It wasn’t a Sunday morning fire and brimstone sermon. When Pittsburgh Penguins star center Evgeni Malkin spoke on after the Penguins sixth straight loss on Saturday night, his tone was subdued.
The Penguins and Malkin are searching for answers. They’ve turned in a few clunkers over the past six games and been shutout by Toronto and San Jose. They have outplayed Washington and Los Angeles, and lost those games, too.
After the Penguins lost to Washington, which was their third straight loss, General Manager Jim Rutherford remarked, “If we keep playing like that, we’ll be fine.”
The Penguins haven’t been fine. Things are now spiraling. Captain Sidney Crosby spoke in soft tones with a level of bewilderment in his voice.
“There are always key times in the hockey game, whether on the power play or penalty kill, just big plays we have to come up with,” Crosby said. “That’s usually the difference between winning and losing, and we haven’t done enough of that.”
But it was Malkin who spoke in blunt terms about the Penguins problems. After 14 NHL seasons, Malkin doesn’t bother pulling his punches. When things are bad, or things need to change, Malkin doesn’t bother putting a spin on the information.
“We must try to understand. It’s not easy to win. It doesn’t matter who we play,” Malkin said, perhaps implying the Penguins have taken some teams for granted. “We look at each other. We don’t help each other. We just look at each other.”
“The forwards look at the D and wait for the puck. And the same for D who look to the forwards and wait for the puck. It’s not our game.”
Not only have the Pittsburgh Penguins lost six straight games, which is by far their biggest skid of the season, but the Penguins are also suddenly unable to score goals. They’ve been outscored 24-8 in the last six games.
Even without Sidney Crosby and others in the lineup, the Penguins managed to be one of the highest-scoring teams in the NHL. And it seems the hockey gods are course-correcting all at once. The Penguins clanged three posts on Saturday night, and Crosby missed an open net.
“We haven’t played great over the last seven games, but we have time. There are (18) games left,” Malkin continued. “It’s a good time to fix our problems.”
The Penguins lost all four on the road trip after they flatlined in a pair of ugly losses, one in Toronto (5-0), then at home against the Buffalo Sabres (5-2). Malkin expressed hope that a change in venue will help change their fortunes.
“When we get back home, we need to forget this road trip. Get back home, play in our building and try to score one or two goals by shooting the puck more and go to the net,” Malkin said. “We tried to play easy to make an extra pass, but we need to change a little bit.”
The Penguins were outshot by San Jose on Saturday night 32-30, despite San Jose coasting in the final 10 minutes with a large lead. In fact, it looked like the Penguins were coasting in the third period, too.
More than Crosby’s voice trailed off as he spoke. Sullivan’s did, too. The Pittsburgh Penguins season, which was recently full of promise, is now suddenly on the brink. They’re being chased by the New York Islanders, who trail the Penguins by only two points, for third place in the Metro. The Penguins margin of being in the playoffs and out is now just five points over the Carolina Hurricanes, who much improved their roster at the NHL trade deadline.
“We need to play simple. We need to help each other and block shots. Now, the playoffs start for us. Every game is going to be huge for us,” Malkin concluded.