Penguins return home to take on Devils

PITTSBURGH -- Earning seven of a possible 10 points on the longest road trip of the season might mean different things to different teams. Some would be thrilled. Others, like the Pittsburgh Penguins, are left wanting more.

The Penguins (43-17-9), who return home Friday night to face the New Jersey Devils at PPG Paints Arena, were 3-1-1 on their recent trip to Western Canada plus Philadelphia, five games in four time zones.

"We think we could have been more successful," Pittsburgh defenseman Ian Cole said. "We think we could have gone 5-0 on this road trip, but we had some good things."

The Penguins started 3-0 before a shootout loss at Calgary and, Wednesday, a 4-0 loss to the Flyers.

"It's always tough when you come back from the West Coast, but you've got to find a way," fellow Pittsburgh defenseman Mark Streit said. "It would have been sweet to get (a win Wednesday), but overall a pretty good road trip."

Streit was one of two defensemen to leave a game on the road trip because of injury, leaving the Penguins to play with five defensemen for at least one period. Streit returned the next game. Ron Hainsey left Wednesday's game, and his status remains unclear.

"It's tough. We hope Ronnie's going to be OK," Streit said. "Obviously, playing with five, with the amount of games we're playing lately, it's hard. It's not an excuse."

Pittsburgh already was missing defensemen Kris Letang, Trevor Daley and Olli Maatta, along with forwards Bryan Rust and Patric Hornqvist.

Still, the Penguins have remained within striking distance of Washington for not only the Metropolitan Division title but also the Presidents' Trophy. Columbus also is heavily in that mix in the Metropolitan, with the New York Rangers not out of the conversation, so Pittsburgh is a ways from locking up home ice for the first round of the playoffs.

It's something the Penguins are monitoring.

"Anytime you can improve your seed in the playoffs, anytime you can give yourself the last change with the home ice advantage and play the majority of the games in a series in front of your home crowd, it's beneficial for your team," Cole said. "To say for us it doesn't matter, I think that would be a lie. I think it does matter, and I think it is important (given) how tight our division is."

New Jersey (26-31-12) is also in the Metropolitan but isn't part of the playoff push. The Devils will need to make a late surge to avoid finishing at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings.

Perhaps they started that Thursday when they ended a 10-game losing streak with a 6-2 win over Philadelphia.

It was a breakout on offense. In their first six games in March, the Devils scored a collective eight goals. Then they racked up a season-high six against the Flyers.

It was also a relief after their 0-8-2 skid.

"It's brutal," forward Kyle Palmieri told NJ Advance Media after the win. "You're always going to go through ups and downs throughout the season. It's one thing to be down on yourself because of the way you're playing, but to be down on yourself because of just the results ... It can be tough to come into the rink and put a smile on your face and get excited.

"But even through this streak of games, we've done a pretty good job of keeping it upbeat and positive. And looking forward to our next game and next opportunity to prove ourselves."

The next challenge comes quickly for New Jersey. Pittsburgh is 5-1 in the teams' past six meetings. The Penguins also are 7-1 the past eight times the teams have met at PPG Paints Arena.