The Pens have lost three of their last four games, the culmination being their 4-0 loss in New Jersey on Saturday night that even head coach Mike Johnston admitted was a “low point” in the season.
“Our effort went down as the game went along,” he said. “That’s unacceptable. That can’t happen.”
Following the game center Evgeni Malkin had a number of things to say to the media, including that the team wasn’t working hard, taking too many penalties, committing too many turnovers, not playing the system correctly and needed to “look in the mirror.”
Johnston was pleased to see one of the team’s leaders speak up following the game.
“The one thing ‘Geno’ was doing was speaking from his heart, instinctual after the game,” Johnston said. “Guys were mad. I was mad. Our coaching staff was mad. We discussed the game. Nobody liked the game that we played. It was not a good game.”
Malkin clarified his statement that the players were mad at each, noting that he meant they were frustrated with the Jersey game’s result and not with individual dislikes.
“It’s not mad at each other. We’re a tight team. We support each other,” Malkin said Monday after practice. “I meant when you play games like New Jersey it wasn’t working and we were frustrated with each other. It’s new for us. New team. It was the game. We didn’t like how we played.”
Following the game the players held a closed-door meeting.
“Some stuff had to be said,” veteran Pascal Dupuis said. “That will stay between the players obviously. That’s why it’s a closed-door meeting. That’s between the players. What comes out of it, it’s unacceptable to lose the way we did. We have to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
“That’s good after the game. I’m glad players were upset,” Johnston said. “I’m glad they challenged each other. As a group that’s what we have to do. If you want to function on the highest level that’s what you have to have as a group.”
Despite their recent skid, the Pens are 10-7 on the season and have the sixth-best record in the Eastern Conference. And they still expect to have better results.
“The expectations are high, but a lot of teams would love to be in our position and still feel like we can do better,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “I think it says a lot about the guys. We expect more. We still have a winning record and we’ve done some good things.”
The Pens know that they haven’t lived up to their potential and haven’t played up to their standards. But they also believe that they will play better.
“We have a lot of confidence in this room,” defenseman Ben Lovejoy said. “We have a lot of confidence in the guys in this room and the coaching staff. We know we’re not up to our own standards and we need to get back to how we believe we should play. Guys expressed that the last couple of days in meetings. We can talk about it all we want, but (Tuesday) night (against Minnesota) we’re going to go out and try to prove to ourselves that we’re better than this.”
And it all starts with effort.
“I think guys care and everyone in here is willing to do whatever it takes to be better,” Crosby said. “We have to do it consistently and it starts with our work ethic. Establishing that and good things will come after that.”
“It’s all about effort,” Dupuis said. “It’s not simplifying or X’s and O’s. It’s all about wanting it. Getting excited by little plays around the ice. It’s not always about scoring goals or winning games.”
All teams face adversity over the course of an 82-game season. Pittsburgh lost its first three games of the year and responded by winning nine of its next 10 games. The Pens are facing another round of adversity.
And the true character of the team will be revealed in how they respond.
“Knowing the group and knowing how much everybody cares, we’re going to react the right way,” Crosby said. “I have no doubt in my mind that we’re going to respond the right way.”