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Thoughts, musings and observations from the Penguins’ 5-3 loss to Anaheim…

* The Pens got off to the start they wanted. They appeared to show no signs of sluggishness despite the time change, as they had their legs under them from the drop of the puck and controlled play for most of the first period despite being outshot. They went into the first intermission with a well-earned 1-0 lead.

* Things took a turn in the second. The Ducks ended up taking a 2-1 lead off a pair of fluky goals – one off a perfect deflection; the other when Tristan Jarry’s stick got tangled up on one side of the net and prevented him from sliding over to stop a wraparound. Even though there wasn’t much the Pens could do on those, the momentum definitely shifted. The Pens started getting sloppy with the puck, giving up odd-man rushes and quality chances against, and handed the Ducks some freebies that they promptly took advantage of.

“I thought we had moments in the game where we were really good and others where we weren’t so good,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “You can’t give up four breakaways. We’re hitting shinpads, we didn’t take care of the puck in certain areas of the rink and when we don’t play a disciplined, diligent game in those areas, then you’re vulnerable. The real estate inside and outside the blue lines are so critically important to becoming a team that’s harder to play against and when we don’t take care of the puck in those areas, you’re going to run the risk of those types of plays.”

* The Pens did do a good job of battling back in the third. They pushed hard and made it a game, creating as much as they gave up. But unfortunately, the hockey gods weren’t on their side tonight as some of those fantastic chances just wouldn’t fall. “We fell short tonight, but we’ve just got to make sure we heed the lessons and I think the most important takeaway is that we’ve just got make sure that we take care of the puck in those critical areas of the rink,” Sullivan said.

* This was an interesting night on special teams. The Ducks dominated that area for the first two periods, where their fifth-ranked penalty kill was phenomenal against Pittsburgh’s top-ranked power play. They created more shorthanded than the Pens did with the extra man, and ended up getting a goal off a breakaway as a result. However, the Pens responded in the third with a pair of power-play goals from Phil Kessel and Jake Guentzel to cut a 4-1 deficit to 4-3.

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The American Hockey League announced today that Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins forward Daniel Sprong has been selected as CCM/AHL Rookie of the Month for December.

Sprong tallied nine goals – including three game-winners – and five assists for 14 points in 12 games for the Penguins in December before earning a recall to the Pittsburgh Penguins (NHL). Among the rookie’s scoring outburst in December was his second hat trick of the season on Dec. 29 – part of a four-point effort in a 5-1 win over Hartford.

A second-round pick by Pittsburgh in the 2015 NHL Draft, Sprong is tied for second among all AHL skaters with 18 goals and ranks fifth among league rookies with 28 points in 29 games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this season. Sprong, a 20-year-old native of Amsterdam, Netherlands, leads all Penguins with 18 goals and 28 points this season, as well.

Sprong is the third Penguins player in team history to earn CCM/AHL Rookie of the Month, joining forward Jake Guentzel (2016-17) and goaltender John Curry (2007-08). All three players earned Rookie of the Month honors for their play in the month of December.

Sprong will be presented with an etched crystal award prior to an upcoming home game in recognition of his achievement.

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Thoughts, musings and observations from the Penguins’ 2-1 loss to Carolina…

* The turning point of this game came in the second period. Late in the frame, it appeared that Jaccob Slavin had given the Canes a 2-1 lead when he beat Tristan Jarry with a bomb from the point, but the Pens used their coach’s challenge on the play. After video review, it was determined there had been goalie interference as Derek Ryan had elbowed Jarry in the head right before the puck entered the net. No goal.

That was a huge break for the Pens, and the perfect opportunity to shift momentum back onto their side. But Carolina wasn’t ready to give it up. On the next shift, the Pens got trapped in their end and began scrambling. Slavin stickhandled into the slot and Jarry pokechecked the puck, which bounced onto the blade of Sebastian Aho for the score. It took the Canes all of 21 seconds to regain the 2-1 advantage, one they would not relinquish. It always hurts giving up goals late in periods, but that one was particularly backbreaking.

