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Crosby: Penguins Must Work ‘Little Bit Harder, Little Bit Smarter’



Sidney Crosby

There are quite a few reasons to believe that the Pittsburgh Penguins are going to sit out the Stanley Cup playoffs this spring.

And, unfortunately for the Penguins, some of them are pretty compelling.

A sampling:

They have lost four of their past five games, and have won as many as two in a row only twice since mid-December.

They haven’t beaten a Metropolitan Division opponent in more than two months, going 0-6-3 against them during that time.

And lately, they’ve found third-period leads tougher to hold onto than if they’d been marinated in motor oil.

So it might seem reasonable to expect the Penguins to be rather subdued, perhaps bordering on despondent, as they prepare to face Edmonton Thursday at 7:08 p.m. at PPG Paints Arena.

It also would be wrong.

It’s not that they don’t recognize the gravity of their situation; the Penguins know they’re in a large cluster of teams competing for the Eastern Conference’s two wild-card playoff spots, and that they don’t currently possess either of them.

They do, however, seem confident that they can exorcise the late-game mistakes that have cost them so many points of late.

“It’s just a matter of working a little bit harder,” Sidney Crosby said after practice at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex Wednesday. “A little bit smarter.”

The Pittsburgh Penguins have lost a league-high eight games when leading at the second intermission — four in regulation and four in overtime or a shootout — including two to the New York Islanders during the past week.

“I’m not sure if … in the third, we get a little tense, or what it is,” Bryan Rust said. “We just have to be confident when we have the lead.”

Discouraging as it must be to have third-period leads frequently mutate into losses, assessments offered by players and Mike Sullivan infer that they believe they can breach the thin line that often separates victory from defeat.

“We feel like we’ve carried the play for significant periods of time, even in the third periods,” Sullivan said. “It’s not like we’re under siege. I think — and this is a conversation we’ve had with the players — that it’s just critical moments, or breakdowns at the wrong times, and they’ve ended up in the back of our net, most recently.

“I would (characterize) that as ‘game management,’ and that’s the area where I think we can improve. … I think that’s an important part of learning how to win — managing the game at particular moments that have a tendency to swing the outcomes.”

Those have consistently swung toward the Penguins’ opponents lately, but other than the outcome, there is no common thread running through most of their recent losses. Rather, those defeats have been a rich tapestry of, at various times, squandered chances, poor decisions, sloppy execution and unforced errors.

“I don’t think it’s any one thing,” Rust said. “There always seems to be a play or two or a miscue that finds a way to get to the back of our net. We have opportunities to score that we don’t (capitalize on) to extend the lead to two or three goals.”

The Pittsburgh Penguins scored first in each of their past three losses, but failed to turn any of their good starts into a single point in the standings.

“Of course, it’s frustrating,” Kris Letang said. “You’re coming out of the gate pretty well, you’re playing well. You have the lead, and you don’t come out with two points against an opponent that’s trying to climb in the standings. It’s tough, but we’ll find a way.”

And they seem to feel they are closer to doing that than their record of late might indicate.

“We can take some positives out of the last couple of games,” Guentzel said. “We just have to make sure we don’t get too down. We realize we’re still in an OK spot.”

Just not a playoff one, at least for now.