Pens look for sustained intensity against Nashville

Pittsburgh currently sits in final Eastern Conference playoff spot, but barely

The Penguins had a golden opportunity to gain momentum for the stretch run Tuesday night in Detroit. They laid an egg, losing 7-4 to a team removed from playoff contention.

And now, with a hint of desperation starting to sneak into the Penguins’ locker room, the team currently sitting in the Eastern Conference’s final wild card spot is certainly in need of some urgency in their game.

“I think just understanding how we need to play,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said Thursday following the team’s full-squad morning skate at PPG Paints Arena. “We’ve seen that when we’re desperate and play with urgency, we’re a much better team.

“Just finding that level of urgency is important. Some nights it goes that way and we find our way back into the game, but (Tuesday) it wasn’t enough. We’ve got to put a full game together tonight.”

The Penguins currently have 82 points. Their hopes of getting into the top three in the Metropolitan Division are gone, and moving up from the final spot will be a challenge, with the 7th place Islanders at 87 points.

Behind the Penguins is a Florida team that has 81 points, but Pittsburgh does have a game in hand, with eight games to play. Florida has seven.

“Everybody’s always keeping an eye on it,” Crosby said of the standings. “But you’ve got to take care of your own team and win games. It doesn’t matter what everyone else does. If you’re not winning games, it doesn’t matter.”

Crosby’s coach, Mike Sullivan, echoed those remarks, and believes his team — the oldest in the NHL — is ready to handle the pressure of the coming weeks.

“The group of players we have here, we’ve got a veteran group,” Sullivan said. “There hasn’t been a lot that these guys haven’t gone through from an experience standpoint throughout the course of their careers and they have those experiences to draw on. That can only help us in this circumstance.”

Who starts in net?

The Penguins, to be frank, have a mess on their hands when it comes to their goaltending situation.

Tristan Jarry appears to be nowhere close to healthy, and has missed time off and on since the calendar flipped to 2023. He’s only been pulled four times since February 23.

Backup Casey DeSmith, meanwhile, has been wildly inconsistent, allowing three third period goals Saturday to Washington, three first period goals Tuesday, and three more in third period of the loss to the Red Wings.

So Sullivan will turn back to Jarry, who has the better overall numbers this season, for what seems to be a pivotal game Thursday night agains the Predators.

Hello, old friends

Acquired at the trade deadline, Penguins forward Mikael Granlund will take on his former team Thursday night.

The Predators traded the 31-year-old forward to the Penguins for a second-round pick.

To this point, Granlund’s production has been underwhelming, with one goal and two assists in 13 games with Pittsburgh.

“I think he’s a solid two-way player,” Sullivan said. “He’s versatile, can play either wing, play center, kills penalties and can play on the power play. I think the strength of his game is his playmaking ability.

“He’s really good on the off-wing. And so that’s an area we’ve used him a fair amount.”

With Nashville, Granlund scored nine goals and assisted 27 more in 58 games this season.

“They have a lot of new guys from my time there,” said Granlund, in the second year of a four-year, $20 million deal. “But they’re going to be working hard, defending hard.”

On if there will be any nerves facing his former pals?

“It’s always maybe a little weird and all that,” he said. “But, at the same time, you just go out there and play hockey, try to do your best.”

Featured Image Photo Credit: Josh Rowntree