RALEIGH, N.C. — It would be a reach to suggest that the Penguins’ game against Carolina tonight at 7:08 at PNC Arena is a must-win.
No, it would be flat-out wrong.
Sure, they have gone 0-1-1 in their past two games, but they still are in second place in the Metropolitan Division, as well as the Eastern Conference, standings.
Nonetheless, the players do seem to feel some sense of urgency to collect a couple of points from the Hurricanes, probably because Columbus and the New York Rangers are so close to them in the division.
“I think it’s really important,” center Matt Cullen said Tuesday. “We’re at a point where we’ve played some good hockey games and put ourselves in a position where we would like to be, but for … the group we have, it’s a good opportunity to flip that switch into playoff mode and really attack these last 20 or so games.
“Our group has another level. I think we would all agree on that. We’ve played well enough to win but, as a group, we have another level [to reach] to play playoff-style hockey.”
Bonino likely out
The Penguins are expected to be without center Nick Bonino, who generally centers the third line and works on both special teams, against the Hurricanes.
He did not participate in the game-day skate because of illness, and coach Mike Sullivan all but ruled him out of the game.
Bonino is one of the Penguins’ go-to penalty-killers and has been working on the No. 2 power play.
What’s more, he has handled 426 faceoffs, more than any teammate except Sidney Crosby.
“He does a lot for us,” Sullivan said. “He plays in a lot of key situations, he’s a penalty-killer, he’s a good two-way centerman.”
With Bonino missing, the Penguins’ lines Tuesday looked like this:
• Chris Kunitz-Sidney Crosby-Jake Guentzel
• Carl Hagelin-Evgeni Malkin-Phil Kessel
• Scott Wilson-Matt Cullen-Patric Hornqvist
• Tom Kunhahckl-Carter Rowney-Eric Fehr.
The Penguins’ power play is going through a dreadful stretch — it has scored two goals on 23 tries in the past eight games — and getting back into a productive groove won’t be easy against Carolina.
The Hurricanes have the top-ranked penalty-kill in the NHL, with a success rate of 86.6 percent, and are even better at home, snuffing 88.3 percent of the power plays they face.
“There are a lot of different things that go into a good penalty-kill,” Carolina center Jordan Staal said. “There are a lot of moving parts, but it seems like everybody’s been on the same page.”
Carolina’s kill relies on pressuring opponents into making mistakes, and the Hurricanes have converted those into six shorthanded goals.
“They’re quick,” Sullivan said. “They skate well. Their defensemen have good sticks, long reaches, they’re mobile guys.
“They put power plays under duress, and they force you to make plays under pressure.
“We’re going to have to be prepared to make the puck work, we’re going to have to support the puck well and we’ve got to be ready to handle their [aggressiveness].”
Despite the Penguins’ struggles with the man-advantage in recent weeks, Staal noted that their power play can be volatile.
“They have great players who can move the puck well,” he said. “On any given night, they can change a game. It’s always a good challenge against those guys.”
Hurricanes coach Bill Peters reconfigured his forward lines at the game-day skate in response to his team scoring three goals in the past four games. … Defenseman Cameron Gaunce is expected to be a healthy scratch for the Penguins.