Humbling loss to Leafs leads to tough practice for Penguins

November 29, 2018

Patric Hornqvist said Mario Lemieux deserves better.

Matt Cullen said the team might have reached a pivotal point.

Mike Sullivan sent a message with his practice plan.

Any hockey team, no matter how accomplished, will suffer some losses over the course of an 82-game NHL season. Most are forgotten in a matter of hours. A select few linger.

This one is lingering for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

About 12 hours after suffering a thorough 5-0 beating at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs at home Saturday night, the Penguins still were smarting as they practiced Sunday afternoon in Cranberry.

“If there was a 50-50 puck, they came up with 80 percent of those, and that’s not acceptable on this team,” Hornqvist said. “We’ve got a great owner and a great organization. We have a chance to win. Those small things -- big things -- are not acceptable in this room. That’s something we have to change starting today.”

As practice began, Sullivan did not put his team through a series of sprints as punishment for a poor performance. Those days are long gone in the NHL.

Even if bag skates were still en vogue, the Penguins are in the midst of a stretch of five games in nine days. Such measures would probably be counterproductive.

Still, Sullivan left no doubt he wasn’t pleased with the effort his team put forth the night before.

Every drill in the 45-minute workout included an element of skating at a high pace. If it was a two-on-two battle drill with offensive players trying to get a shot off and defensive players trying to prevent one, it was contested over 200 feet, not just the offensive zone. If it was a breakout drill, no one pulled up after the puck crossed the red line.

“I think we’ve got to try to reinforce the details and the work ethic associated with winning, and that was part of the practice today, trying to make sure that we get back to basics and we focus on the process and the details associated with winning,” Sullivan said. “With our team, it starts with skating.”

Winger Carl Hagelin said he viewed the practice as necessary medicine the Penguins needed to take after a bad loss and before a home game with the New Jersey Devils on Monday night.

“It was a tough practice. It was a good practice. It was something we needed,” Hagelin said. “Obviously didn’t skate enough last night. We were watching a lot. We let them do the skating. We definitely needed to do what we did out there today to get ready for tomorrow.”

Sullivan gave no hints of major changes to the team’s tactics or personnel. They’re not looking to overhaul the way they play. They’re simply seeking consistency of effort.

As recently as a week ago, the Penguins were cruising right along.

They finished off an undefeated Canadian road trip with a 9-1 victory in Calgary and a 5-0 blowout in Vancouver. They were 6-1-2, leading the league in goals per game, sitting pretty in first place in the Metropolitan Division.

According to Cullen, Saturday’s loss to Toronto, which came on the heels of a home-and-home sweep by the New York Islanders, was a reminder to the Penguins they haven’t figured it all out just yet.

“I think, honestly, when we look back later in the season, this could be a big turning point for us,” Cullen said. “I hope it is. I think it’s a good wake-up for everybody to see, you know, pucks have been going in and things have been going pretty well, but you can’t take that for granted, No. 1, and we have a lot of areas we can still improve on.”

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