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Penguins Know They Need to Tighten Up Defensively

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

After the Penguins' fifth straight win last week, I asked Zach Aston-Reese about what stood out the most to him about the team's run.

"We're playing defense first," the winger replied. "It's all the cliches you talk about - defending hard, playing in front of your net and blocking shots and things like that. But we're doing all the little things and that's just making it fun, because it's leading to offense for us and generating a lot of scoring chances off of our defense."

Unfortunately, the Penguins have gotten away from that in the days since. 

With a 8-4 loss to the New York Rangers tonight and a 7-5 setback to the Boston Bruins on Saturday, the Penguins have given up 15 total goals in just two games. Which is especially surprising considering that Pittsburgh had allowed two or fewer goals in 12 of 13 games prior to these two contests.

"It just looks like we're kind of lost," forward Jared McCann said. "We're giving up chances we're not normally used to giving up, and we're kind of letting our goalies down right now and giving teams backdoor tap-ins and shots from high-grade areas. So I think we need to tighten it up. Not going to sit here and whine about it. 

"Let's learn from it and move forward."

McCann's teammates and coach echoed that exact same sentiment. As Mike Sullivan said, the only way to get better as a group is to learn from their experiences, and that's what they'll do with this one.

"These are hard ones, you know?" Sullivan said. "Because they sting. Because we got a proud group. And this team has had a lot of success. We've had a lot of success this year. So we've got to find a way to get back to some of the details that are necessary to give ourselves the best chance to win."

He and the players don't feel like it was anything specific that got the Penguins off their game after playing such stingy hockey for such a long period of time, saying it's been a combination of factors - including cheating offensively, not playing as a unit and not defending the netfront and high-scoring areas hard enough.

"I think we've just been sloppy," winger Bryan Rust said. 

Sullivan said the coaching staff is going to go to work to try and help the guys find the right solutions to some of their challenges right now - "we've got to make sure we grab ahold of this thing as quickly as we can" - and both McCann and Rust said a big key for them will be to look at the footage.

"I don't think you can point to any one thing getting us out of the rhythm," Rust said. "I think it's just one of those things. You just got to look at the tape. Everyone's going to look at themselves in the mirror. We know what it takes. We were playing great before, we were playing great defensively before. We just got to get back to that and learn from the film, and I think we've just got to put these two behind us."

"Short season, so we got to do it as quick as possible," McCann added. "We're going to watch the tape, we're going to take it on the chin. That's what you got to do. And you got to come back with a lot of drive and focus on the detail."

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