CRANBERRY — A couple of the questions put to Mike Sullivan after the Pittsburgh Penguins’ practice Wednesday were simple and direct.
So were his answers.
Q: Were you expecting a better response in Arizona after the way the Vegas game ended?
Q: Any idea why you didn’t get it?
Sullivan didn’t elaborate on either response, although the terse tone in which both were delivered probably said as much as any additional words could have.
Four days after the Penguins allowed a 2-0 lead to morph into a 3-2 loss during the third period in Las Vegas and two after the sequel was a thoroughly blasé performance in a 5-2 defeat at Arizona, the sting of their two-game stumble through the West didn’t seem to have eased much.
Not that it should have, considering that the Penguins had prepped for the trip with an impressive 3-0 victory over Seattle, and looked to be building on that for the first 40 minutes against the Golden Knights.
“It hurts, especially that Vegas game,” winger Drew O’Connor said. “It’s tough to come out of it without at least a point.”
That seemed to be the prevailing sentiment in the locker room Wednesday, probably because the Penguins did almost nothing against the Coyotes to earn anything more than a severe beating. For many of them, their focus and intensity level barely seemed to flicker above a flatline.
“We didn’t like how we played and we’re capable of better,” Sullivan said. “We’ve got to make sure we bring the right mindset to be better.”
Certainly, what happened against the Coyotes was far from the response many anticipated after the late-game flameout in Las Vegas.
“I always expect our best,” Kris Letang said Wednesday. “I’m not going to lie. I never go into a game expecting our worst, but that’s what happened. You think you want to bounce back from a tough third period in Vegas and grab two important points, but we didn’t show up.”
That’s a pretty scalding, albeit quite accurate, assessment of what transpired in Tempe.
Letang, though, was adamant that the Pittsburgh Penguins’ team-wide commitment to doing whatever is necessary to win is beyond reproach.
“We’re in this business to win,” he said. “I don’t see any guys in here who don’t show any interest or … everybody is pretty committed to win. They give their best every single night. Do we make mistakes? Yes. Do sometimes we have a lack of focus on the game plan? Yes? But (being) willing and winning, there’s not a guy in here who’s not on board for that. That’s for sure.”
Because they returned from the road trip with nothing except dirty laundry and, presumably, a few misgivings, the Penguins are five points out of the final wild-card berth in the Eastern Conference playoff field.
That gap might well grow before the Penguins face Florida Friday at 7:08 p.m. at PPG Paints Arena, although they have anywhere from one to four games-in-hand on the 11 teams ahead of them in the East. Of course, those only matter if the Pittsburgh Penguins are able to squeeze some points out of them.
And given the number of teams ahead of them in the standings, it’s imperative that the Penguins don’t wait much longer to lift their game well above where it has been for the past four periods.
“We know, when we play the right way, how good of a team we can be,” O’Connor said. “We just have to make sure we bring that every night.”
If they don’t, the questions will only become more numerous and difficult. And they will require more than monosyllabic answers.