Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan didn’t think his team’s 3-2 loss to the Colorado Avalanche in Denver deserved too much disappointment.
“It was just a really good hockey game. It was a well-played game for both sides,” Sullivan said after the loss. “It was a real competitive hockey game.
It was. So did the 4-3 overtime win over the Minnesota Wild on Thursday. Just like the 3-2 loss to the New York Rangers on Tuesday.
Yeah. Unsurprisingly, the Penguins are playing a lot of it lately. They’re playoff-bound, much like that seemingly endless streak of quality competition they’ve faced since mid-March.
The Pens win. They lose it. But for the most part, just about all of those pre-playoff matchups against the NHL’s elite have been up for grabs late in the third period, or beyond.
Since Feb. 26, Sullivan’s club has played 12 games against teams currently in playoff position. Seven have been one-goal contests. Four went to overtime. Two of those overtime games ended in shootouts.
The Penguins have won six. Not bad. But you can only go 50-50 for the first six games of a playoff best-of-seven. After that, you have to do better than breakeven or you go home. The Penguins haven’t even done that in their last four playoff series — all losses. And in none of those series have they won more than two games.
If on. We would all like to see the Penguins do better in these jousting games against likely playoff reps from both conferences. But in fairness, with their playoff spot ostensibly locked and their first-round opponent (the New York Rangers) a near-defeat, the results are somewhat pedantic.
Unless you’re a big fan of home ice advantage in playoff hockey, which I’m not.
And depending on where the Penguins won their first five Stanley Cups and the path they took to get there in most cases, maybe you shouldn’t either.
That said, of course, there are some things the Penguins can do better in the rematch against the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday at PPG Paints Arena.
• Finish more often: The Penguins have led 79 shots on goal in the last two games against the Avs and the Wild. They resulted in six goals.
For a supposedly highly skilled team, the Penguins should have finished a little more than they did.
“We got a lot of stares. We had quite a few chances. We would normally convert on some of them. But they also played really well,” Sullivan said after the loss in Denver.
This criticism was especially true on Saturday for Kris Letang and Bryan Rust. They combined for 13 scoreless shots.
Better that, though, than what we saw Tuesday against the Rangers when the Penguins went just 24 shots.
• Face-offs: The Penguins went from winning 55% of their ties against the Wild on Thursday to losing 56% against Colorado.
Sidney Crosby went 15-11 in the circle. Teddy Blueger was 9-9. Jeff Carter was 5-4. But Evan Rodrigues, Evgeni Malkin and Brian Boyle went a combined 3-13.
The Pens are 13th in the league with a 50.9% win rate. The Avalanche are 29th at 47.1%
• Buckle up after the goals: Just 20 seconds after the Penguins tied the game 1-1 in the second, they allowed the Avalanche to score and regain a 2-1 lead. Just 20 seconds after the Penguins tied the game in the third, the Avalanche scored the eventual winner.
“Those moments after the goals have been scored are great moments in the game,” Sullivan said on Saturday. “You would like not to give up one after scoring. You’d like to take that goal you get and build momentum.
The Penguins also lost momentum against the Wild on Thursday when they contested a Minnesota goal call and won, eventually scoring a goal 14 seconds later.
• Catching the power play: If the Penguins get just one power-play chance again, as they did on Saturday, they will only have to beat Colorado 5-5.
After sniffing out their only power-play opportunity on Saturday, the Penguins’ six-game power-play goal streak came to an end. In those six games, they scored nine power-play goals in 24 chances.
It’s awesome. But the Pens can’t rely on their crew too much, especially when penalties are in short supply in the playoffs.