The Pittsburgh Penguins are 2-4-0. They’ve lost three in a row and are about to face one of the best teams in the NHL on Thursday. The situation is not rosy, but the feeling inside the Penguins locker room alternated from optimistic to defiant and bluntly self-critical. Unlike last Saturday, when coach Mike Sullivan publicly scolded his team after losing 4-2 to St. Louis, Sullivan struck a softer tone Tuesday after his team lost 4-1 to the Dallas Stars at PPG Paints Arena.
Dallas is the best team the Penguins have faced in six games this season. The Western Conference runners-up are a complete team with physicality and goaltending.
Captain Sidney Crosby directly challenged the notion the Penguins didn’t play well enough to win, believing they had enough scoring chances.
However, center Lars Eller delivered an honest assessment of the game but also spoke with determination to take the loss as a challenge. It was Eller’s admission that should resonate, “We have holes we need to shore up, and we’re all aware.”
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Crosby stopped one reporter with a defensive question of his own. “You didn’t think we generated chances in the first and second,” he asked.
The Penguins had 14 scoring chances in the first period but only 16 chances for the rest of the game. According to NaturalStattrick.com, the Penguins had eight high-danger scoring chances in the first period but only five the rest of the game.
“We let them hang around. (We) couldn’t build on our lead,” said Crosby. “They hung around and were opportunistic. I think what the start we had, with the chances we had. Obviously, it would have been nice to have a bit of a cushion.”
*From Dave Molinari
The Penguins didn’t play as badly against Dallas as they had during their previous game, a 4-2 defeat in St. Louis Satunightmight.
Mostly because they aren’t likely to reach the depths they did against the Blues very often over the course of the season.
“We were better,” said Bryan Rust, who scored their only goal. “Because we certainly were horrible the other night. We were better, but we weren’t good enough.”
The power play definitely looked better, although it was no more productive than it had been for most of the season.
It went 0-for-4 against the Stars — the fifth time it has failed to score in the Penguins’ first six games — to fall to 2-fot-16 on the season.
That means it’s scoring at about half the rate many expected it to.
“We just have to simplify a little bit,” Rust said. “Shoot more pucks, try to get some ugly goals. There have been a lot of good passing plays without any results. When things don’t go your way, you have to simplify.”
This one is probably the must-watch. As we noted in the Penguins report card, Eller flashed forthright leadership with blunt comments in the locker room. While Sullivan and Crosby noted the chances and stuck to their guns that the Penguins could have achieved a different result, Eller acknowledged the team played well for a period or two, but they have holes to fix.
If Eller keeps being this honest, he might become a media darling. The third-line center had three shots and won eight of 12 faceoffs. For the second straight game, Eller’s line had a lopsided advantage in shots and scoring chances, but that’s of little consolation after a third-straight loss.
“(We had) a little bit of break breakdowns defensively without the puck, like just little breakdowns where we miss assignments, and it gives them great chances,” said Eller. “Maybe (missed assignments) didn’t cost us today, but they got the great chances, and other times it was just a fight in front of the net, and we were on the wrong side too many times today.”