Mike Sullivan's tenure with the Pittsburgh Penguins got off to a bad start in December, and the Boston Bruins played a significant part.
Pittsburgh has fared much better lately even with Evgeni Malkin missing for much of this month, and he'll remain out at least one more game as the Penguins attempt to claim a rare win over the Bruins on Wednesday night.
Sullivan lost his first four games after taking over for the fired Mike Johnston on Dec. 12, including a home-and-home sweep to Boston in which the Penguins were outscored 9-2. Pittsburgh (30-20-8) is 15-6-5 since that skid and has gone 9-3-1 in its past 13.
"We're a very different team today than we were then," Sullivan told the team's official website. "Our mindset has changed. We've evolved."
The Penguins improved to 3-0-1 in their last four on the road with a 4-3 win over Buffalo on Sunday, their ninth consecutive game without Malkin. Rookie Scott Wilson scored for the third straight game after failing to do so in his first 12.
Malkin went through his first practice Tuesday since suffering a lower-body injury Feb. 2, but the team's second-leading scorer was ruled out of Wednesday's game. So was center Nick Bonino (hand), but he also returned to practice Tuesday after being sidelined since Jan. 12.
"It's a big step for them to join the team," Sullivan said.
Defenseman Ben Lovejoy, though, is expected to remain out "long term" because of an upper-body injury suffered in a 4-2 loss to Tampa Bay on Saturday.
Pittsburgh will try to overcome that short-handed lineup to earn just its third win in 13 games against Boston, a stretch that began with a sweep in the 2013 Eastern Conference finals. The Bruins (32-22-6) are 5-0-1 in the past six home meetings, including the playoffs, and won 3-0 on Dec. 16 with Tuukka Rask stopping 34 shots.
Rask has started each of Boston's last 12 games against Pittsburgh, going 10-1-1 with a 1.35 goals-against average.
Boston has found it far more difficult keeping opponents off the scoreboard during a 1-3-1 slump at home, giving up 26 goals. Backup netminder Jonas Gustavsson allowed five in a 6-4 defeat to Columbus on Monday.
It was the Bruins' first home game since a 9-2 loss to Los Angeles on Feb. 9, the most goals they've allowed in eight seasons. Boston is 12-15-3 at home and 20-7-3 on the road.
"Whatever curse we have at home, we can't seem to find our energy or get the tempo of our game up," defenseman Joe Morrow said. "It has to change sooner than later. We don't have that much time left in the season to be able to turn it around. It's pretty unacceptable."
Patrice Bergeron doesn't have a point in five straight home games despite leading the team with 50. He scored twice in a 6-2 victory in Pittsburgh on Dec. 18.
Brad Marchand has only one goal in his past 17 regular-season matchups with Pittsburgh but has scored 15 in his last 16 contests overall. Loui Eriksson scored two Monday to give him seven goals in the past seven games.
Ryan Spooner has six of his career-high 40 points in this season's two meetings.
Pittsburgh's Kris Letang had no points in those matchups and only three in his last 10 games against the Bruins, including the playoffs. Former Bruin Phil Kessel doesn't have a point in three straight against Boston but has four goals in Pittsburgh's last five games.