For the second game in a row, the Pittsburgh Penguins will face a team clawing to solidify a playoff spot when the Nashville Predators pay a visit on Sunday.
The thing is, the Penguins’ hold on third place in the Metropolitan Division isn’t exactly secure these days.
Pittsburgh (41-22-10, 92 points) has slipped following four straight losses. It holds a four-point lead over Washington, which posted a 6-3 win over the Penguins on Saturday and has two games in hand.
Nashville (41-26-4, 86 points) resides in the top wild-card spot on the Western Conference even after a 4-1 loss Saturday against the Florida Panthers. Third place in the Central Division, however, isn’t out of reach for the Predators.
The Penguins are 2-6-1 in their past nine games. A fifth loss in a row Sunday would represent their longest skid of the season and would come with less than three weeks left before the playoffs.
After many of their recent losses, the Penguins have expressed confidence in themselves and their level of play. They even predicted better outcomes on the horizon.
That changed Saturday.
Saturday’s loss to Washington, a game that was tied going into the third period, “for me, was a different story than some of the other games,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. “We just weren’t good enough. We didn’t play well enough. We didn’t execute. We were careless with the puck. And so we beat ourselves in a lot of ways.”
With just nine games left, the Penguins can feel the start of the playoffs creeping up. Several of their losses over the past few weeks — three against the New York Rangers, two versus the Colorado Avalanche, one against the Minnesota Wild and Saturday’s versus Washington – have come against teams sitting in playoff position or even aiming to finish at or near the top of the NHL standings.
“That’s just not OK this time of year,” Pittsburgh winger and elder statesman Brian Boyle said. “The schedule that we have, that we’re playing, it should be a good test. We need to do the right thing (Sunday).”
Boyle doesn’t want to hear anything about “style points” in losses.
“Come playoff time, I don’t care how we play; we’ve got to get wins,” Boyle said. “All that matters is winning.”
Nashville recorded a 4-1 win over Pittsburgh on March 15 in the teams’ only other meeting this season.
The Predators had won four of five games before falling to Florida.
But like Pittsburgh, Nashville wasn’t happy with its game Saturday.
“I don’t think we brought our A-game,” defenseman Jeremy Lauzon told Bally Sports South. “We’re a better team that what we showed.
“We’re just going to move forward, think about the next one and come ready for the game.”
Nashville captain Roman Josi has 87 points, the most of any player at any position in Predators history. The defenseman was held off the scoresheet Saturday, something that has only happened twice in his previous 17 games.
“He’s a special player, a special leader, and (it’s good) to see him have success the way that he is, and the way that he goes about his business,” Nashville coach John Hynes said.
–Field Level Media