TORONTO — Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan promised if changes are coming to his team, he wouldn’t tell the media. But Evgeni Malkin admitted he’s not ready for the season to end. The Penguins practice day media availability from the bubble was full of soundbytes you’ve heard for a couple of years, but a few honest nuggets, too.
The Penguins are facing elimination before they technically make the 2020 NHL Playoffs (the Qualifying Round is a gray area). The expressions of confidence you have heard before.
“It could be the last game for us. We don’t want that,” Malkin said. “We rested for months beforehand. We want to play more. We’re a great team and a great organization. We don’t want to finish (Friday) for sure.”
Malkin earned his first point in the series with a wicked power-play assist in the first period of Game 3. Malkin faked a shot from the right-wing circle and snapped a pass through the slot to Patric Hornqvist.
“We need to play right. We led 3-1, and we stopped playing. It’s not right,” Malkin said. “(In Game 4), we need to change everything. We need to play all 60 minutes.”
The head coach laid down the law about any changes to his lineup pretty quickly.
“If I were to make any personnel changes, I probably wouldn’t share them with you guys,” said Sullivan. “Any time you make changes, there’s an element of risk associated with it. One could argue that there’s an element of risk associated with not making changes, too.”
He also repeated the hard to play against mantra, but PHN also asked him about his satisfaction with the urgency of the Pittsburgh Penguins or their desperation.
“As a coaching staff, we try to make an honest assessment of where we’re at. In Games 1 and 2, there was a lot to like about our overall team game,” Sullivan said. “We were critical of our power play early on. I thought we did a better job in Game 3, but having said that, at 5v5, we didn’t execute as well or defend as well when we didn’t have the puck.
And there is a level of urgency associated with that. Right now we have to find the urgency in our game to be at our best … and there’s no reason for us not to have it at this point.”
Hornqvist is another of the Pittsburgh Penguins who doesn’t pull punches on or off the ice. Montreal has not been gifted a series lead, they have also earned it.
“When we play our best hockey in this series, we’ve been really good. That’s when we play fast, we play relentless and hard on pucks, and we create scoring chances that way,” Hornqvist said. “We have to give a lot of credit to Montreal, too. They’re a hard team to play against. They’re always in our face.”
Montreal’s forecheck often stymied the Penguins breakout and forced the Penguins to rely on aerial chips and chase to escape the zone. Until Game 3, the Penguins were able to maintain possession in the offensive zone, but they weren’t able to generate speed and pressure on goalie Carey Price, who has been spectacular.
For what its worth, the Penguins presented a unified message of being harder to play against and, in fact, playing harder.
“When we play together and as a group, and play hard in our defensive zone, we’ll spend less time (in the defensive zone),” Marcus Pettersson said. “That’s when we’re at our best.”