The Penguins are in the midst of a six-game losing streak after falling to Washington 1-0 Wednesday night that has dropped the team to ninth place in the Eastern Conference standings.
General manager Ray Shero knows that the answer to turning things around is already inside the locker room.
|Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma |
“We rely on the leadership that we have and the group,” Shero said. “Our leader is our coach (Dan Bylsma). I believe in him and our coaching staff. We have a character group of players. Evgeni Malkin
, Brooks Orpik
, (Chris) Kunitz, (Craig) Adams. This group of players will play with character. They played like men (against Washington). It was a one-goal game, physical game. We have to build on that.”
The Penguins, who will play at Florida Friday night, have been frustrated over the six-game skid. The team feels that it’s playing the right way and doing the right things, but hasn’t gotten the breaks needed to get a win. Shero agreed with that assessment with a caveat.
“We’ve had some decent games,” he said. “Having said that the team and players have to understand the urgency of our situation. A month ago we were fighting for the division lead and then lost a few games and started slipping.
“We have half a season left here and we have to start playing to win hockey games. During the course of the losing streak, a lot of players can play better. That happens when you’re in a rut. Guys have to play better.”
For Shero urgency is the key word, especially with the Pens currently not in a playoff position. There is a lot of hockey left to play this season, but Shero wants to the team to realize the importance of every game.
“I’m aware that we’re not in a playoff spot. We have to understand the urgency of our situation and need to play better hockey throughout our lineup,” he said.
One problem facing the Penguins is the ever-growing injury list. The Penguins lead the league with 215 man-games lost, including missing crucial players like Sidney Crosby
(34 games), Zbynek Michalek
(20), Kris Letang
(18), Jordan Staal
(8), Malkin (7) and Paul Martin
However, the Penguins were able to tie the Philadelphia Flyers in the Atlantic Division standings last year while suffering 350 man-games lost. The players and Shero will not use the injuries as an excuse for losing.
“Our expectation despite injuries is to go into every game with the mindset to win the game,” Shero said. “That can’t change. We never look at injuries as an excuse. The 20 guys we put on the ice, I believe in that group to win the game and find a way to win. We’ve gone through this before. We still have good players on the ice and I expect them to win games.
Shero has been around the NHL his entire life. He’s experienced the many highs and lows of streaks during a season. And as general manager he makes his assessments on the team a wide perspective.
“I don’t judge the team by a four-game winning streak or six-game losing streak,” Shero said. “Before this streak we won four in a row and were feeling good about ourselves. You can’t feel great when you’re winning or that bad when you’re losing. That’s important. We have a veteran group and we’ll come out of this. I expect the players to respond. If they don’t respond, it’s my job to do something to the help the hockey team.
“We do expect to get some players back and help the situation. Until then it’s our challenge to have guys step up. We’ve seen that before.”
One player Shero praised for stepping up for the team is alternate captain Malkin.
“The best story of the year so far is Evgeni Malkin
,” Shero said. “He’s re-established himself, he’s a leader on the hockey team, playing fantastic hockey, a top player in the league, a go to guy on the ice. He really enjoys that. He puts pressure on himself and he cares, he wants to win. Him leading the way bodes well for our future.”
But Shero said it will take more than one individual player for the Pens to get back on track to winning games.
“Collectively we’ve got to play better as a group,” Shero said. “We’ll get players back, but we can’t wait for that. We have seven games to the All-Star break. We have to focus on these next seven games because it is an important stretch of hockey. That starts Friday.”