Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Road Trip Is Paved with Good Intentions

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Road Trip Is Paved with Good Intentions

Article excerpt

The final 18 games of every NHL season represent a pivotal period, the time where the cream rises to the top and the bad teams sink, the ultimate pressure-cooker of competition.

OK, maybe not. Perhaps that's stretching it some. But with only a little more than 20 percent of the season to go, there is a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

As a result, the Penguins will start a five-game road trip in Winnipeg Wednesday night. The journey runs through next Wednesday in Philadelphia as the team looks to iron and tuck and nip and trim their game. What will they be focused on?

"That's a loaded question," Conor Sheary said with a smile. "It's a mixture of a lot of things."

He's right. And here's that blend.

* Hit the road

It's in the back of Sidney Crosby's mind to improve upon the Penguins' 13-12-5 record away from PPG Paints Arena, including back-to-back regulation losses their last time out.

Only seven of the Penguins' final 18 games are at home, and this five-game jaunt won't exactly be a cakewalk. Winnipeg and Vancouver are out of playoff spots, but Edmonton hasn't trailed off, Calgary has won seven in a row, and it would foolish to take the Flyers lightly.

Four of their final six road games are against playoff teams.

"Road games are what we want to improve on as far as what we've done all year," Crosby said. "This will be a good challenge for us."

* Better starts

Sheary said it would be tough to pick one thing. He paused, pondered the question for a second, then picked exactly one thing.

Come out flying from the drop of the puck.

Giving up three goals Sunday to Buffalo was hardly a new thing. The Penguins have scored first in just 34 of 64 games, but they're 23-7-4 when they do.

Coming back has been a strong suit, as evidenced by their 8-13-3 mark when trailing after two periods, but it's a part of the game plan Sheary wouldn't mind seeing develop a little bit of dust.

"We have a tendency to take a step off the gas a little bit," Sheary said. "You saw that in the last game.

"Being more prepared for games and being ready right from the drop of the puck might be something we could work on."

* Killer instinct

Killing penalties has been an issue much of the season. It's one of the primary reasons general manager Jim Rutherford acquired Ron Hainsey.

The penalty kill certainly has been better since he arrived, too. Hainsey's smarts, underrated skating and long stick are a few of the reasons why. The Penguins are 27 for 31 (87.1 percent) killing penalties the past 10 games and jumped from 27th (78.9 percent) after 48 games to 19th entering Tuesday.

Continuing such an ascent will be key, especially when you remember that they're 19-5-5 in 2016-17 when they don't allow a power-play goal. …

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