The Pittsburgh Penguins have lost two games in a row and ceded 15 goals in the process. The Boston Bruins exploited the Penguins scrambled eggs play for seven goals on Saturday, and the New York Rangers finished the Penguins omelet with eight goals on Tuesday night.
The Penguins began chasing the game on Saturday in the second period. As of writing, they haven’t yet caught it. After five pure, structural hockey games in which a depleted lineup boat raced past good teams like the New York Islanders, the Penguins structure is suddenly Globetrotter hockey without the talent. Or the Washington Generals as the opponent.
“I think it requires a lot more intensity. I think it requires a lot more detail,” Jared McCann said. “Our line’s been giving up a lot of chances, and it’s unacceptable. We need to be better. We’re hanging our goalies out to dry right now. And we just need to be better at playing simple.”
The Penguins had 45 shots on Tuesday. They allowed just 25. That’s good, right? Well, not when the other team is shooting at your goalie from point-blank range.
“It’s very difficult to assess the goalies when the play in front of them wasn’t where it needs to be in order for us to have success,” Sullivan said kindly.
Sports teams too often adhere to Newton’s third law of motion: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The Pittsburgh Penguins played with energy, intensity, and rigid structure for five-plus games.
But they played a little over their heads, too. Frederick Gaudreau was a good fourth-line center, but it is asking a lot for him with Sam Lafferty and Zach Aston-Reese to comprise a successful third line.
“We just haven’t played with the same sense of purpose, and as a result, the types of chances that we’re giving up are extremely high,” Sullivan said. “And it’s hard to win games consistently when you give up the quality chances that we’ve given up in the last two games.“
Tuesday, the Penguins’ fourth line was Radim Zohorna, Mark Jankowski, and Colton Sceviour. The line wasn’t scored on but didn’t do much of the typical fourth-line duties, either. They were on the ice for two goals, including Mike Matheson’s rush and wrister and Brian Dumoulin’s late-game stats padder.
Even Sidney Crosby’s line stumbled in the first period against the Rangers. As the de facto second-line center, Jared McCann owned up to it, too.
“We’re getting a little bit too ahead of ourselves offensively. Sometimes we’re cheating for offense,” said McCann. “You can’t play that way, especially against a fast team like (New York) that has a good transition game. We’re going to learn from it. We’re not going to whine about it.”
It looked as if Teddy Blueger might return on Tuesday to provide some middle depth, but Blueger was unavailable. The Penguins’ bottom-six did little to clamp down or turn the game.
And that has been a big change over the last couple of games, too. The grinders haven’t been grinding, either. The collapse has been complete, too. Not just a couple of lines or few players, but nearly the entire team. Brian Dumoulin, who is normally the Penguins rock, had a few rotten shifts in the first period and on Saturday, too. John Marino has been better, too.
Marino left the game in the third period, but Sullivan did not have an update on his young defenseman after the game.
“I think we’ve got to do a better job. Like we’ve been talking about–defending the net front and the high-scoring areas,” Marcus Pettersson said. “I think teams have gotten way too many chances from those spots, and in this league, there are too good players [sic] to give up that many chances from there. So I think we got to get together as a group and see what we can do better and get more pressure on the puck.”
The Pittsburgh Penguins still have a nine-point lead over New York for a playoff spot in the East Division, and New York has only one game in hand. But the room did not take the loss easily.
“These are hard ones. Because they sting. Because we’ve got a proud group, and this team has had a lot of success,” Sullivan said. “We’ve had a lot of success this year. So we just have to find a way to get back to some of the details that are necessary to give ourselves the best chance to win.”