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Penguins notebook: Since trade deadline, Pens have been kings of inconsistency

Jonathan Bombulie
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Pittsburgh Penguins' Patric Hornqvist (72) tries to get to the puck after crashing into Florida Panthers goalie James Reimer in the second period of the NHL hockey game, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017, in Pittsburgh. Hornqvist was penalized for goaltender interference on the play. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

When Derick Brassard and Jake Guentzel scored third-period goals to turn a tense, tied game into a 5-3 victory Wednesday night, the Penguins followed a dismal loss to the New York Islanders with a rousing win over the Montreal Canadiens.

This should come as no surprise. Inconsistency has been the Penguins’ M.O. in the past month.

When the trade deadline hit Feb. 26, the Penguins were in the middle of a three-game losing streak that culminated in an 8-4 drubbing in Boston. They followed that up with a three-game winning streak that peaked with a convincing 5-2 win in Philadelphia.

After that, loss, win, loss, win, loss, win for the last six games.

It’s a potentially troubling trend with only eight games left in the regular season.

“We just have to find a way to be a little more consistent with our work ethic and stronger on pucks,” winger Patric Hornqvist said after the loss to the Islanders. “Don’t let a bad shift let us down in a game. We just have to keep going.”

Taking a 30,000-foot view, the Penguins haven’t been playing poorly since the trade deadline. Their even-strength shot-attempt percentage, for example, is fifth-best in the league during that span.

The problems have come on special teams and in goal. Since Feb. 26, the Penguins rank 16th in the league on the power play (19.4 percent), 28th on the penalty kill (66.7 percent) and 25th in save percentage (.887).

As long as Matt Murray finds his form in a timely fashion coming off a nine-game absence because of a concussion, and as long as the special teams revert back to the percentages they’ve maintained all season long, the Penguins should be in a decent spot once the playoffs start.

That’s not good enough for Hornqvist, of course.

“We have to make sure we’re harder, we’re stronger,” he said. “Our compete level has to be way harder.”

Brassard’s transition

A month into his tenure with the team, Brassard is showing some small, incremental signs that he’s beginning to fit in comfortably with the Penguins.

First and foremost, he’s on a four-game points streak, including a clutch, tie-breaking, third-period goal Wednesday night against Montreal.

“To bring something on the table for the team, trying to make a difference, always feels good,” Brassard said.

In addition, the chemistry between Brassard and linemate Phil Kessel is showing some signs of slowly developing.

When they’ve been on the ice together at even strength, the Penguins have outscored their opponents 6-4. When Kessel has been on the ice with anyone else this season, the Penguins have been outscored 48-45 at even strength.

It’s not a headline-grabbing, HBK-style marriage made in heaven, but it’s something.

“It’s going to take me a little while,” Brassard said. “I’m still maybe not there yet, but I’m just trying to play hard and play on the right side of the puck.”

Brassard’s goal Wednesday came while he worked on the second power-play unit, which could be where he finds success. With the team’s top stars filling the first unit, Brassard can be the focal point of the second group for the last 30 seconds or so of an advantage.

“He can see the ice well,” defenseman Olli Maatta said. “He can see the plays. Even before the puck gets there, he knows where he’s going with it.”

Playing the odds

The Penguins have slipped a bit in the past month in the eyes of Vegas odds makers.

According to Bovada.lv, the Penguins were a 7-1 choice to win the Stanley Cup on March 1. Now, they’re a 17-2 choice, behind Nashville (15-4), Tampa Bay (4-1) and Las Vegas (6-1).

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.

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