Center Evgeni Malkin was echoing a line from Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the Penguins locker room Friday at Southpointe.
“When you lose a couple games and aren’t playing right everyone gets nervous, coaches, players, the organization,” Malkin said. “(The situation is) not bad, but it’s not good. We know we can come back. I believe this team has good guys and good players. We need to support each other, relax and we’ll be back.”
The Pens are 0-2-1 in their last three games and haven’t found the consistency that they desire from their game. As a result, the Pens have fallen into fourth place in the Metropolitan Division and seventh overall in the Eastern Conference.
But Pittsburgh is just one point from second place in the division and only six behind the New York Islanders for the top spot. And there is still a lot of hockey left to play on the season.
“You’re looking at the whole playoff picture. The division is important, but there is a logjam and everybody is so close,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “You just need to make sure you’re playing the right way and getting points. The division stuff will take care of itself. You worry about your own game and making sure we’re playing the right way and getting points out of it.”
Head coach Mike Johnston put his team through a four-drill, 20-minute rigorous practice Friday. He’s trying to find the right buttons to push to get his team going.
“It’s always a balance,” Johnston said. “Sometimes when you don’t feel like your game is in check you have to work harder. Other times you have to try and relax and play looser. It’s always a read.”
Even though they’ve lost their last three games, the Pens haven’t been completely dominated by their opponents. All three contests were tied in the final minutes of the third period.
Pittsburgh lost 2-1 in a shootout in Chicago and allowed late third-period goals to Washington and Columbus. The Capitals scored on the power play while the Blue Jackets tallied shorthanded.
“It is (frustrating),” center Brandon Sutter said. “We just can’t get that one or two goals that we need, and we’re giving them up. We are beating ourselves. We have to get better at staying with the game when we’re in a tight one.”
The Penguins defensive play has been strong, particularly the play of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. But the offense has produced only three goals in the last three games, and the power play has gone scoreless in the past nine contests.
“It’s an approach you have individually, individual things you can do, and team things, how can we generate more from our offensive zone plays, generate more off the rush, generate more off of faceoffs, how can we generate more from the power play,” Johnston said. “There are different aspects of the game that you have to break down offensively to see if you can generate more.
“Do we have to score more? Yes. But we also can’t break our defensive habits to score.”
In the past two seasons the Pens have wrapped up the division title fairly early in the season. It’s been a while since the team has faced this type of adversity during the regular season. However, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“It’s how you handle it and how you find a way to get out of it,” Crosby said. “There is no better test than this time of year when the games mean the most. That will bring the best out of everybody. It’s been a while for our team to face something like that, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing as long as we handle it the right way.”
The players in the locker room still believe in each other and are confident that they will break through the adversity and come out stronger in the end. In the meantime, the players are trying to stick together.
“We have to stay positive, support each other,” Malkin said. “We know we’re a good team and we know we can play better. Every game we need to take small steps forward and play right, D zone, offensive zone, keep our heads up and stay positive.
“We have a good team, and in the playoffs we have a chance to play in the Stanley Cup Final. If we play right, we win.”
Notes: Defenseman Christian Ehrhoff practiced and took contact with the team. He will travel to St. Louis with the team, but will not play against the Blues Saturday night.