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Slumping Penguins search for answers vs. Canucks

Dec 4, 2021; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Pittsburgh Penguins forward Sidney Crosby (87) shoots against the Vancouver Canucks in the second period at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

Looking for a steady 60-minute performance, the Pittsburgh Penguins will try to end a two-game losing streak when they visit the Vancouver Canucks on Friday.

Each of the two losses featured a disastrous period that put the Penguins in an insurmountable hole. In a 6-3 loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Monday, the Penguins allowed four goals and were outshot 26-4 during the second period. During a 4-1 loss to the Calgary Flames on Tuesday, Pittsburgh emerged from the first period with a 2-0 deficit after being outshot by a 20-6 margin.

“This year, we’ve had volatility in our game, almost even within games, period to period,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. “You know, some periods I think we look really good, and then other periods it’s a struggle.

“I think we’ve got to try to find a way to do a better job at bringing just a little bit more consistency. And I think a lot of that just has to do with control and momentum and simplifying the game a little bit. There are certain areas of our game where we know we’ve got to get them on track.”

The penalty kill is one such weak spot early in the season. Opponents have scored on seven of 25 power-play attempts against the Penguins, a 72 percent kill rate that ranks 28th among the 32 NHL teams.

If the Penguins have been hampered by individual poor periods lately, the third period had been a season-long nightmare for Vancouver. Opponents have outscored the Canucks 16-4 during the third period, which contributed to a franchise-record, seven-game winless streak (0-5-2) to begin a season.

However, the Canucks finally earned a victory on Thursday, outlasting host Seattle 5-4 by closing out the Kraken during a tense final frame.

Elias Pettersson broke a 3-3 tie by scoring at 1:16 of the third period, and Conor Garland added an empty-net score at the 18:35 mark. Garland’s score proved critical, as Seattle’s Jaden Schwartz scored with 30 seconds remaining to throw another late scare at the Canucks.

Garland credited Pettersson with a “big goal to get us going there in the third, and then we just fought hard to the end there. … We’ll just move on (Friday). We’ve got a good team coming in, so we’ve just got to be ready.”

Pettersson leads the Canucks with nine points (four goals, five assists) through eight games.

The status of Vancouver forward J.T. Miller for Friday was uncertain after he sustained an apparent leg injury in the final few seconds of play against the Kraken. Miller was in obvious discomfort after blocking a shot by Andre Burakovsky, and he had to be helped off the ice after the final whistle.

For Pittsburgh, Jake Guentzel and Jason Zucker are both questionable. Guentzel has missed three straight games due to an upper-body injury, while Zucker didn’t play Tuesday for undisclosed seasons.

Pittsburgh goalies Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith split the starts against Edmonton and Calgary on back-to-back nights. With the Penguins also playing on Saturday at Seattle, another goaltending split seems likely, with Jarry probable for the Friday game.

Since Thatcher Demko started on Thursday, Canucks backup goalie Spencer Martin likely will get the start against Pittsburgh. Martin stopped 29 of 33 shots in his only game of the season, a 4-3 overtime loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Oct. 18.

–Field Level Media