BOSTON -- "John Havlicek, good ballplayer," Mike Sullivan mused as he looked up at a large mural outside the Penguins' dressing room at TD Garden on Friday.
Sullivan of nearby Marshfield, Mass., proud alumnus of Boston University and a former head coach of the Bruins, certainly knows his New England sports history.
He also knows his own tortured history here as coach of the Penguins in Boston. He's hasn’t won a game in the Garden since he last coached the Bs in 2006.
The Penguins haven't won in Boston since Nov. 24, 2014, a 3-2 win in OT. Then, Mike Johnston was the coach.
"They play well here," Sidney Crosby said of his opponent's tonight. "They don't give up a ton. I think you just have to be ready to play a simple game and capitalize on the chances that you get."
But the Penguins just haven't gotten beaten here, they've been destroyed. They've been outscored 24-11 in their last five at the Garden, including an 8-4 shellacking here last March 1, in which Casey DeSmith was pulled after giving up three goals on just five shots.
What's gone wrong?
"I wish I had an answer," Sullivan said when I asked. "They're a tough team, they're a competitive team. We're hoping we can establish a little bit of traction from our last game the other night.
"We're not really looking at the past or where we've been. We're just looking at the one game in front of us. We're not looking beyond it or before it. I think that's an important mindset that we need to have at this time of year."
Indeed, the Penguins have had their struggles of late. Wednesday night's home win over Dallas snapped a four-game losing skid and they're still an 8-8-4 team with just 20 points, six behind Boston.
"Every building in the league is hard to play in, every building has a rambunctious fanbase," Sullivan said. "I don't know. I think our guys are accustomed going into hostile environments and have success in hostile environments.
"We don't focus a lot on that kind of stuff."
But if there was ever a night that the Penguins could snap their losing ways in Boston, tonight would seem to be the night.
The Bruins are a battered team with three of their top four players, among others, out with injuries. Boston will be without Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy. The Bruins have dropped three of their last four, two of them in overtime, but still hold the top wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference with 26 points.
"They're no different than any other team," Sullivan said. "They have capable guys. They've shown an ability to have success regardless of who's in the lineup. We know it's going to be a tough game. We have to be ready for a big challenge."
• Penguins: Matt Cullen, center, is out longer term with a lower body injury. Justin Schultz, defenseman, is expected to miss four months after fracturing his leg Oct. 13 in Montreal.
• Bruins: Patrice Bergeron, center, is expected to miss 4-6 weeks with rib injuries sustained Nov. 16. Brandon Carlo, defenseman, is on IR with an upper body injury suffered Nov. 10. Zdeno Chara, defenseman, is on IR with a lower body injury suffered Nov. 14. Charlie McAvoy, defenseman, is on IR with a concussion suffered Nov. 18. Urho Vaakanainen is on IR with a concussion suffered Oct. 23.
• The Penguins aren't wasting any time reacclimating Tristan Jarry to the NHL. A day after being recalled from Wilkes-Barre, the 23-year-old will get the nod in goal tonight.
With the Penguins playing back-to-back games, Jarry figured to get one of the two games. After playing Columbus tomorrow, the Penguins will have games on consecutive nights Tuesday and Wednesday at Winnipeg and at Colorado.
"We believe that both guys can help us win games," Sullivan said. "We're going to need two goalies going through this stretch."
Jarry gave up five goals on 33 shots after replacing DeSmith to take the loss in last March's bloodbath at the Garden.
No matter who is in goal, Sullivan said the message to either back-up goalie is the same.
"We just talk to them about being themselves and staying in the moment," he said. "It's all about the next save, controlling what you can control. It's no different than any other player that comes up that's a young player. Both of these guys have experience playing in the league. Both have shown that they're capable of being solid goaltenders in this league. We're going to rely on them for the next little while."
— Chris Bradford (@PghBradford) November 23, 2018
• Crosby said that he was well aware that Matt Murray was going through some kind of injury. For kind of obvious reasons, too.
"I think you're always aware when guys are banged up, you see guys in the training room, its a fairly small area," he told me. "I think it's just something that everyone has to deal with. For him, it's something he battled through, but we have confidence in anyone who's in there. Case's done a good job, but everyone's just trying to chip in and finding ways to get wins."
On Wednesday, Murray was placed on IR with a lower body injury and will miss at least a week.
• With apologies to Lindsey Buckingham, Jack Johnson isn't thinking about tomorrow. On Saturday, the Penguins will face Johnson's old team. That would be the Blue Jackets, the one which made him a healthy scratch for all of last spring's playoffs. When he signed with Pittsburgh, he praised the Penguins' "winning culture," which some in Columbus -- OK, John Tortorella -- took as a sleight at the organization.
On Friday, Johnson politely declined to talk about the Blue Jackets or Saturday's game. "Big game in Boston against the Boston Bruins tonight," he said. "I'm thinking about tonight."
• Derek Grant will be a game-time decision, according to Sullivan. The fourth-line center did not take part in the skate a day after missing practice with what the coach said was a maintenance day.
[caption id="attachment_724575" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Beanpot banner. - CHRIS BRADFORD / DKPS[/caption]
• The TD Garden might be a house of horrors for the Penguins, but it brings back some good memories for Zach Aston-Reese. The Northeastern alum played in the famed Beanpot Tournament against Harvard, Boston College and BU held each March at the Garden. It was here that he forged a stellar college career that led to the Penguins signing him as a prized free agent in the summer of 2017.
Unfortunately with the school on Thanksgiving break, he said he won't get a chance to catch up with some of his former teammates, who captured the Beanpot title last year.
Besides Boston bragging rights, the best part about the Beanpot, according to Aston-Reese, was the police escort from campus to the Garden. While he was there, Northeastern finished second twice and third twice. "Never first, but never last," the 24-year-old said with a smile.
THE OTHER SIDE
• The Bruins held their morning skate at their practice facility, the Warrior Ice Arena, in nearby Brighton, Mass.
• Bruce Cassidy's team did get some good news on the injury front with the return of John Moore.
• Jaroslav Halak will be in goal for Boston, allowing Tuukka Rask to start Saturday night's game against the Canadiens in Montreal.
• Anders Bjork and Steven Kampfer will be scratched tonight.
• Here's an educated guess at the lines and pairs, based on what was shown in practice Monday and who could be out:
Guentzel -- Crosby -- Hornqvist
Pearson -- Malkin -- Kessel
Simon -- Brassard -- Aston-Reese
Rust -- Sheahan -- Sprong
Dumoulin — Letang
Johnson -- Ruhwedel
Maatta -- Oleksiak
• The Bruins' lineup will look like this:
Marchand -- Forsbacka-Karlsson — Pastrnak
Heinen -- Krejci — DeBrusk
Nordstrom -- Cave -- Acciari
Wagner -- Kuraly -- Backes
Grzelcyk - Miller
Krug - Moore
Lauzon - Clifton
Faceoff tonight is at 7:38 p.m. at TD Garden. The Penguins will not hold a morning skate before Saturday night's home game against the Blue Jackets. Sullivan will speak to the media at about 5 p.m.
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