight, their emphasis was on winning puck battles with cooperative efforts. The team won a majority of those battles and was a big reason for Pittsburgh’s success.

* For better or worse, the Penguins-Oilers matchups will always be known as Sidney Crosby vs. Connor McDavid. Tonight was the fourth installment of the unspoken rivalry. And Crosby holds a perfect 4-0 edge on McDavid. It may all be media fodder, but it does keep things entertaining.

* Crosby and McDavid didn’t disappoint. McDavid made one of the sickest individual moves I’ve seen in years when he deked the puck through the skates of Olli Maatta, then made a backhand pass through Kris Letang and onto the tape of Leon Draisaitl. It was an easy tap-in for Draisaitl. McDavid did all the work.

Not to be outdone, Crosby also made a highlight reel setup late in the second period to tie the game at 2-2. Crosby was working with Conor Sheary on a 2-on-1. The Pens captain made a perfect backhand pass that slid by the outstretched stick of Adam Larsson and right to Sheary. He buried for the tally.

* Matt Murray got some of his swagger back against the Oilers. He was very impressive against Edmonton’s first power-play opportunity of the game, making not one, not two, big three big stops to keep Edmonton off of the board. Murray’s best stop was when he stretched out his pad to make a split save on Zack Kassian’s shorthanded breakaway. But his point-blank stop on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with two seconds left in the game wasn’t too bad either.

Murray was pulled in his previous appearance after allowing four goals on nine shots against Winnipeg. He always seems to play his best following a bad game. Murray had the bounce back the Pens needed tonight, and shut things down once the Pens got a late third-period lead.

* The Pens power play connected for two goals in the contest, the second goal proving to be the game-winner. Pittsburgh has now scored at least one power-play goal in all nine road games this season.

The Penguins, who have struggled to score 5-on-5 this season, have relied heavily on their power play to win games. And the unit came through again with a clutch pair of goals. The two man-advantage goals were the difference in the game.

The only blemish was their failure to score on 1:42 minutes of a 5-on-3.

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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.