Without humming a few bars of Amazing Grace, the Pittsburgh Penguins are indeed lost. They’ve lost eight of their last 10 games at the time of year when their chief competition is ramping up for a playoff run or jelling to grab points in a final push to make the playoffs. It wasn’t long ago the Penguins were in first place in the Metro Division and waiting to get healthy.
Now they are healthy(ish), have more depth…and have flatlined.
“There have to be five guys working cohesively out there, working together in all three zones, both with the puck and without the puck,” head coach Mike Sullivan said on Sunday. “And it boils down to details. We practice these things every day. We watch the film. We try to get better at it. We try to learn from all the experiences. But at the end of the day, that’s what it boils down to. We’ve got to help one another. I think we’ve got to do it a little bit better job with our collective effort.“
It isn’t only fans who have cringed at watching recent Penguins games. Coaches. Players. Pretty much anyone who has ever watched hockey has watched the Penguins befuddled breakdowns with a sense of surprise at how quickly it all went away.
They were slipping for weeks and found ways to win. But it was all gone in a flash. The Penguins lost six straight games, beginning with a pair of no-show efforts against Toronto and Buffalo. The Penguins managed to win a couple of games last week, including Matt Murray stealing two points from the Buffalo Sabres but beat a couple of teams that were easily defeated.
Then the Penguins flunked their real tests against playoff-worthy divisional opponents; flunked them like the Delta House midterms (Animal House reference). Zero-point-zero points in two homes games last weekend.
Penguins defenseman Justin Schultz didn’t exude much confidence after the game on Sunday, even as he said, “We’ll be fine.”
The Penguins have a five-point lead over Carolina and the New York Islanders for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, but both teams have one game in hand on the Penguins, too. The gallop towards the postseason with a chance to be special has now become a crawl.
“I think we can be tighter on pucks. Better support and can make it more simple,” Penguins winger Jason Zucker said. “(We need to) start shooting pucks from bad angles and bad areas, and start getting dirty goals.”
Most agree on simplifying the game, yet the Penguins have wandered for weeks, saying the same without actually doing it. Fans who are getting uptight and citing the same pattern of words and actions from last season have a valid point.
“We hit a slump, and we’re the only ones who can get out of it,” defenseman Marcus Pettersson said on Sunday. “There’s nobody else. It’s us in this room. We’ve got to push back here. Fight the challenge.”
Ordinarily, circling the bottom-feeding New Jersey Devils on the calendar would mean a good chance for a win. However, the Penguins are 2-4-0 in their last six games against non-playoff teams. Of course, they haven’t been so hot against playoff teams, either.
If the Pittsburgh Penguins heed the message, they will simplify their game. Perhaps they will simplify too much so, but at this juncture, that would be just fine. The Penguins need to do anything, and everything, to find themselves.
They won’t find themselves by asking their goalies to steal points or watching Evgeni Malkin or Sidney Crosby carry the burden. Players not drafted first or second overall becoming spectators has been the problem. One of the issues, at least.
“I think it’s a lot of things. I think its effort. Then I think it’s execution,” Zucker said. “Even if you have a good effort, it’s about making the play, too. You can play as hard as you want, but if you’re not making the right plays or executing on those plays, you’re not going to win games.”
PHN brokedown the Penguins lack of execution on Monday.
And the Pittsburgh Penguins haven’t won games. Sullivan has become fond of saying confidence can return as quickly as it left. New Jersey should be a soft opponent, which allows the Penguins to stem the growing angst and fret. The Penguins and their confidence are lost. Perhaps they can find both soon.