* That sequence is the one that stands out from that period, but overall, the Canes were the better team in the middle 20 minutes. I thought they outplayed the Pens pretty drastically. The Pens had to expect a response from them, but they weren’t able to provide a pushback. Instead, they had a letdown. The Pens spent too much time in their own end and gave up quality scoring chances and a high volume of shots, and the Canes were eventually rewarded with the game-winner at the end. The Pens have to be able to handle that kind of pressure better.

* The Pens did get the start they wanted. That had been a big focus for them because entering tonight, the Canes had scored first in seven of their last eight games and are 6-0 in their last six games when tallying first. I thought they were incredibly solid in the opening 20 minutes from top to bottom. They didn’t give up a lot and generated a lot of offensive-zone time. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to carry that over.

* The Pens were so resilient in their last game, a 5-4 shootout win over Columbus, erasing two-goal deficits twice in the third period. But they weren’t able to do the same against Carolina. Credit to the Canes for the style of hockey they played. They played a north-south, straight-line game and did a good job of using their speed to take away the Pens’ time and space. Overall, they did a fantastic job of protecting the lead.

* Jarry had a pretty heavy workload in his first start since Dec. 11. The Canes fired double-digit shots on him in the first two periods and totaled 33 on the night. I thought he looked great and did a good job of giving his team a chance to win. He was especially strong on Carolina’s two power plays.

* Brian Dumoulin scored the Pens’ only goal of the night in the first five minutes of play. He recognized an opportunity to join the rush and took it. Jake Guentzel’s centering pass went off a skate and right to Dumoulin, who chipped it into the net. Overall Dumoulin had a solid night, as he also saved a goal by stick-checking Jordan Staal, who had a wide-open net.

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Duane and Shaney Boles have spent the last few days at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh with their 11-year-old son, Ryder.

As they were waiting to be discharged on Wednesday afternoon, a hospital worker entered the room and informed them that they would have to wait just a little bit longer – because Penguins players would be stopping by as part of their annual holiday visit.

As soon as Shaney heard the news, she couldn’t help it. She started to cry.

“I cried because he’s been a frequent flier here at Children’s since he was 15 months, honestly,” Shaney said of Ryder. “It’s been pretty much once a month for his whole life. He’s really just a pretty tough kid. He has a heart condition and some vertigo and he gets pretty sick, so that’s why he has to come in for fluids and maintenance.

“And honestly, he’s a huge Pens fan. As soon as they said that, I just knew right away he would be so excited if they came walking through the room.”

Ryder is unable to play contact sports because of his health, so he has never gotten the chance to play hockey. But he absolutely loves to watch hockey, and to see his favorite player, Sidney Crosby, from his favorite team, coming through the door was overwhelming in the best way.

“I’m really happy,” smiled Ryder, who hopes to sing the national anthem before a Penguins game someday. “I’m super excited I got to meet the players that I’ve been watching forever. I’ve been watching Sidney Crosby on the ice since I was two years old. It was just super awesome.”

Both Ryder and Shaney were overcome with emotion after such a special visit, sitting on the bed together and crying tears of joy when the players left.

“It just meant more than they really know,” Shaney said. “They were so sweet. As a mom and a dad, we see him go through all this stuff. But for them to walk in there, it was just really, really special to us. We appreciated it so much.”

The reaction of Ryder and his family was incredibly heartwarming, as was the reaction of Yaheim Young and his parents.

Crosby, Ryan Reaves, c, Tristan Jarry and newest Penguin Jamie Oleksiak delivered Yaheim a Christmas gift, which he couldn’t have been more thrilled to open.

To Yaheim’s delight, it was an Amazon Fire tablet. “Sweet! Cool! Thank you!” exclaimed Yaheim, who got up and hugged each and every player. The players’ goal is to put smiles on the kids’ faces, but Crosby had the biggest one after that interaction, who said to Yaheim’s parents, “Glad he liked it! What a great reaction.”

“We enjoy coming here and I think just to see the smiles on the kids’ faces, see their reactions – you could see the reaction of a couple kids that opened the gifts there, that says it all,” Crosby said. “That’s why we’re here.”

