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