December 29, 2014

The Pittsburgh Penguins had trouble providing reasons for losing at home to one of the NHL's worst teams when so much is on the line in a tight playoff race.

There's also little explanation for why they've played so poorly in their recent trips to New Jersey.

Cory Schneider's play in net has been part of it, but the injured Devils goaltender won't be in uniform when they try to trim their deficit for the Eastern Conference's final postseason spot Sunday night.

Pittsburgh (33-22-8) blew a two-goal lead in a loss to Washington on Tuesday before bouncing back with a win over the New York Rangers two nights later. But after Sidney Crosby scored his second goal of the game Saturday against a Calgary team that entered having dropped seven straight, the Flames scored the final three for a 4-2 victory.

The Penguins' five-point edge for the last wild-card spot was cut to three after Philadelphia routed Columbus 6-0 later that night. They also missed an opportunity to move into seventh in the East and could've pulled within one point of the New York Islanders, who hold the Metropolitan Division's last automatic playoff berth.

"For whatever reason, we didn't have the desperation, the urgency that you need," Crosby said. "Sometimes that happens, but there's no excuse for that because we need points. We're in a huge playoff race right now. We can't accept that. We've got to be better."

Pittsburgh has lost three of its last four on the road and begins a four-game trip against the Devils (31-28-7), who trail the Penguins by five points in the playoff race.

"The good thing is we've got 19 games left," said Patric Hornqvist, who had two assists to give him four along with five goals during a five-game point streak. "We know we have a good enough group in here to win a lot of games and series, so just fix those things and go on here."

Crosby and Phil Kessel scored in a 2-0 home win over the Devils in the last meeting Jan. 26, but Pittsburgh's had plenty of trouble finding the net in road matchups. The Penguins have been outscored 22-8 while dropping seven of eight in Newark and have been blanked in the last two by Schneider, who made 21 saves in a 4-0 win Nov. 14.

Schneider, though, suffered a lower-body injury and left in the second period of Friday's 4-2 loss at Dallas. The severity of his injury is expected to be released prior to the game, which backup Keith Kinkaid will start.

Kinkaid stopped all six shots he faced against the Stars and is 5-5-1 with a 2.48 goals-against average in 11 starts and three relief efforts this season.

"Keith came in and played great right when he went in there," said forward Adam Henrique, who has four goals over his last three. "They had a couple opportunities he made big saves on."

New Jersey could use a solid performance from Kinkaid with the club running out of time to catch Pittsburgh. The Devils have dropped seven of their last nine, including a 1-4-0 mark at home in that stretch.

Coach John Hynes certainly wasn't pleased with the latest effort.

"We were just light on the puck," Hynes said. "May have been the difference of getting a point out of the game or two points out of the game right there."

Crosby has scored once in his last 10 games in New Jersey.

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