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Penguins Six-Pack: Losing Mind Games; Cool Moment for Ludvig



Sidney Crosby Niko Mikkola

There are times when the Pittsburgh Penguins seem fragile, like a team that fully expects something bad to happen.

Perhaps because it so often does.

Witness their 5-2 loss to Florida Wednesday night at PPG Paints Arena, when the Penguins appeared to take a 1-0 lead on a power-play goal by Rickard Rakell at 2:32 of the second period, only to have it disallowed when a video review determined that Lars Eller had touched the puck with a high stick when Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky was attempting to catch it over his head.

Just six seconds after the penalty that gave the Penguins that man-advantage expired, Penguins alum Evan Rodrigues — fresh off a two-minute stay in the penalty box — set up Matthew Tkachuk on a 2-on-1 break to give Florida a 1-0 lead.

Just that quickly, the Penguins went from believing they were up by a goal to actually being down by one.

“We had the goal disallowed, and then they got one right after that,” defenseman John Ludvig said. “They had momentum there, and we didn’t do a good enough job of stopping that momentum. It kind of snowballed on us.”

And so it was that, a little more than 10 minutes later, they were trailing by four.

That’s the kind of misfortune the Penguins have endured frequently this season, which would seem to reflect some shortcomings in the tensile strength of their collective mentality.

“We definitely need to figure something out here,” Ludvig said. “Because whether it’s mindset or how we’re playing, we need to fix those parts of our game.”

1. At a loss

Although Mike Sullivan doesn’t make a habit of being brutally candid when discussing his team’s performance — not in public, at least — he generally has a good grasp of what happened during a game, and why it did.

Not this time.

“This one’s a tough one for me to assess, coming off the bench,” he said. “Usually, I’ve got a pretty good feel for how the game was played. I just think … it wasn’t like we were under siege or anything.”

He did note, however, that the Penguins failed to capitalize on three power plays while the game was 0-0 — “I thought the power play had some opportunities to get us going early in the game, and we didn’t execute,” he said. — and that “we gave up some untimely goals.”

2. Hey, that’s a plus

Sure, the Pittsburgh Penguins failed to score on any of their four power plays, but there’s nothing new about that.

Fact is, criticizing the power play became rather tedious quite a while ago.

Yes, it’s been that bad, for that long.

In light of that, it’s time to search for something positive, and here it is: Even though the Penguins gave up a power-play goal to the Panthers, they didn’t let Sam Reinhart score it.

That’s a win for them, because it means they (as a team) still hold a 23-22 lead over Reinhart in power-play goals this season.

So there.

3. Tainted memory

Scoring his first NHL goal is a lifelong memory for most guys. Especially the ones who do it against the team that drafted them into the league.

Ludvig did just that against the Panthers, although he didn’t see getting the second goal in a 5-2 defeat as a cause for major celebration.

“It’s cool,” he said. “It’s a nice feeling. But that’s not really on my mind.”

4. Forward thinking

With three injured forwards — and that was before Jake Guentzel left the game in the third period because of an unspecified upper-body injury — and barely enough salary-cap space to cover a team meal at a fast-food restaurant, the Penguins dressed 11 forwards and seven defensemen against Florida.

If Guentzel isn’t able to dress when the Penguins visit Chicago Thursday evening — Sullivan gave no indication about his status for that game — it’s conceivable that the Penguins will be down to 10 forwards, since they don’t have the cap space to handle a recall from their farm team in Wilkes-Barre unless they put someone on the Long-Term Injured list.

That’s far from ideal, especially given that they need to take two points from the Blackhawks to try to keep their flickering — and that’s being charitable — playoff hopes alive.

5. Not standing still

The calls from outside the organization for changes in everything from personnel to tactics get a little louder with every defeat.

Losing three consecutive games in regulation for just the second time this season isn’t going to lower the volume on any of that.

Sullivan, though, said the Pittsburgh Penguins haven’t been stagnant when they’ve sputtered this season, even if it’s gone largely unnoticed.

“We’ve made lots of changes,” he said. “You guys don’t see them. We’ve made lots of changes, in lots of different areas of our game, to try to gain some traction in different aspects.”

Their 23-20-7 record is pretty compelling evidence that not many of those have yielded the desired results.

6. Could Carter Go?

Jeff Carter was guilty of a turnover that triggered the sequence ending in Florida’s fourth goal, but had another generally solid game, including winning nine of 13 faceoffs.

He is far past the time in his career when he was a difference-maker, and is generally expected to retire after his contract expires at the end of this season.

His deal includes a no-movement clause, but it’s conceivable that he could be interested in joining a contender and making a run at one more championship.

Carter likely wouldn’t be more than a depth guy, someone to kill penalties and handle draws, but he has rebounded from some awful early-season struggles and his experience could be an asset for a good team.

Carter has never said anything publicly to suggest that he’d like such an opportunity and if he agreed to accept a deal, the return would be quite modest — it’s hard to imagine him netting more than a seventh-round draft choice — but it’s possible the Pittsburgh Penguins would agree to such a trade, simply as a favor to him for services rendered.