Sul­li­van dis­sat­is­fied with re­cent short-handed goals al­lowed

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - Hockey - By Ja­son Mackey

We’ve got to have more dili­gence. We’re not heed­ing the les­sons. — Mike Sul­li­van, Pen­guins coach

LOS AN­GE­LES — As coach Mike Sul­li­van spoke late Satur­day night out­side of the Pen­guins dress­ing room at Sta­ples Cen­ter, the theme from Star Wars blared as part of a pro­mo­tional event and postgame py­rotech­nic/laser/light show.

Around the Pen­guins, though, it’s an­other noise they’re hear­ing these days — alarm bells, as yet an­other short-handed goal al­lowed loomed large in a 5-2 loss to the Los An­ge­les Kings.

With two al­lowed in the past two nights, the Pen­guins now have coughed up an NHL-worst 10 on the sea­son.

“It can’t hap­pen,” Sul­li­van said. “It just can’t hap­pen. We’ve got to have more dili­gence. We’re not heed­ing the les­sons. We have to start.”

The goal in ques­tion oc­curred late in the sec­ond pe­riod, with Kings de­fense­man Drew Doughty in the penalty box for in­ter­fer­ence.

Kris Le­tang tried to make a blind, back­hand pass at the blue line, and Jeff Carter snatched it eas­ily, spark­ing an odd-man rush.

Cen­ter Anze Ko­pi­tar did an ad­mirable job stay­ing with the re­bound and fin­ish­ing, but what killed the Pen­guins was Le­tang’s high-risk play in a crit­i­cal area of the rink.

It was the same sort of thing that

Ev­geni Malkin did 24 hours ear­lier in Ana­heim, when he tried to stick­han­dle through traf­fic at cen­ter ice, lost the puck, gave the Ducks a twoon-none, and Jakob Sil­fver­berg scored.

Mak­ing the same mis­takes over and over clearly has ir­ri­tated Sul­li­van, who can’t hop over the boards and do this stuff him­self — al­though if it con­tin­ues, he might soon try.

“It’s just care­less­ness,” Sul­li­van fumed. “It’s a lack of dili­gence in the im­por­tant parts of the rink. Even though we’re on the power play, we have to have some con­science de­fen­sively.

“It starts with our own puck pos­ses­sion. We might have to put a puck below the goal line and fight for it.

“Those are de­ci­sions that are crit­i­cally im­por­tant, es­pe­cially when you have four for­wards on the ice. We have to start heed­ing the les­sons, oth­er­wise we’re learn­ing the hard way right now when we’re giv­ing them up at the rate we’re giv­ing them up.”

The prob­lem, Sul­li­van would ex­plain two hours be­fore puck drop, is a com­pli­cated one for him and his coach­ing staff to man­age. On one hand, he knows he’s deal­ing with highly skilled play­ers, skaters who pos­sess a tremen­dous of skill and con­fi­dence and think they can make ev­ery play.

For the most part, that’s what the Pen­guins want. But they ob­vi­ously can’t make ev­ery play — as ev­i­denced Fri­day and Satur­day — and Satur­day, they paid for it.

To mit­i­gate risk, Sul­li­van said the Pen­guins need to have a “de­fense mech­a­nism” in place, which ba­si­cally means to have some­body help­ing out. Malkin was the last man back Satur­day against the Kings, and nei­ther Malkin nor Phil Kessel came within sniff­ing range of Ko­pi­tar.

“When we put our­selves in dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tions be­cause we play a high-risk game and we don’t have any sense of con­science de­fen­sively, even though we have pos­ses­sion of the puck, that’s when we get our­selves in trou­ble,” Sul­li­van said. “[Fri­day] night was a per­fect ex­am­ple. I thought we mis­man­aged the puck in the neu­tral zone. We didn’t stay be­hind the puck when the puck’s un­der pres­sure. We’re chas­ing one mis­take with a sec­ond mis­take. Usu­ally those are the ones that turn into high-qual­ity scor­ing chances.”

Ones op­pos­ing teams have turned into goals at an alarm­ing rate.

The Pen­guins now are on pace to al­low 18 short-handed goals, which would tie the sin­gle-sea­son record for the most al­lowed in the post­lock­out era (2005-06).

But the prob­lem, again, is per­son­nel. What can Sul­li­van re­ally do? Sid­ney Crosby, Kessel and Malkin aren’t go­ing any­where. With two more goals Satur­day, Jake Guentzel is red-hot. And un­til Justin Schultz gets back, Le­tang is their only op­tion up top.

Sul­li­van also doesn’t want to dis­count what this group has done to­gether; from 2015-18, the Pen­guins power play is tied for first in con­ver­sion rate (22.5) and sits all alone atop the NHL in goals scored (176).

“This group of play­ers has been to­gether since I’ve been the coach,” Sul­li­van said. “They have been ar­guably the best power play in the league. It’s re­ally hard for me given their body of work be­ing as large as it is, it’s hard for me to ig­nore that. I just think we have to do a bet­ter job. I know they’re ca­pa­ble. We’re go­ing to chal­lenge them to do a bet­ter job be­cause I know they’re ca­pa­ble.”

As­so­ci­ated Press

Kings for­ward Anze Ko­pi­tar, sec­ond from right, cel­e­brates his short-handed goal with team­mates in the sec­ond pe­riod Satur­day night in Los An­ge­les.

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