Penguins Room Deflated; Sullivan Concedes Power Play Stagnant
NEWARK, N.J. — Bryan Rust said there was no danger there would be a carryover. Coach Mike Sullivan said the Penguins did not have the luxury of worrying about the effects after they were utterly humbled in a 5-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils Tuesday at Prudential Center.
The Penguins’ game never got on track.
The body language on the Penguins’ bench in the game mirrored the locker room. There was no anger or pushback. It was sullen.
On the bench during the game, heads hung low. The players appeared to be still.
In the locker room, the voices were soft. Players spoke, but their voices were muted, burdened by the acceptance of being soundly beaten in the biggest game of the year and suddenly losing control of what comes next.
The Pittsburgh Penguins, with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang, have never been in this position. And they find themselves there by their own actions … or lack of actions.
The Florida Panthers beat the Buffalo Sabres, 2-1, Tuesday. The resulting points flip might be the last, as Florida now controls the situation. The Penguins trail Florida by one point and would lose the tiebreaker. The Penguins also trail the New York Islanders by one point for the first wild card.
With so much at stake Tuesday, the Penguins never displayed the energy or desperation of a team fighting for the playoffs. Instead, they looked beaten as New Jersey outskated and suffocated them by winning every loose puck.
The Penguins are again out of the playoff seedings, and there are only four games to go this time.
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“We have to park this one,” Bryan Rust said, with his arms crossed.
There were a few Penguins who posted solid statistics or showed urgency Tuesday. Rust was one of them. He had a goal, three shots, and three more attempts. That was Rust’s fourth goal in the past three games.
Rust was the most defiant after the game. He wore the lesson learned, but did not seem entirely dispirited.
Penguins defenseman Kris Letang celebrated his 1,000th game Sunday. There was little cause for celebration Tuesday. Letang and defense partner Brian Dumoulin were a minus-3.
Letang was on the wrong end of several two-on-ones, and atop the Penguins’ wholly ineffective power play. The Penguins could have improved their prospects on any of the three power plays in the first 30 minutes. However, they managed a meager four shots.
Letang’s voice was barely audible inside the Penguins’ locker room.
“We didn’t push enough to change the momentum,” Letang said.
Coach Mike Sullivan frequently conducts brief postgame chats after terrible losses. Tuesday, he spoke more openly of getting over this loss and being ready for the next game. He also acknowledged the power play failures.
He rejected that the PP1 lacked urgency, but conceded its members are flat-footed and not generating chances or energy.
“When we’re not at our best, we tend to be stagnant, robotic. It’s not from a lack of care or anything of that nature,” Sullivan said. “Sometimes, to the fan, it may appear that way, but I can assure you that’s not the case.”