Penguins Focusing on Defensive Details

Pittsburgh has allowed 11 goals in two games

Josh Rowntree
October 08, 2018 - 3:21 pm
Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan (top) gestures on the bench against the Montreal Canadiens during the second period at PPG PAINTS Arena. Montreal won 5-1.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

PITTSBURGH (93.7 The Fan) - There was a clear initiative at Penguins practice Monday morning at PPG Paints Arena. 

When you start a season with 11 allowed goals, it is not hard to imagine what the emphasis might have been. 

“We had a film session this morning,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. “We tried to show the team areas of our lack of attention to details, maybe a lack of urgency or a commitment to play the game the right way, and how that impacts our success.”

While the Penguins did not exactly have the offense firing on all cylinders in Saturday’s 5-1 loss to Montreal, the defense looked quite problematic for a second straight game. 

“Today we worked on a couple of aspects of our game,” Sullivan said. “Part of it was our compete level. But there were more details out there associated with it. We feel strongly that we’ve to pay more attention to detail and we have to play with a more competitive spirit if we’re going to have success.”

Sullivan’s preaching on the particulars seems to be resonating through the Penguins locker room. 

“I think when it comes to details we haven’t done a good enough job, as a team,” Carl Hagelin said. “I think if you have the details where they need to be, it’s a lot easier to play hockey. You get more chances offensively. If someone makes a mistake, it’s not going to snowball into something big. 

“That’s been the case, it’s snowballed into something big. But, when we follow the team strategy and pay attention to details, usually someone’s going to come help you if there’s a mistake.”

Sullivan leads a veteran group which, in all likelihood, did not even need to be told of the issues. But if Sullivan’s demonstrative attitude at Monday’s skate was any indication, he’s not leaving anything to chance. 

“I have a lot of respect for our players and I know that they’re a proud group and they know how to win,” he said. “Now it’s a matter of going out, every day, and striving to be your best, because nothing is inevitable. We’ve got to make sure we go out and earn it every day.”

The Penguins are two games into the season. Is there some cause for concern? Maybe. Is it insanely early to make a judgement on the defensive unit? Definitely. 

“There’s obviously a lot we can take away from the last game.,” defenseman Justin Schultz said. “We didn’t play well. We’ve got some days to practice here and get better. I’m looking forward to Thursday.”

Thursday brings a good test to Pittsburgh, as the Penguins host former Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and the reigning Western Conference champion Vegas Golden Knights. 

Fleury, with many other net-minders throughout the League, has been a victim to a rash of high-scoring contests to begin the season. He allowed five goals in a season-opening loss to Philadelphia, getting pulled midway through the game.

“Maybe the League is going toward a more aggressive style,” Hagelin said of the early eruption of offense. “Teams are forechecking harder, there’s more smaller skill guys in the League. So that could be why.”

“There’s been a lot of high-scoring games,” Schultz added. “Teams are still maybe a little rusty. But we put some hard work in today, working away from the puck and trying to get better.”

The excuses for all the goals have been bountiful. Some think the new design of goalie pants is a factor, more spring in the boards another. Perhaps offenses click earlier than defensive play. 

But, to Hagelin, it all came back to the players on the ice and the preparation and focus they give to each shift. 

“It’s a mindset,” he said. “We just need to get our minds right.”

 

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