NHL Game Preview - Carolina at Pittsburgh
Wed Dec 28, 2016 7:00 PM EST

Penguins host rested Hurricanes
Wed Dec 28, 2016 1:03 AM

PITTSBURGH -- The holiday-rested Hurricanes are catching the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second half of a back-to-back Wednesday night, but Carolina coach Bill Peters isn't sure if being fresh is an advantage.

If he'd seen the Penguins' 5-2 win at New Jersey on Tuesday night, Peters almost assuredly wouldn't think the Hurricanes -- who had the night off -- might own an edge despite their own recent strong play.

"It's an advantage to get right back at it and play," Peters said of returning from the NHL's Christmas break. "You're always better in (games) 2, 3, 4" after a break.

The Penguins were pretty good in their first game back from a three-day break, getting goals from Evgeni Malkin -- his 800th NHL point -- and Sidney Crosby, who got his 25th goal in 30 games, plus Carl Hagelin, Justin Schultz and Bryan Rust while coming back from a 2-1 deficit early in the second period.

As Peters suggested, players often take some time getting their game legs back after a pause in the schedule, even one this short, but the Penguins (23-8-5) appeared to return to game speed in a hurry. They're now 10-1-2 during what so far is the best December in the franchise's 50-year history, as Malkin and Crosby have 19 points each in the month and Schultz has 16.

Even the travel pattern was different for the Penguins -- they didn't fly to New Jersey until Tuesday morning, because teams are prohibited by the NHL labor agreement from traveling on the 26th -- yet it didn't affect their play.

"It was a tough day coming off 3-day break, (and) everybody wants to get into it right away ... it was a good overall game all around," Schultz said.

Schultz gave the Penguins a 3-2 lead by scoring with only six seconds remaining in the second period, an important lead given the Penguins have won their last 52 games when ahead after two periods. Hagelin and Rust scored in the third.

The Hurricanes (15-11-7) were on a mini-surge before Christmas, receiving balanced scoring while winning three in a row and four of five, with the only loss coming to Washington in a shootout Dec. 16. They beat the Buffalo Sabres and Boston Bruins on successive nights Thursday and Friday, with five different players combining for their six goals.

"We have a lot of different options in our attack," Jordan Staal said. "It's not the same guy every night ... we have a lot of different options."

For the Penguins, it does seem like it's the same guys every night -- namely, Crosby and Malkin. Crosby scored for the fourth consecutive game Tuesday and now has 10 goals in 13 games, and -- after having three days -- often seemed a step faster than everyone else on the ice Tuesday. Malkin scored his third in five games.

Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury also played well, making 21 saves as the Penguins swept the Devils in a two-game series that began Friday in Pittsburgh. However, it's likely goalie Matt Murray (13-3-1) will start Friday against the Hurricanes' Cam Ward as coach Mike Sullivan tries to keep both goalies sharp.

This is the first time the teams have met this season.

"We had a little break and we're re-energized, and it should be a fast game (Wednesday)," Hurricanes defenseman Noah Hanifin said. "We're playing like we want to play right now."

The Hurricanes own the NHL's best penalty-killing unit -- they're operating at 90.6 percent efficiency -- and they've allowed only eight power-play goals all season. But they'll be without an important component, defenseman Justin Faulk, who's listed as week to week with a lower body injury that occurred in the 3-2 victory over Boston on Friday.

The Penguins penalty kill was strong Tuesday, fending off six of seven Devils power plays, including a four-minute advantage during the third period resulting from defenseman Ian Cole's high-sticking double minor. Not only was Cole in the penalty box, defenseman Brian Dumoulin was in the dressing room after taking a puck to the face -- and defensemen Kris Letang and Trevor Daley remained out with injuries.

"Everyone did a great job of killing that off," Schultz said. "It shows the depth we have on defense."

With Malkin and Crosby, who have a combined 80 points, the Penguins' depth on offense isn't bad, either.

"All of our top guys have had real consistent play, night in and night out, and that's what's helping us enjoy some success," Sullivan said.

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