The Pittsburgh Penguins just got it. The visiting Ottawa Senators want it. Something will have to give Saturday when the teams face off.
The Penguins ended a three-game losing streak and got the complete-game, rousing win they had been craving Thursday when they knocked off the previously undefeated Colorado Avalanche 4-0.
Pittsburgh and goaltender Tristan Jarry not only shut down Colorado’s dynamic offense, including snuffing all five Avalanche power plays, but also got strong play throughout the lineup and played the style of game the coaches had prescribed since the season started.
“It gives us something to build on,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “I thought of all the games we played this year, (Thursday’s game) we played with the most structure away from the puck.
“I thought we did a good job just defending the good ice — the inside ice — and then taking advantage of what the game gave us offensively.”
A loss, or even just a subpar showing, might have left Pittsburgh reeling. After a season of roster turnover beyond the core players by new general manager Kyle Dubas, there was palpable optimism in the organization.
Then the team sputtered out of the gate, losing four of the first six games.
If one game, one performance, can reset the course of a team, the win against Colorado might do that for the Penguins.
“That’s a statement game,” Pittsburgh defenseman Ryan Graves said. “That’s a good team. So that was a big one for us. And it’s something that we need to build off of.”
Indeed, any sense of backsliding Saturday against Ottawa could undo at least some of that progress. But until the puck drops, the Penguins will be basking in the feeling they took away from Thursday.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy at the beginning” of the season, Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang said. “It feels good to have a game where everybody contributed in different ways.”
That’s exactly what the Senators are seeking.
Their third straight loss came Thursday when they erased a two-goal deficit but still fell 3-2 against the New York Islanders.
“Very frustrating right now,” said Ottawa forward Claude Giroux, who scored one of his team’s goals Thursday. “We did a lot of good things. We’re playing (in Pittsburgh next) … so we’ll just regroup.”
Perhaps the Senators had an understandable reason for letting the Islanders get back in the game with the tie-breaking goal in the third.
Ottawa defenseman Erik Brannstrom got hit by New York’s Cal Clutterbuck, seemingly without seeing it coming, in the second period. Brannstrom appeared to be knocked out and hit the back of his head on the ice. He left on a stretcher and was taken to a hospital.
The Senators indicated that Brannstrom, 24, was alert and had use of his extremities, but it left his teammates shaken.
“Obviously, it was emotional for the guys and everyone involved,” Senators coach D.J. Smith said.
That game and the scary incident came hours after unsigned Ottawa player Shane Pinto was suspended by the NHL for 41 games for violating the league’s gambling rules.
Which all points to the Senators badly needing a statement game like the one the Penguins just played.