PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins are in their worst stretch of hockey in years, certainly the worst stretch in Mike Sullivan’s tenure which began in 2015. The Penguins (1-7-2) have earned only three points in their last 10 games and fallen to the bottom of the Eastern Conference. Wednesday against the Dallas Stars, the Penguins will get a much-needed boost as their captain, Sidney Crosby, will return to the lineup after a three-game absence.
Despite being one of the best players on the planet, Crosby’s biggest contribution may be mental.
“Guys get frustrated. I think it’s a matter of getting through that,” said Crosby who then repeated a recently oft-used rallying point. “Obviously, we did a lot of good things last game.”
The Penguins did many good things against Buffalo, Monday night. However, those good things were primarily performed in the first 30 minutes of the game.
The Penguins played a simple game against Buffalo until they didn’t. When they played simple, they sprinted to a 4-1 lead; when they abandoned that type of game, they yielded four straight goals. Why have the Penguins struggled to embrace the simple yet successful game?
“Sometimes you make mistakes, they’re little ones and guys find a way to bail each other out,” Crosby said. “In this case, in the last week or so, we’ve given up some big chances and ones that are hard to recover from.”
Indeed the Penguins have struggled with various mistakes; abandoning the simple game, turnovers, bad penalties, frustration, weak power play, bad penalty killing, passing up scoring chances for an extra pass, and additional mistakes so profound and disgusting that decorum prohibits listing them here (Animal House quote).
“They haven’t always been the same (mistake), and if they were, I think we would have solved it,” conceded Crosby who declined to say the mistakes were a lack of effort but said the errors were the opposite. “(Players) are trying to do too much or maybe getting a little risky when we shouldn’t.”
Crosby generously omitted some of the no-show losses to the New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders when he painted the Penguins situation as a little rosier than it is otherwise, “When you look at the stretch of games, maybe besides the Toronto game at home, I think for the most part we’ve been right there and created a lot of good chances.”
The Penguins’ only win in the 10-game stretch was against a Western Conference foe, the Arizona Coyotes. The Penguins traditionally play well against the Western Conference teams and may find a welcoming opponent Wednesday against the Dallas Stars.
Dallas also has a prolific top line and is a skating team but not terribly deep. Eventually, the Penguins will put it all together. However, if they don’t do so soon, the distance between them and the rest of the Eastern Conference will keep growing.