Phil Kessel also received a priceless reaction from a child who has been wanting to meet him for a while now.

A few years ago, Chelsey Stokes took her son Cooper to his first Penguins game and told him he could pick out one thing from the souvenir calendar. He picked out a Lego figure of Phil Kessel, and ever since then, Cooper has been obsessed with anything Phil Kessel.

Cooper, who is waiting for a multi-organ transplant, turned 8 years old in October. Chelsey said all he wanted for his birthday was a Kessel jersey and “the real Phil Kessel.” Chelsey laughed and told him that wouldn’t be possible. But they learned about a week ago that Cooper’s wish might actually become a reality, and Chelsey couldn’t be more grateful that it did.

“This is amazing,” Chelsey said. “I didn’t actually think that this would happen in a lifetime. It’s definitely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I’ve been able to take him to games and he’s been able to see him from the seats, but this is a whole new surreal thing for him and I’m super blessed and thankful that this was able to happen.”

Chelsey said that on Tuesday night, Cooper was practicing what he was going to do when he first saw Kessel, and ultimately decided he would run up and give him a hug. And that’s exactly what Cooper did when Kessel arrived. Wearing his No. 81 sweater with the rolling backpack that contains all of his IV fluids in tow, Cooper dashed over to Kessel and threw his arms around his legs.

The two of them became fast friends, playing in the Lemieux Sibling Center for over half an hour before Kessel departed to visit other patients at the hospital.

“I heard he wanted to meet me or whatever, and that’s awesome,” Kessel said. “I’m happy I could be here and meet him and have a good day.

“It’s great. I love this day. I think we make the kids happy, and I love coming in here and getting to spend time with them. It’s a great day.”

–Michelle Crechiolo

One of the other groups, consisting of Brian Dumoulin, Patric Hornqvist, Jake Guentzel and Justin Schultz, visited over a dozen rooms.

The players took a photo with each of the kids they visited and their families, but a cool moment happened in infant Simon’s room. When asked by his parents if anyone wanted to hold him, Hornqvist obliged, and Simon calmly rested in his arms for the picture. This led to his teammates dubbing Hornqvist as “The Natural.”

“It’s great, you see those kids smile when you walk in,” Hornqvist said. “We give them a present, stay and talk a little bit, take a photo with them. They all love it, and we enjoy it too.”

While the Penguins spread holiday cheer around the hospital, equipped with Santa hats and presents, an abundance of smiles decked the halls.

One of those smiles was courtesy of six-year-old Aiden. Aiden let out an enormous smile when the time came for a picture, unveiling his missing front teeth. This led to Aiden’s mom stating he looks just like a hockey player with his smile, something that Justin Schultz, missing a tooth of his own, agreed to.

While the Penguins handed out signed calendars to each patient they visited, Marcus, 13, received five special signatures on his blood pressure pump. Marcus is a center for the Mt. Lebanon Hornets and expressed how he couldn’t wait to tell his teammates about his surprise visitors.

“It was amazing,” Marcus said. “I got to see some of my favorite players and get their autographs. It’s a dream come true.”

Seeing the smile gleaming from Marcus’ face after his interaction with the players shows how meaningful and profound the visit is for the children as well as their families.

“It’s for sure one of the best events we do through the whole season,” Hornqvist said. “It’s the holiday season, we make the kids and parents happy, and it’s always great to see a smile on their face.”

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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’ 5-2 loss against the Vancouver Canucks at PPG Paints Arena.

* The first period was a wide-open affair and a tale of two tapes. Both teams entered tonight’s game under different circumstances, with the Penguins having three days without a game and the Canucks playing last night in Philadelphia, a 5-2 win over the Flyers. The Penguins looked like they were trying to get their game legs back early, as Vancouver jumped out to a 12-3 shot advantage. The Pens bounced back as the opening frame ended with both teams at 18 shots a piece.

