Finally, some self-criticism and a bit of anger from the Pittsburgh Penguins after a loss, this one a 6-3 defeat Saturday against the Washington Capitals with important standings points at stake.
Not since a 5-1 no-show loss to the Rangers on March 25 had the Penguins seemed really very riled up after a loss – and there have now been four of those in row.
The Penguins players who spoke, as well as coach Mike Sullivan, after Saturday’s game didn’t offer words quite as biting as that earlier Rangers loss, but they got their message across.
“Tonight, for me, was a different story than some of the other games,” Sullivan said. “Tonight we just weren’t good enough. We didn’t play well enough. We didn’t execute. We were careless with the puck. And so tonight we beat ourselves in a lot of ways.
“Give Washington credit. They played hard. They were opportunistic on their chances. But tonight we didn’t play well enough. We beat ourselves in a lot of ways.”
And in case Sullivan wasn’t clear, this was winger Brian Boyle: “We weren’t good enough to win. We played well for two periods, and then we weren’t good enough to win.
“That’s just not OK this time of year. The schedule that we have, that we’re playing, it should be a good test. We need to do the right thing (Sunday).”
The Penguins play a second straight afternoon home game Sunday with Nashville, hungry to climb back into the playoff picture, visiting.
That comes after a stretch against several strong opponents – the Rangers three times, Colorado twice, Minnesota and Washington.
The mounting losses and the win by the Capitals puts the Penguins in somewhat of a precarious position in third place in the Metropolitan Division. Washington, sitting in a wildcard spot with two games in hand on the Penguins, climbed to within four points of the Penguins.
The Penguins were tied 3-3 against Washington going into the third period.
“You could kind of see it tonight,” defenseman John Marino, who returned after missing a game because of a non-COVID-19 illness, said of what’s been tripping up the Penguins.
“We played really well the first two periods. We kind of let it slip away in the third. We played a little loose and the puck’s in the back of the net. At some point you’ve got to play a full 60-minute game.”
Boyle drove home the point that “style points” don’t mean anything compared with actual points at this time of year and moving forward.
“Come playoff time, I don’t care how we play; we’ve got to get wins,” Boyle said. “All that matters is winning.”
And to get back to the point where wins are happening again?
“I think you’ve got to be honest with yourself as a player, honest with your teammates and get back to the fundamental way your team’s built, what gives you success,” Boyle said.
“I think we need to focus on details. We need to start by defending. That’s all over the ice. If you don’t have the puck, you’re defending it. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the other team’s end or the neutral zone or our end.
“Those are the things that help you get out of (funks) like this. You really have to be disciplined in that, and communication on the ice as well. Adversity, you see which way you’re going to go with it, but a lot of times … every team I’ve been on has hit a rough patch during the season. You learn a lot from it. You learn a lot about yourself and your team.”
Boyle is the Penguins’ elder statesman at 37 and perhaps a voice of experience and reason. One of at least a few of those.
“We know what we have to do, and we have the leadership in the room to right the ship,” Marino said. “There’s enough older guys that know what it takes to win at this level. They’ve done it before. … We’re still pretty confident.”
That word, confident, has been thrown around quite a bit lately by the Penguins. Saturday, Marino was the only one who used it.