Penguins Room: Leaders Realizing Playoffs Aren’t a Gimme
The Pittsburgh Penguins are the oldest team in the National Hockey League.
Perhaps that doesn’t fully explain their lackluster play for much of the season — in fact, it definitely doesn’t — but Kris Letang suggested after their 6-4 loss to San Jose Saturday night at PPG Paints Arena that fatigue has become at least a bit of a factor for them.
“The last few games, obviously, we’ve been to overtime or shootouts, and we’ve been in one-goal games, so we’re taxing certain guys in different situations,” he said.
How much of a role that has played in the defensive-zone lapses that have plagued the Penguins for much of the season can be debated, but Letang acknowledged that that is an area of the game the Penguins have to clean up if they hope to have any success in the playoffs.
Or even to qualify for them.
“You cannot win just by scoring goals,” he said. “You have to be able to defend and play a strong system.”
The Penguins will be no higher than fifth in the Metropolitan Division when their season resumes, so their grasp of a playoff berth — if they still have one then — will be by the tips of their fingernails.
“When you’re in that division, you’re watching every day,” Letang said. “One day you’re in the playoffs, and the other day you’re not.”
He was, however, one of several players to suggest that having time off because of their bye week and the NHL’s all-star break could help the Penguins gird for their remaining 33 regular-season games.
“Maybe the break is going to do us well,” Letang said. “Just clear your head, and try to finish strong.”
The Penguins have reached the Stanley Cup playoffs for 16 seasons in a row.
Whether that streak will reach 17 is far from certain at this point.
Evgeni Malkin, though, said that what the Penguins need to do is to start playing the kind of game that is required for success in the postseason.
Which they did not do for most of the evening against San Jose.
“We try to be better every game, but tonight was not a great night,” Malkin said. “We know we have mistakes in the (defensive) zone.”
Those have been an issue throughout the year, which is part of the reason the Penguins remain on the periphery of the Eastern Conference playoff field, which is not where they expected to be when the season began.
“We have great guys here,” Malkin said. “We want to play in the playoffs, for sure. We need to play hard every game.”
Especially if the Penguins intend to play a few games at PPG Paints Arena after the regular season ends in mid-April.
The Pittsburgh Penguins didn’t exactly hit their extended time off on a roll, even though they picked up at least one point in six of their final seven games (3-1-1).
Perhaps that’s part of the reason, goalie Casey DeSmith believes the break is coming at a good time for them.
“A little reset will be good for everybody,” he said.