|Injury-riddled Penguins vie to stay hot against Stars|
Two teams heading in opposite directions clash on Friday when the Pittsburgh Penguins host the Dallas Stars.
Pittsburgh, despite missing key forwards, has outscored the opposition 19-9 to win four in a row.
In two of those games, the Penguins knocked off undefeated teams. That includes a 3-2 overtime win Wednesday against Colorado, with defenseman Jusso Riikola moving up to play left wing after Jared McCann became the latest forward to miss a game because of an injury.
McCann returned to practice Thursday and could return against Dallas. Remaining out are former Hart Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin and fellow forwards Nick Bjugstad, Bryan Rust and Alex Galchenyuk.
If it sounds as if the Penguins are snakebitten, well, that's close. Galchenyuk, who is out because of a lower-body injury, reportedly had a setback because of a reaction to a spider bite.
"When you have the number of injuries that we have, I think it just creates a level of urgency amongst our group," Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. "These guys have just responded. They never look for excuses. There's an expectation that we can win games regardless of who's in our lineup. That's how we approach it."
In addition to strong games from a handful of young players called up to fill in at forward, the Penguins' healthy key players are doing what they do best.
Captain Sidney Crosby, who picked up his 450th career goal Wednesday, has recorded multiple points in four straight games and has at least one in each of his team's seven contests.
Linemate Jake Guentzel, who scored a career-high 40 goals last season, has a six-game point streak highlighted by goals in four consecutive contests.
"Our effort and our work ethic has got to be there," Crosby said. "If it's not, we're a much different team. I think we all understand that. Guys are really playing the right way. It's showing up."
The Penguins are 4-1 against Western Conference clubs.
One basic statistic that illustrates the contrast in the results received by Pittsburgh and Dallas is scoring. The Penguins are among the NHL leaders averaging 4.0 goals a game; Dallas is last at 1.88 goals a game entering Thursday's games.
The Stars' 3-2 loss Wednesday at Columbus was their fourth in a row and seventh in eight games.
"As frustrated as we are right now, I think we still have 90 percent of the season left," Dallas goaltender Ben Bishop said. "There's still time to fix this ship. It's got to be more urgency from everybody."
Stars coach Jim Montgomery remains optimistic in the face of adversity.
"The stats are the stats, right?" Montgomery said. "We've just got to keep putting pucks on net. We've got to keep going to those dirty areas, and, hopefully, a puck will go off someone's shoulder or knees sooner or later and people start relaxing."
In fact, Montgomery found enough to like about the loss to the Blue Jackets that he made something of a prediction about the game in Pittsburgh.
"I think it's going to start turning next game. That's when I think it's going to start turning into wins," he said. "(The Blue Jackets) finished on some plays; we didn't. ... But we'll stick together and we'll keep fighting together."
-- Field Level Media