The Stanley Cup playoffs begin next week, but the Penguins still have plenty of business to be taken care of beforehand.
Pittsburgh has three regular-season games left against playoff-bound teams in Boston, NY Rangers and Philadelphia – three of the best clubs in the Eastern Conference. The Penguins have plenty of time left over this next week to improve and hone their game in highly competitive contests with a distinct postseason flavor.
“We’re all aware there’s three games left,” goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury
said. “It hasn’t been our best hockey as of late. But at the same time, we’ve still got some time to work on some stuff and use those games to do so. They’re all against big teams. So we’ll use those games as pre-playoff (preparation) and to get ready for it.”
The players know exactly where they need to improve. They meet with the coaching staff after each game and meticulously break down the tape in order to pinpoint those areas.
While the Penguins know they must be better, the most important takeaway is that what needs to be fine-tuned heading into the playoffs is all confined to their on-ice performance.
“It’s easy to dissect all the mistakes we make and problems we have,” defenseman Brooks Orpik
said, “which is what we all do in here anyway because we have so many competitive guys in here that expect to be perfect.
“You want to win every game, but you’re not going to win every game. We have 25 guys in the room, and we’re lucky because we have 25 guys that really do get along great with everybody. I can’t name two guys who don’t get along in this room. I think it’d be a lot bigger issue if we had a divided room or something like that. The problems we have right now are just hockey things.”
The Penguins’ issues haven’t stemmed from lack of effort. It’s more the opposite.
The Penguins have set a high bar for themselves. They’re a group that knows how to win, and when they’re at their best, they’re virtually unstoppable with the talent and character they have in their dressing room.
So when they experience stretches like their current four losses in the last six games, they try a little too hard to get back to what makes them successful.
“We’re maybe forcing it a little too much here,” forward Pascal Dupuis
said. “We will be in the playoffs. That’s a gimme. We clinched already. But we’ve just got to find our game. We know it’s not there. We know it’s not where we need it to be. It’s a 60-minute game. We can’t start for 15 and play well and play the right way and let teams come back on us like we did against the Flyers. We need to be more consistent. The goals are going to come. Defense is the main part here.”
“I think the most important thing is that we just try to control what we can control in here,” Orpik added. “I don’t think our effort has been lacking in any of the games. The mistakes we’re making are just systematic things. Those are things you look at on video and you try to correct. When it’s stuff like effort or problems in the room, stuff like that, that’s where you get worried.”
So with that being said, the Penguins know that they’ll right the ship before they enter the postseason – and hopefully put themselves in the best position possible.
“We’re still fighting for home-ice,” forward Chris Kunitz
said. “There’s a lot of incentive if we have some success. It’s something where we still have to get better. We’ve had great stretches. We’ve had good periods. We’ve played great games. But we have to put it all together and make sure we’re going on the right level going into the playoffs.”