Mark Madden: Refusing to Play Smarter Hockey, Penguins Lose to Foolishness and Arrogance

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The Penguins were beaten 5-1 in Long Island on Tuesday. This is OK. Every team in every sport has the occasional terrible game.

But Wednesday’s 5-4 overtime loss to visiting Detroit revealed a lot of what’s wrong with the Penguins. Your problems are big, and they are many. (I used this in two consecutive columns. Chuck Noll would be proud.)

In short, the Penguins are not content with winning.

They led the Red Wings 4-0 after one period. But instead of managing the lead, they tried to extend it by the most stupid means: cross passes, mistakes on both blue lines, bad turns that triggered the opponent to flee, odd breaks allowed, attacking the run at the expense of riding bike, whatever you want, the Penguins screwed it up.

It was a dumb project run by a team that thinks it knows best but hasn’t been able to prove it by winning a playoff series since 2018.

Penguins are too old and not fast enough to play the style they prefer. It works just enough to suck them in, but not enough to go places.

Coach Mike Sullivan often says he doesn’t want to take control out of his players’ hands. But it’s time for Sullivan to do just that, depending on the score and the situation. If players don’t like it, too bad.

It’s called coaching. Otherwise, you’re just changing lines.

Do you want to force attack? Fine. You have a talent for it, if not the legs you once had.

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But know when not. The Penguins are not capable of consistently playing high-octane hockey for 60 minutes. Your heads need to matter as much as your skates.

Age supposedly brings wisdom. But sometimes you just get old.

Penguins are not stat-hungry. That’s not part of it. They just want to beat their chests and say, “This is who we are.”

Except they aren’t. Used to be, maybe.

A 4-0 home lead should be a death knell for the opposition. Boston also has an old team. But the Bruins think. They get up at two, the game is over.

Blowing up clues is not a new phenomenon for these penguins. They led by two in Games 5 and 6 of last year’s playoff series against the New York Rangers. They led by one point twice in Game 7. They lost all three games just as they were beaten by Detroit on Wednesday, through foolishness and hubris.

Sullivan must make the Penguins play smarter. How they need it, not how they want it. There should be accountability when they don’t, no foul-mouthed mea culpas.

No one is suggesting the Penguins trap for 60 minutes.

But the Penguins played the night before. Not Detroit. They were in Pittsburgh waiting for the Penguins to return from Long Island. Trying to make risky plays with a four-goal lead invites the Red Wings to maximize their inevitable offense.

There is no need to bookmark them. Just bore them.

It is also inadvisable to take a penalty from too many men when you lead by one with less than four minutes left. Ding, dong, hello! What a horrible, irrational lapse.

Sullivan needs to hurt some feelings too.

Defender Brian Dumoulin and center Jeff Carter are struggling. But they never miss an inning, let alone a game. Using them together is akin to suicide.

Dumoulin should have been ruled out for Ty Smith’s call-up on Wednesday. What was the point of drafting Smith from the Penguins’ Wilkes-Barre/Scranton affiliate and not dressing him?

Drew O’Connor scored 156 seconds into the game, but only played seven total innings, just one in the third period.


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Who you are seems to matter more than how you’re playing.

The Penguins are now 1-6 in games decided during three-on-three overtime. This is inexcusable given his talent and skating.

Or maybe not, because their approach seems totally clueless. Witness Evgeni Malkin gleefully skating behind the net to spark Carolina’s 3-on-2 victory in OT’s defeat last Thursday. That’s a no-no three against three.

After losing to Detroit, Malkin said things need to change. He said the same after his gaffe against Carolina. Things haven’t changed.

If the Penguins don’t get it, it’s fair to wonder if keeping the main trio together was a mistake. Is the goal to win or warm hearts through the bond of eternal fraternity? (When the penguins scatter, not all three will stay. Bet on it.)

The Penguins exude a mix of familiarity and staleness, perhaps exacerbated by knowing that big moves can’t happen because the Penguins are squeezed up against cover. The list will stay as it is. It’s up to the coach and players to make the best of it.

Or they can just keep hanging themselves with their own rope. It’s up to them, as has been made clear.


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