Two of the NHL’s elite offenses have struggled through their last four games, and it has resulted in three losses for each.
The Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks, both dealing with injuries to top forwards, will try to correct recent slumps Sunday night in Pittsburgh.
While the Penguins (47-22-5) are firmly planted at the top of the Metropolitan Division and in second in the Eastern Conference with a move up or down in their playoff positioning unlikely, the Blackhawks (42-18-15) are fighting for second in the Central with seven games remaining.
Chicago had a chance to clinch a playoff spot Saturday in Ottawa but was unable to dig out of a three-goal hole in a 5-3 loss. The Blackhawks had a 49-29 shot advantage, but coach Joel Quenneville said he wants to see improvement in the defensive zone.
"I think we’ve had very sporadic (urgency)," Quenneville told the team’s official website. "We’ve had two good starts in a row, but too many gaps and too many glaring mistakes. Give the other (teams) credit, but at the same time consistency and playing well defensively gets your success in our league, and we’re maybe looking for shortcuts."
Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa cut the deficit to 3-2 after two periods, but the Senators scored the first two goals of the third to put the game away.
Backup goalie Antti Raanta fell to 0-3-1 with a 3.77 goals-against average and .868 save percentage in his last five games. That likely paves the way for Corey Crawford to start against Pittsburgh. He stopped 31 shots in a 5-1 victory over the Penguins on March 1 at Soldier Field in the NHL Stadium Series, and is 2-0-0 with a 1.44 GAA and .948 save percentage in his career against them.
With consecutive losses, the Blackhawks are now out to avoid their first three-game regulation losing streak since Feb. 23-26, 2012. The recent struggles have likely cost Chicago a shot at a Central Division title as St. Louis has surged ahead, and it is now a point back of Colorado for home ice in the first round of the playoffs. The defending Stanley Cup champions, however, did clinch a playoff berth Saturday with Minnesota’s win over Phoenix.
While the Blackhawks have been held to seven goals in four games, the Penguins have only managed six. That didn’t stop them from snapping a three-game losing streak with Friday’s 2-1 victory at Columbus.
"I thought to a man we stepped up," coach Dan Bylsma said. "We’re fighting for every inch we can get right now. Tonight, this was exactly what we’ve talked about and wanted from this game. It was a playoff-type game, with playoff-type intensity."
Chris Kunitz and Beau Bennett gave Pittsburgh a two-goal lead midway through the third, and Marc-Andre Fleury did the job at the other end with 35 saves to snap a personal four-game losing streak.
Kunitz has scored in consecutive games, and Bennett’s winner came in his first game back after missing the previous 50 while working his way back from wrist surgery.
"Skating on my own, it’s a lot of skill stuff," Bennett said of his recovery. "It’s something that’s grown my game even with being out. I felt pretty good out there."
While the Blackhawks will be without Patrick Kane for a sixth straight game, the Penguins will be missing Evgeni Malkin for a fourth. Both forwards are second on their teams in points and will miss the remainder of the regular season.
Jonathan Toews has six goals and two assists in five career games against the Penguins while James Neal has five goals in his last seven against the Blackhawks.