* Similar to when the last time these two teams met on Nov. 4, Brock Boeser was the difference in this one. Boeser capitalized on a turnover in the neutral zone, and placed a perfect shot over Matt Murray’s shoulder to put the Canucks up 1-0 just four minutes into the game.

Boeser tallied again in the second period, this time on the power play, unleashing a one-timer from the top of the right circle that found the twine on the far side, evading a screened Murray. With his two-goal output tonight, the dynamic winger out of North Dakota now has 11 goals in 19 games this season, with five of them coming against Pittsburgh spanned over two contests.

* Jake Guentzel had a strong game as the 23-year-old forward is really starting to heat up with four goals in his past five games, including two tonight on the power play. Operating on the first power-play unit with the absence of injured Evgeni Malkin, Guentzel really made the most of it. His first period goal truly showed off his skating ability. On the power play, Guentzel burst up the ice and corralled a perfectly timed pass from Phil Kessel as he entered the offensive zone, blowing by the Canucks defense. Guentzel ripped a shot from the slot that goalie Anders Nilsson saved, but Guentzel had the smarts to stop at the net and push the second chance opportunity past the Swedish netminder. Guentzel now has points in all four career games against the Canucks.

The Penguins power play went 2-for-5 on the night. They generated a lot of high quality chances, and did a great job of breaking into the zone and targeting the middle of the ice. Guentzel’s second tally with the man-advantage came off a centering feed from Kessel that deflected off Guentzel’s skate in the slot and past Nilsson, cutting the deficit to 4-2 with 18:36 remaining in the final frame.

* Vancouver had three fluke goals that turned out to be too much for the Penguins to overcome. Murray had a strong game despite allowing four goals on 35 shots. He turned aside several high-quality chances in the first period, as well as some good opportunities in the third as the Penguins attempted to claw back into the contest.

On the first weird tally for Vancouver, Kessel was skating back into the defensive zone when he lost possession of the puck to a broken stick laying on the ice behind him. Thomas Vanek picked up the puck and came in on Murray, who patiently turned aside his initial shot. The Penguins were discombobulated in their own end due to the turnover, and Loui Eriksson made them pay with the follow up chance. The Penguins suffered from bad puck luck again in the second period on a shot off the stick of former Penguin Derrick Pouliot. The defenseman took a shot that deflected off Brian Dumoulin’s skate in front as he was clearing the crease and bounced past Murray. The second power-play score for Vancouver, by Boeser, was deflected off of Crosby’s stick.

*The Penguins made a strong push to come back in the game in the third period that was kickstarted by Guentzel’s early power-play goal. The Pens were more physical, punishing the Canucks in their own zone, and generating a lot of chances because of it. The Penguins outhit Vancouver 36-13 over the course of the game and had three power plays in the third period, but Nilsson came up large on numerous occasions, finishing with 43 saves on 45 shots to help Vancouver hold on.

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Thoughts, musings and observations from the Penguins’ 5-4 shootout loss to Nashville on Saturday at Bridgestone Arena…

* As Stefon from Saturday Night Live has said, this game had everything. It was about as entertaining as it gets for a mid-November matchup in the Penguins’ first shootout of the year. As Mike Sullivan put it, it was a hard-fought game with two good teams going at it. It was a back-and-forth battle with momentum swings, power-play and shorthanded goals, a crazy overtime and plenty to keep the fans happy.

* Tristan Jarry is a talented goaltender, but he’s young. As he said afterward, there’s always a learning curve every game, and he can take something from each one. Tonight was one of those nights. It started in the second period when Jarry left his net and went almost to the blue line to play a puck, where he was forced to take a tripping penalty in order to keep the Preds from scoring on the open net. From there, Nashville struck just three seconds in to take their first lead of the night, and ended up with three goals in the opening 5:29 of the period. It was a tough sequence for Jarry, but he responded well. The rookie didn’t get rattled and continued to come up with big saves, especially late. I liked how much he was continuing to challenge shooters, which is a sign of confidence.

