Penguins, Red Wings trying to get on a roll
DETROIT -- Two years ago, the Pittsburgh Penguins came to Detroit on New Year's Eve as playoff outsiders, a team in search of its identity.
They beat the Detroit Red Wings 5-2 that night, and by the spring were Stanley Cup champions.
The Penguins will arrive arrive at Little Caesars Arena on Sunday as two-time defending Cup champions, but also as a team that currently sits outside the playoff picture. Pittsburgh (19-17-3) is seventh in the Metropolitan Division, three points out of a postseason position.
That doesn't mean the Red Wings will take them lightly.
"I'm sure they're not where they want to be," Detroit center Frans Nielsen said. "It means we're going to get their best tomorrow. It's going to be another good challenge for us."
The Red Wings (14-16-7) ended a three-game losing streak with a 3-2 shootout win Friday over the New York Rangers as they opened a three-game homestand, but Detroit also finds itself a long way from the playoffs. The Wings are nine points out of the second wild card and 13 points away from the third and final Atlantic Division playoff spot.
"We've got a big mountain to climb here, so we really have to be ready," Nielsen said. "It's going to be a fun challenge playing against a team like that with so many good players."
Detroit hasn't put together a three-game winning streak since January. The Red Wings are hopeful that Friday's win will prove to be a sign of good things to come.
"It was good to get the first one as a win and play a good team game," Wings center Dylan Larkin said. "What I like the most is we had an early goal scored against us in the third and went down 2-1 and we didn't give up. We didn't deflate.
"We stuck to our game plan."
There was much to like about the triumph. Struggling forward Andreas Athanasiou ended a 15-game goalless drought. Captain Henrik Zetterberg scored for just the second time in 30 games.
At the same time, they recognize that one win does not a turnaround make.
"I think consistency has been one of our problems, so we can't get too comfortable," Larkin said. "We've got to come and work on New Year's Eve.
"We've got another good team coming in that's not in the playoffs right now. They're on the outside looking in, so they're going to come and be hungry. We can get comfortable with just one win."
The Penguins are 4-7-0 in their last 11 games since a four-game winning streak ended on Dec. 5 with a 4-3 loss to the Rangers. Captain Sidney Crosby has one goal and two assists in Pittsburgh's last eight games.
"We have not played to the level of our expectation at this point," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Pittsburgh recalled forward Daniel Sprong from AHL Wilkes-Barre Scranton on Saturday and assigned forward Dominik Simon to the same club. Sprong has scored 18 goals in 29 AHL games this season.
"Certainly his scoring ability is what we all get excited about," Sullivan told Triblive.com.
The Wings will likely be without Anthony Mantha, who leads the team with 13 goals, for a second straight game due to an undisclosed injury.
"It's day to day for right now," Detroit coach Jeff Blashill said. "I don't think that it's anything I'm overly worried about, but he's questionable for tomorrow."
Updated December 31, 2017