CRANBERRY — The Pittsburgh Penguins will come out of the NHL’s all-star break in a pretty precarious spot.
They’ll enter their game against Winnipeg Tuesday at 7:08 p.m. at PPG Paints Arena with a 22-17-7 record that has them looking up at most of the Eastern Conference.
And while the Penguins are largely responsible for their predicament because of how they’ve under-performed frequently through the first 46 games, defenseman Erik Karlsson suggested that having ample room for improvement in their game is reason to believe that they’ll be able to salvage the season.
“I don’t think we’ve reached up to the level of play we want,” he said after practice Monday. “We have a lot more in here. We know that. We’re striving toward that. If we do get there — which I think and hope we will — we’re going to come into the time of the season at the right time and with the right mindset.
“We’re still going toward our final goal. It’s exciting times coming up. After the all-star break, it gets down a little more to do-or-die.”
Sullivan hits milestone
The Penguins’ game against the Jets will be Mike Sullivan’s 800th as a head coach in the NHL.
“Those of us that are part of the coaching fraternity, I think we … you have to really love what you do, because the challenges are vast,” Sullivan said. “And, usually, we’re on the front lines when things don’t go the right way. That’s what we sign up for, and that’s part of what we do.”
He added that, “the evolution of a coach is a fascinating experience” and that, “I think we all get better with the experiences that we go through.”
Sullivan’s immediate challenge is to help the Pittsburgh Penguins get back into the Stanley Cup playoffs, which they missed in 2023 for the first time since 2006. That will involve coaxing a more consistent performance out of his players.
“We have shown moments where we’ve played pretty good hockey,” Sullivan said. “The results are there — and evidence is there — to suggest that when we play the game a certain way and when we’re committed to playing the game a certain way and we’re willing to play the game a certain way, I think this team can compete. We can compete with any team in the league.”
Sullivan’s career record is 429-260-95, with 15 ties. The ties came in 2003-04, the first of his two seasons in charge of the Boston Bruins.
The Penguins used these forward lines, defense pairings and power-play groups during Monday’s practice:
Jake Guentzel-Sidney Crosby-Bryan Rust
Reilly Smith-Evgeni Malkin-Drew O’Connor
Rickard Rakell-Lars Eller-Jesse Puljujarvi
Jansen Harkins-Noel Acciari-Jeff Carter
Marcus Pettersson-Kris Letang
Ryan Graves-Erik Karlsson
P.O Joseph-Chad Ruhwedel
(John Ludvig-Colin White)
No. 1 power play: Crosby, Letang, Guentzel, Rust, Smith
No. 2 power play: Karlsson, Malkin, Carter, Rakell, Eller
The only personnel change from Sunday’s workout was that Joseph replaced Ludvig on the No. 3 defense pairing.
Right winger Raivis Ansons, who has not played since sustaining an unspecified injury during a game last March 17, when he was with the Penguins’ farm team in Wilkes-Barre, went through a lengthy on-ice workout before the Penguins’ team session.
He did not participate in the full-squad workout, but having him spend time here while recovering appears to reflect a change in philosophy for the Pittsburgh Penguins, when dealing with injured prospects. They did likewise with Sam Poulin earlier this season.
“Obviously, when these guys come up and have an opportunity to get looked at by our medical staff here in Pittsburgh … I think it’s an opportunity also to continue to help them with the rehab process,” Sullivan said.
Ansons was a fifth-round draft choice in 2020.