CALGARY, Alberta — The Edmonton Oilers fed the Pittsburgh Penguins a heaping slice of humble pie. Before reporters got to the locker room, it was essentially cleared out. After fun wins, the boys hang out and talk. After a 6-3 thrashing like that, with a plane to board, the players didn’t stick around.
The game felt like the Penguins were exposed.
That’s not what happened, but you’re forgiven if you were a little jarred by Edmonton breezing past Penguins defensemen, turnovers like the pre-Mike Sullivan globetrotter-hockey days, and seemingly better players on the other side.
The first big loss of the season can feel like a polar plunge.
With some irony, the Penguins’ polar plunge happened in Edmonton. With the statue of Wayne Gretzky standing guard outside, the two best players of the last 25 years, Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid faced off.
And the Penguins face-planted.
Excluding trades, some Penguins’ issues are fixable and while others are perhaps not fixable.
Ignore, for Now: Turnovers
“One of the easiest ways to beat yourself is to mismanage the puck and give teams easy looks. We’re just not diligent with the puck right now,” said coach Mike Sullivan.
There was no sugarcoating it. The Penguins committed 10 turnovers, but scorers credited Edmonton with an additional 20 takeaways.
The Penguins “loose” play is an early season calibration. They are scoring goals, they’re playing October hockey. They just played way, way …. way too loose on Monday.
Ignore: Jeff Petry Positioning
It’s still the adjustment phase for the Penguins’ second-pair righty. Jeff Petry will settle down. He will be in better position with fewer mistakes.
Petry has been taking far too many minor penalties as quick forwards zip past. He may have injured the game’s best player on Monday night when he clipped McDavid from behind on an Edmonton two-on-one. McDavid crashed into the net, his back hit the post before he slammed into the end wall.
Petry took three minors against Montreal last week and was caught behind multiple times on Monday.
Better positioning and settling into the new team should cure the issue. He’s a pro, and there’s a reason we cautioned not to judge him until December.
Worry? Defense Difficulty with Speed
Brian Dumoulin was walked several times; Edmonton forwards jetted past.
Edmonton began to attack the Penguins’ top-pairing defenseman, too. They went right at him. And right past him. If there’s a long-term effect or concern about the Monday loss, it’s Dumoulin.
Can he adjust? Will other teams be able to skate by?
Petry’s struggles compounded Dumoulin’s, and the Penguins didn’t stop the onslaught in the second period.
Ignore, but Watch: Absent Fourth Line
Sullivan doesn’t have the same trust in Ryan Poehling that he has in Teddy Blueger. The Penguins’ fourth line has scantly reached double-digit minutes of ice time, despite some big Penguins wins.
When things went sideways on Monday night, the Penguins desperately needed a spark. That can come from an energy line that takes the puck back or a grind line that chips the puck deep into the offensive zone and delivers a few hits in the corner.
The Penguins needed a little scrappiness. A little jam. A little … something.
However, when Blueger returns in November, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ salary cap crunch will also return.
Caggiula-Poehling-Archibald should be a gritty, fast line. There’s not much size on the wings, but they should be able to provide a spark. Whether they have to earn more trust or Sullivan has to give them more trust is a chicken-and-egg debate.
Ignore, but Relevant? Bad Starts
The Penguins had a few bad starts but won with six goals. They had a good start against Edmonton and lost, giving up six goals.
Every team says they want to play a full 60-minute game, but how often does a team really play well for 60 minutes?
“We’ve just got to put a full game together. You know, we think we can still do a better job of that,” Crosby said. “We had a better start (Monday), but then we didn’t follow it up. So we’ve got to play a full game together, focus on that, and the result just takes care of itself.”
The Pittsburgh Penguins will be just fine in this regard. They will limit the lows and ride the highs as they jell. However, it is something to watch because it means the veteran team isn’t “up” for the start of the game. They need to find the energy and enthusiasm to be ready at the puck drop and not drift off in the second period.