His steely eyes looked directly at reporters. He didn’t stumble for many words or search for positive spins. Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan did not spare his teams feelings or camouflage their shortcomings when he spoke to assembled media, Tuesday night at the Prudential Center. Sullivan directly challenged the Penguins effort and chided his team for not playing a “hard” game.
The New Jersey Devils beat the Penguins for the second time in five games, 4-2 at the Prudential Center, Tuesday. The Devils exploited Penguins mistakes, such as missed zone coverages. New Jersey All-Star winger Taylor Hall scored the game-winner after the Penguins failed to properly cover their zone when Kris Letang pinched.
The Penguins also failed to cover the point on the Devils second goal as Damon Severson was left wide open at the top of the slot after Phil Kessel remained on the wall despite the Devils gaining possession.
“We had opportunities to get pucks to the net, and we’re looking for lateral plays,” Sullivan said with his voice rising. “New Jersey is tracking back in the slot. There’s sticks and legs in the slot. And every team is tracking back hard to that area.”
Indeed since the western Canada road trip which seems a lifetime ago, opponents have packed the slot on the Penguins, who have lost five of six and all losses have been against Metro Division teams. Their only win was against the scrappy but under-talented Arizona Coyotes.
“We’ve got to put more pucks on the net. And we’ve got to get some blue paint goals. And we haven’t had a lot of blue paint goals,” said the agitated Sullivan. “The only way that can happen is if we put more pucks on the net. That will force us to go to the net and then we can bank some in there.”
Sullivan continued with a grimace, “I don’t think we’re getting enough of that consistently from the whole group.”
The Penguins coach clearly shares the frustration of the Penguins GM Jim Rutherford who dropped a bombshell in the media last week when he wondered aloud if the team had been together too long.
“I thought we had effort…in spurts,” Sullivan conceded. “But it has to be more consistent. It has to be more consistent. We’ve got to be willing to embrace the hard game. We’ve got to stop on pucks. We’ve got to have three people close in the offensive zone when we’re fighting on fifty-fifties.”
And the final dagger: “We’ve got to be willing to play it more consistently than we are.”
The Penguins players may be in for a terse discussion, Wednesday.
Captain Sidney Crosby summed up the Penguins effort, “it wasn’t our best but it wasn’t our worst,” he said. Later, Crosby expounded, “When you’re losing games things are magnified but when we’re on our toes, there’s no doubt we’re a better team.”
Evgeni Malkin recognized the Penguins lack of shots, “Maybe we need to shoot more because we had so many turnovers from the blue line.” Perhaps Malkin’s language barrier made that quote somewhat ambiguous. Malkin was referencing the Penguins takeaways inside the Devils zone, not criticizing his teammates.
“But again, the team played hard,” Malkin offered.
His coach would disagree, at least to a degree. “In spurts,” was the best Sullivan would offer. Perhaps the Penguins will practice hard Wednesday.