TAMPA, Fla — The Pittsburgh Penguins power play whiffed on 34 consecutive power plays in the last two games registering precious few shots while filling opponents with breakaways and 0dd-man rush chances.
Three straight lackluster losses in which the team has questioned its own energy and compete level culminated in another thud Wednesday night at the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Penguins 3-1 at Amalie Arena.
Don’t let the score fool you. The Penguins were never actually in the game.
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Kris Letang sat in his locker stall, crushed by the result and the state of the team. Eventually, he spoke with reporters for a few minutes, nodding agreement that his team was lifeless.
The Penguins are searching for answers but finding only more questions and more disappointment. The team has not been this despondent since the fall of 2018, when long winless streaks buttressed a short winning streak, and former GM Jim Rutherford made a shakeup trade by sending Carl Hagelin to the LA Kings for Tanner Pearson.
This is perhaps worse because that team was one year removed from being the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion. This team was set up as an All-Star team with one more shot at the big prize but is thus far shocked or confused as to why none of it is coming together.
The tension and crushing disappointment are palpable inside the Penguins locker room. This loss felt like a thundering gut punch just before a knockout.
Pittsburgh Penguins Locker Room
Nervous? The Penguins’ power play has become so shaky and unsure of itself that Malkin said the unit gets nervous.
“You see Tampa score (a power play goal) every game, and they feel confidence. When you lead the game you control the game, you feel so much better, you know,” Malkin said. “…You have like three, four, five power plays every night. You see when we try power play, we not feel good [sic]. We lose the at the blue line, (give up) two on ones, breakaways because we do not have confidence. We’re nervous, and that’s how it impacts us.”
The Penguins captain tried to hold to the positive. The Penguins were overpassing, especially during the first period. Coach Mike Sullivan chided his team for “looking for that next play” instead of shooting on Monday night after the Flyers loss. The team’s re-emerging bad habit roared on Wednesday as the team had only four shots on goal in the first period despite adequate puck possession in the offensive zone.
It was a rough night, even though Crosby earned an assist and Jake Guentzel scored — they did so in the final minute after the game was decided. Crosby didn’t think the Penguins were being too cute, but got put on their heels by a few Tampa Bay power plays.
The coach didn’t waste much time in the makeshift media room in the bowels of Amalie Arena. A couple of one-word answers said plenty.
Sullivan was seething, though his tone also conveyed softened dejection. It seems everything is going wrong, and none of the changes have helped. In fact, the power play is getting worse.
The Penguins’ confidence has hit rock bottom, even as the coach denied this was the most disappointing loss of the season. Perhaps the raw video is best viewed to get your own sense of the coach’s emotions.