Recent hot streak has Pittsburgh Penguins disrupting the playoff race

Hot and not

ReimerJames Reimer, San Jose Sharks
Reimer saved all 25 shots he faced in the Sharks' 3-0 win over the Arizona Coyotes. He is now 3-1-0 with two shutouts, a 1.26 GAA and .952 save pct. since coming over at the trade deadline.

PaciorettyMax Pacioretty, Montreal Canadiens
Pacioretty was held pointless in losses to the Ottawa Senators and Calgary Flames over the weekend, finishing a combined minus-6 in the two games. The Canadiens have lost four of their past five overall.

What's driving the Penguins' hot streak?

Pierre LeBrun@Real_ESPNLeBrun: Did any of you see this Pittsburgh Penguins run coming? I certainly did not. A 6-2 win Sunday over the Washington Capitals continued a six-game winning streak that has them sitting in second place in the Metropolitan Division this morning, tied with the New York Rangers. The Penguins swept rivals Philadelphia and Washington during a perfect weekend and continue to ascend in the Eastern Conference standings. The injury to Evgeni Malkin has served to further galvanize the Penguins' resolve, it would appear. We talked last Friday about Sidney Crosby's Hart Trophy-worthy season. The supporting cast is getting it done, too. Bryan Rust and Tom Kuhnhackl both scored goals Sunday, and Kuhnhackl's goal was huge, coming just moments after the Caps had tied the game 2-2 and seemingly taken momentum back. That goal put the Pens on their way for good. The AHL call-ups this season have served Pittsburgh well, too, just another key story in the Penguins' season.

Scott Burnside@ESPN_Burnside: Pierre, I could say I did see this coming, but only when I thought Phil Kessel was going to score 50 goals flanking either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. Didn't happen. But one of the great criticisms of the Pens since back-to-back trips to the Stanley Cup finals in 2008 and 2009 has been lack of depth, especially up front, and the lack of homegrown offensive talent. You mentioned Kuhnhackl and Rust, but Conor Sheary has had some moments, too, and this has suddenly become a team that can hurt you from up and down the lineup, just like the Pens did back in those magical springs in 2008 and 2009. That they may disrupt what we thought was going to be an all-New York first-round playoff series between the Rangers and the New York Islanders is ancillary to the main story, which is that the Pens are back and a threat when the playoffs begin in three weeks, even if Malkin isn't quite ready to return from what is believed to be a left shoulder or arm injury.

Craig Custance@CraigCustance: It's amazing how well the Penguins seem to play when either Crosby or Malkin is subtracted from the lineup. Crosby's production without Malkin is off the charts, and it happens so consistently that it makes me wonder if the two are incompatible in some way when they are both healthy. Besides, of course, the time they won a Stanley Cup together. Right now, the Penguins are playing with speed. That's going to be a matchup nightmare for somebody in the playoffs, especially for a team that can't match it. I give coach Mike Sullivan credit for adjusting the way they play and GM Jim Rutherford credit for plugging in better skaters over the course of the season. Those changes have transformed the Penguins, and if it ends up being the Rangers and Penguins in Round 1, that series that will be much more interesting than we might have thought a couple months ago.

Joe McDonald@ESPNJoeyMac: This is a perfect example of how a team can respond after a coaching change. Even though Sullivan took over the coaching reins on Dec. 12, the Penguins are hitting their stride with an 8-2-0 record in their past 10 games. They are in on a six-game winning streak even without Malkin, who is expected to miss at least the rest of the regular season with that upper-body injury. Crosby is in the midst of a 12-game point streak with six goals and 14 assists in that span, and Pittsburgh is 5-0-0 since Malkin's injury. I agree with Craig that Sullivan deserves a lot of credit for the team's transformation. He didn't try to change things when he took over in December. He only wants every player in that room to be responsible on and off the ice. It's also very important that Sullivan began the season coaching the organization's AHL affiliate, because when the Penguins needed reinforcements, those players knew exactly what Sullivan expected when they were called up. That made that transition easier, and it's helped the success of the team.

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