Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) skates to the bench against the Washington Capitals on May 5, 2018 at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. Photo by Alex Edelman/UPI | License Photo
The Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres, who meet Monday at PPG Paints Arena, seem to have switched identities this season.
The Penguins, winners of the Stanley Cup two of the past three seasons, are 7-8-3, last in the Eastern Conference and mired in a 1-7-1 funk.
The Sabres, doormats for several years, are 12-6-2 and have won five straight.
The teams' results in their most recent game on Saturday underscore the differences. Pittsburgh scored first but gave up five unanswered goals in a 6-4 loss at Ottawa. Buffalo overcame a two-goal deficit for a 3-2 win at Minnesota, the second road victory in as many nights.
"It goes to show we have a different group, a different mindset and a different attitude," said Buffalo winger Jason Pominville, who scored the winner against the Wild with 90 seconds left and also had an assist.
The Sabres last won five in a row from March 19-27, 2012. This is the first time since 2009-10 they have at least 26 points through 20 games.
"I give a lot of credit to our guys," Buffalo head coach Phil Housley said. "It just showed the character of this team, the fight and the battle."
Only Tampa Bay and Toronto have more points in the Eastern Conference than Buffalo.
Pittsburgh, conversely, has a way to go to climb back above the playoff cutoff line. The club might have a way to go just to get a couple wins.
"We're in a deep hole, and we have to figure it out," Penguins defenseman Kris Letang said. "We can't be sorry for ourselves. ... We have all the skill in the world, but right now it's not working."
No. 1 goaltender Matt Murray has been pulled in three of his past six starts, including Saturday, and his confidence is waning, according to head coach Mike Sullivan.
"I'm sure it is," Sullivan said. "He's a human being. He's a proud guy, and he wants to do well. Sometimes when you get in these types of circumstances, you can try a little too hard and it gets in the way of your instinctual play. There's always that fine line of trying but making sure you don't try too hard because that can be counterproductive."
Pittsburgh team captain Sidney Crosby has missed the past two games because of an upper-body injury. He has been skating on his own and is considered day-to-day, but Pittsburgh was off Sunday and it is unknown whether he might be available Monday.
Coming back home isn't necessarily a comfort zone for the Penguins, who are 3-5-1 at PPG Paints Arena.
"As a group, we've just got to find a way," said winger Matt Cullen, the oldest player in the NHL at 42, who scored one of three third-period goals Saturday as the Penguins made a push that fell short against the Senators.
"I think we're better than the way we're playing," Cullen said. "The last period showed some fight, but from the drop of the puck we need to have more urgency in our game.
"Time goes pretty quick. We find ourselves at Thanksgiving here pretty soon. We've got to get to our game and do it more consistently.
"These are important points for us. We can't keep missing our opportunities."