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Rested Penguins set to tackle troubles against last-place teams

Jonathan Bombulie
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Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
The Penguins’ Sidney Crosby tries to get something going from below the goal against the Devils Monday, Nov. 5, 2018 at PPG Paints Arena.

Something’s got to give when the Pittsburgh Penguins return from a weeklong midseason break to face the New Jersey Devils at PPG Paints Arena on Monday night.

The Penguins have been extraordinarily good under coach Mike Sullivan coming off league-mandated breaks of three days or more. In their first game back after time off for Christmas, the All-Star Game or a bye week over the past three-plus seasons, they’re 9-0-0.

Conversely, the Penguins are 1-6-1 when they face last-place teams – New Jersey, Ottawa, Chicago and Los Angeles – this season. The lone win came in overtime over the Kings at home. They’re 0-2 against the Devils.

Coach Mike Sullivan gave much of the credit for the success coming off long breaks to the team’s strength and conditioning staff.

He said the staff provides a bye-week program for every player on the team, tailored to where they’ll be vacationing and what facilities will be available for working out.

“We’d like to think we’re doing stuff right during the bye weeks and during the breaks,” winger Bryan Rust said. “Our strength and conditioning staff does a good job of making sure we’re doing some things over the break, keeping our bodies into it. That’s a pretty decent record. Hopefully we can keep it going.”

Sullivan said he didn’t think the team’s record against bottom-feeding teams was a coincidence. He said his team has lacked urgency in previous meetings.

“We’ve got opportunities in front of us starting tonight,” Sullivan said. “We’re going to take each opportunity as they come and we’re going to try to take advantage of it. The urgency should be inspired by the opportunity that’s in front of us, regardless of who our opponent is. Every team in this league is good. We’ve got to be ready.”

Matt Murray will start in goal for the Penguins, who are expected to employ new-look second and third lines with Evgeni Malkin centering Rust and Phil Kessel and Derick Brassard centering Tanner Pearson and Patric Hornqvist.

Reigning NHL MVP Taylor Hall won’t play for the Devils. He’s been out since Dec. 23 with an undisclosed injury.

Follow the Pittsburgh Penguins all season long.

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