* The Penguins got into penalty trouble on Friday in Washington, and the Capitals made them pay with two power-play goals. Patric Hornqvist told me after the game they needed to be more disciplined, and it was something they had talked about in the locker room. They didn’t quite seem to get the message, as they were shorthanded six times tonight and allowed another pair of power-play tallies. After the game, Sullivan said discipline has been a problem for them as of late. He added that they have complete control over it, and they need to do a better job of being more responsible with their sticks and in general.

* This time, the Penguins showed much more resiliency than they did in D.C. Once the Caps took a 3-1 lead, the Pens didn’t have enough pushback. When the Preds took a 3-1 lead tonight, they continued battling and were able to chip away at the deficit, getting big goals from Jake Guentzel and Brian Dumoulin in the third period.

* One Penguin stopped a slump, while another kept streaking. Bryan Rust scored a shorthanded goal to get his second of the season, and first since Oct. 11 at Washington. Meanwhile, Phil Kessel scored his seventh of the season to extend his goal streak to three straight games.

* When Rust scored in the first period to give the Pens a 1-0 lead heading into intermission, it seemed like they might finally break their bad luck in the second game of back-to-backs. And while the trend ultimately continues, with the Pens now 0-5-1 in that situation, the positive is that they did come out with a better start, which had been their biggest issue. It’s the penalties that hurt them the most.

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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’ 3-1 win over Arizona on Tuesday at PPG Paints Arena…

- When talking about Justin Schultz this morning, Mike Sullivan said he felt the defenseman could have a significant impact in his return to the lineup after missing six games with a concussion. Not only was it significant; it was immediate, as he scored on his first shift. He recognized an opportunity to jump up into the play, and ended up receiving a pass from Phil Kessel on the goal line. Despite the sharp angle, he shot anyway, and it got past Coyotes netminder Antti Raanta. Schultz ended up playing over 20 minutes in the game, including 5:27 on the power play, as he saw reps on the first power-play unit.

- It was a strong start for the Penguins, who scored twice in the first 3:07 of play. The Coyotes were coming off an overtime loss to Washington the night before, and the fatigue was apparent. The Penguins sensed that, and seized their opportunity. The best part about both goals was that they each came during 5-on-5 play. As a team, the Penguins had been struggling to score in that situation, as they had just two even-strength goals during their recent five-game road trip. “Finally,” Evgeni Malkin said. “Bad luck the last couple games.”

- As the Penguins got going at even-strength, they slowed down on the power play. The Coyotes are usually a disciplined team, but got into penalty trouble tonight, getting whistled for six total. Their penalty kill was ranked 29th in the league, and with how the Penguins’ 2nd-ranked power play had been producing, it seemed like Pittsburgh would dominate that matchup. Not so much. A big reason for their success had been their work ethic, playing with energy and enthusiasm. Tonight, they seemed lethargic, like they were moving in slow motion. That being said, given enough chances, a group this talented will eventually break through. And they did, with Kessel scoring on the final try.

- Sullivan reunited Malkin and Kessel for the game, and put Jake Guentzel on their wing. I’ve always liked the chemistry those three had dating back to Guentzel’s debut last November, and it was fun to see them pick it right back up, The move reaped rewards, as that line was on the ice for the first two goals. Malkin said they were excited to play together, and that they understood each other well. Malkin and Kessel each finished with a goal and two assists, and while Guentzel was held off the scoresheet, it’s only a matter of time before he breaks the schneid.

- It was an underrated performance from Matt Murray. The Coyotes looked overwhelmed at the beginning of the game, getting outscored and outshot by a wide margin, but they started to push back. And they created some quality chances, with most of them coming point blank from the top of the crease. Murray did a good job of coming up with clutch and timely saves throughout the game, even after stretches of inaction. Dating back to last year, including the playoffs, Murray is on a 12-0-1 unbeaten stretch at PPG Paints Arena.

- Tonight marked Rick Tocchet’s first game back in Pittsburgh since being named head coach of the Coyotes. The team played a tribute video with highlights of him both as a player and as a coach, and once it was done, both teams stood up and tapped their sticks in recognition as Tocchet waved to the crowd. Great moment for a great man.