Back-to-back games against teams that are a combined 39 games over .500, Pens head coach Mike Sullivan will start Tristan Jarry in net Thursday night at Tampa Bay.
It’s an interesting decision considering the Pens face the division leader Friday night. Sullivan likely to start back-up Casey DeSmith at Carolina. Either goalie was going to face a tough task, it’s Jarry though against the two-time defending champs.
It becomes a cliché for us in the media of asking about ‘measuring stick’ games. The meaning, obviously, how you measure up against better competition. Considering the Pens play the three teams in front of them in the Eastern Conference in the next three games. An understandable question.
Sullivan has a different take on it.
“If I’m going to use the phrase measuring stick, we are going to hold that against ourselves and what our expectations are,” Sullivan said. “Are we living up to our own expectations and what are responsibilities are to be at our very best?”
You would have had to see the determination on his face while saying it to understand how proud he is of the high-level of expectations with his team.
“We are usually in that conversation as well with some of the players we have in our lineup and the legacy we’ve built here,” Sullivan said of other teams measuring themselves against the Penguins. “We tend to get people’s ‘A’ game. That’s what keeps us at our best.”
It doesn’t mean they aren’t geared-up starting tonight at Tampa Bay, before playing the Hurricanes and Panthers.
“You want to treat every game the same, but there will be extra motivation playing against those top teams,” said veteran defenseman Kris Letang. “Everybody is talking about Tampa, Florida, Carolina, you want to show them you are still there. Try and give it a big push and kind of a measuring stick to see where you are at as a team.”
“There are a few key things we have to do before every game,” said 37-year-old forward Brian Boyle. “There is a structure and a certain energy level that we have to play with.”
“These are dress rehearsals for the playoffs. You are going to find yourself in different situations in the playoffs where it may be going great for you or you could be trying to climb back in a series or a game. There are a lot of different things that can happen, so you want to prepare the best you can. That’s not saying we are looking past anything towards the playoffs. These are that important.”
“I think it’s a good measure for us,” said forward Evan Rodrigues. “We’ve played some good teams and haven’t gotten the results lately. It’s a big test for us. I think it’s something we need. We got to start playing the right way and getting these wins, playing almost playoff-type hockey. It will be a good test for us. Looking forward to it.”
“You look at our record against playoff teams, we are right at .500,” said forward Zach Aston-Reese. “That’s something we want to improve. Having this test in front of us, I think our schedule gets a lot tougher heading down the stretch to the playoffs and that’s what you want. I think it’s a good measuring stick and a good test for us.”
“You can feel it,” Boyle said. “The weather is getting nicer. That’s when you really have to dial in.”
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