TORONTO — There are plenty of adjectives to describe the Pittsburgh Penguins’ performance Saturday in a 7-0 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. However, only a few could be printed on a professional or family-friendly column.
Embarrassment. Unacceptable. Sad.
And we’re just getting warmed up.
“Well, I’ll certainly dissect it. I’m not sure quite yet how I’ll respond to it,” said Sullivan. “You know, it’s a humbling experience. We didn’t perform to our expectations, and it’s disappointing. We’re all in this thing together. We have to figure it out.”
Not only were the Penguins thoroughly humbled in a no-show loss to Toronto on Saturday, they were petulant and undisciplined. The Penguins took 33 minutes in penalties, and only five of those were good minutes (John Ludvig’s first-period fight, which momentarily jolted the team).
Editor’s note: the original version listed 37 penalty minutes.
From the inside, I’ll tell you–there is something wrong. I’ve not experienced Penguins players calling out teammates in a long, long time. It’s not a sign of a happy or successful team.
“We need to see why certain things are happening. Some things are out of our control, but there are definitely things that we can do a lot better,” Karlsson said. “When you’re not feeling your best, sometimes you still got to find a way to contribute. And you can’t just be satisfied, putting your skates out there.”
“We’ve had a lot of guys that have played a long time in this league, and that’s why you play a long time in this league. And we had a lot of guys that (need to) find a way — even though they’re not filling the net, scoring goals every night — still go out there and bring something … Today, I think it was consistent throughout the whole lineup. No one really did anything out there except be around.”
The Penguins’ mistakes and Toronto’s goals piled up faster than bodies at the end of Scorsese’s The Departed. The Penguins’ performance had the same rapid-fire shock value, too.
This was supposed to be a big game. It’s Hockey Night in Canada. This is THE game for an entire country each week. This is wear your good suit, shine your shoes, comb your hair, and bring your best because the hockey world is watching. This game was also one for president of hockey operations/GM Kyle Dubas, too. It was his return to Toronto, from where he was unceremoniously dismissed after last season despite building the same star-studded Maple Leafs team that destroyed the Penguins Saturday.
This was the Penguins’ chance to get back in the playoff race. A chance to finally stack a few wins. This was Dubas’s chance to show off his new team.
This was a big moment for the Penguins, but they never showed up.
Instead of stacking wins, the team collapsed in a heap, and by the third period, the Toronto crowd mocked Dubas with derisive chants.
Pick a player. The list of mistakes or shortcomings would fill the back of a hockey card. Perhaps the Penguins’ dads, who completed their two-game trip with the team, will give the boys a good talking to.
Even Sullivan had an almost amazed demeanor on the bench. The loss was so complete, so thorough, so stunning, it defied belief.
“It’s tough to say (why). I’m pretty sure that we’re going to talk about it tomorrow,” said Karlsson. “I think we deserve that.”
The team is back to .500, but it might as well be a country mile between the Penguins and playoff contention. After 29 games, there is no sign of consistency and really no signs of being a good team.
Tuesday, they beat the Arizona Coyotes, who were on the second of back-to-back games across the country. Thursday, they scraped by the rebuilding Montreal Canadiens, thanks mostly to Sidney Crosby. Otherwise, the team stunk.
The stink is growing.
Karlsson’s cryptic answer about players not bringing their best is probably the tip of the iceberg.
2nd Period Shuffles
Sullivan realized his team was in the mud. To begin the second period, everything changed. Every line had a new inhabitant, and two of the three d-pairs did, too.
Grades? Nah. Run down the list. Pick your facet of the game. Pick your poison. It gets an F.
A team that takes 33 minutes in penalties, gets precious few scoring chances despite 38 shots, and gets buried 7-0 deserves nothing more.
Ryan Graves kicked off the spiral by getting undressed at the defensive blue line a few minutes into the game. Matthew Knies appreciated the mistake and scored on a breakaway that never should have been.
Kris Letang and Graves were swimming on Saturday. At even strength, they were spectators for two goals, five shots, and nothing in the plus column. Zero.
Graves’s grace period is about over, regardless of whether Dubas admitted on Monday that he was slow to adjust in Colorado and New Jersey. By the second period, Sullivan moved John Ludvig up to Letang’s pair, and Graves played for only 15 minutes.
Letang finished at minus-4 after being on the ice for the early second-period goals and flurry of odd-man rushes, too. At least one of the goals was on him.
There hasn’t been much to write about Evgeni Malkin or Reilly Smith, either. PHN chatted with Smith on Friday. Though he offered a little tongue-in-cheek volley about his game, the Penguins need much more. He replaced Jason Zucker in the Penguins lineup but hasn’t filled the void since a little scoring burst early in the season.
Malkin’s stats show a decent season (10-14-24), but the eye test isn’t cutting it. The team can’t rely on Super Sidney every night.
Factor Karlsson’s comments. Add more. At least one player in the locker room questioned the team’s willingness to play defense.
Where is the Penguins’ heart? Where’s the “mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it?”
The Penguins have been served enough slices of humble pie for a big to-go box, but instead of angrily discarding it, they’ve eaten it with an odd detachment. There is something wrong with the team. It’s deeply embedded, and it needs to be rooted out immediately. The Penguins are at least five points out of a playoff spot, and with games in hand, the New Jersey Devils and Washington Capitals could both increase that distance.
At 13-13-3, there’s little to like. The goaltending has been great, though both Tristan Jarry and Alex Nedeljkovic got beat up a little bit on Saturday. Crosby is Hart Trophy-worthy.
It’s not good enough. Call the intangibles what you will: fire, hunger, emotional engagement. It’s not there. Stat sheets don’t count, and Dubas is correct–no one cares if they have good advanced metrics if they don’t win.
For the record, the Penguins inexplicably had great analytics on Saturday. By the naturalstattrick.com count, the Penguins should have been in a close game.
New players are calling out the room. That’s not a good sign. Dubas said he wanted to see where the team was at the All-Star break, but perhaps he needs to shorten his runway on that decision.