The Pittsburgh Penguins, who are set to visit the Florida Panthers at Sunrise, Fla., on Thursday, have used a 13-2-2 run to boomerang their way from seventh to second place in the Metropolitan Division.
Despite having the oldest roster in the NHL, the Penguins have the fourth-fewest man games lost to injury. The only player currently out is defenseman Jeff Petry, who has an upper-body injury.
Eight-time All-Star and three-time Stanley Cup champ Sidney Crosby — supposedly slowing down at age 35 — has scored 11 goals and added 13 assists during that 17-game spurt.
Entering NHL play Wednesday, Crosby led the Eastern Conference with 15 even-strength goals, ranking third in the NHL. He also tops the Penguins in overall goals (17) and assists (21).
Evgeni Malkin, 36, has 29 points in 29 games — accumulating 10 power-play assists and 10 even-strength assists.
The Malkin line — which includes Bryan Rust and Jason Zucker — ranks second in the NHL in expected-goals percentage.
Goalie Tristan Jarry, one of Pittsburgh’s younger stars at age 27, is 9-0-1 with a .941 save percentage in his past 10 games.
For the season, Jarry is 13-3-3 with a 2.67 goals-against average.
Since Nov. 15, the Penguins lead the league with a penalty-kill percentage of 92.1, and part of the reason is their toughness. Through Monday, the Penguins led the NHL with 901 hits.
“When we defend hard,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said, “there is a physicality associated with that.”
The Penguins, who will enter Thursday on a six-game win streak, haven’t always been this hot. They lost seven straight games from Oct. 24 to Nov. 5, and they were outscored 14-2 in the third periods of those contests.
But in their past 17 games, the Penguins have outscored their opponents 23-13 in the third period.
On Thursday, the Penguins will try to solve goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who is expected to make the start.
Bobrovsky — who made five high-danger saves on Tuesday — shut out the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-0 in that game.
“They shut (Columbus) down,” Bobrovsky said of his defensemen and forwards.
It was Bobrovsky’s first shutout of the season and the 38th of his career.
“We’re trying to focus on the defensive side of the puck,” said Panthers forward Sam Reinhart, who had a game-high three points (goal, two assists) on Tuesday.
Perhaps that defensive focus is intended to mask Florida’s health issues at forward.
Carter Verhaeghe, who leads the Panthers with 15 goals, missed Tuesday’s game due to illness. In addition, Colin White and Chris Tierney were injured during Tuesday’s game — and Anthony Duclair, Anton Lundell and Patrick Hornqvist all are on injured reserve.
Panthers coach Paul Maurice was asked about the upper-body injuries for White and Tierney.
“I don’t think it’s anything catastrophic,” Maurice said. “But maybe it’s longer than day-to-day on both.”
With all those forwards out, the Panthers will rely even more on winger Matthew Tkachuk, who leads Florida in assists (25) and points (39).
Tkachuk, who has 14 multi-point games this season, is playing on a line with captain Aleksander Barkov and Reinhart.
“They are incredible players,” Barkov said of Tkachuk and Reinhart. “Give them the puck, and they’re going to beat their guy and find you.”
–Field Level Media