You Can Add Misplaced Anger to the List of Penguins Problems
Mike Sullivan’s team needs to be much more focused on controlling what it can control — and not redirecting frustration at issues such as officiating.
Mike Sullivan was livid with the black and white stripes the other night in Ottawa.
He should have been seething about the performance of his team.
He should’ve been mad about Jason Zucker taking a penalty 45 seconds into the game — a game the Pens knew had a chance to get away from them if they allowed it to be determined by special teams. About Jeff Carter taking a double-minor 33 seconds after the Penguins had taken a 1-0 lead. About Bryan Rust compounding a hooking call by earning an extra two minutes in the box for unsportsmanlike conduct. About how passive the Pens had been at killing penalties; how ineffective the net-front defense was, again; how many quality scoring chances the Pens hemorrhaged while short-handed and at even strength; and, last but not least, about the inability to build upon or protect two one-goal leads.
“It’s pretty tough to assess a game like that when half the game is special teams,” Sullivan spewed after Wednesday night’s 5-4 overtime loss.
Actually, it’s not.
What the Pens put on display against the Senators — the number of power-play opportunities for Ottawa being a season-high seven — was what we’ve seen far too often this season.
Bad starts, bad stretches, bad decisions with the puck, bad defense and/or bad responses to goals for and against have been constants for a Penguins team that has struggled mightily to put together 60-minute efforts. The seven-game winning streak the Pens reeled off from Dec. 1 through Dec. 15, part of a 14-2-2 stretch from early November to mid-December, suggested they might be onto something.
But their 4-7-3 performance since (a slog that includes a six-game losing streak) suggests otherwise, as did the seven-game slide they endured from Oct. 24 through Nov. 5.
All seasons have their ebbs and flows. What’s concerning about this one is it’s ebbing when it should be flowing.
The Pens lurched from the first half of the season into the second determined to begin establishing some consistency in their collective game. But what they’ve put on tape of late has been more of the same.
A 5-4 win over Vancouver on Jan. 10 included allowing three goals over a span of 2:19 in the first 7:05 of the first period.
A 4-3 overtime win over Anaheim on Monday night required the scoring of an extra-attacker goal in the final minute of regulation just to get to the extra session.
Vancouver and Anaheim aren’t top-tier teams, by the way.
Neither is Ottawa.
Those matchups are the ones in which problems should be ironed out, not compounded. Particularly when you’ve struggled against much better competition, which the Penguins have to the tune of a combined 3-7-3 record against Boston, Carolina, New Jersey, Toronto, Tampa Bay and Winnipeg.
Those were the top six teams in the overall standings as of Thursday morning.
The Penguins haven’t beaten one of them since Nov. 19 (0-6-2).
If Sullivan’s going to fume, if he’s going to get as mad as he looked and sounded Wednesday night, it should be about that.