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Mark Madden: Refusing to play hockey smarter, Penguins lose through stupidity and arrogance

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The Penguins were beaten 5-1 at Long Island on Tuesday. Its good. Every team in every sport sometimes has a terrible game.

But Wednesday’s 5-4 overtime loss to Detroit exposed a lot of things wrong with the Penguins. Their problems are great, and they are many. (I’ve used it in two consecutive columns. Chuck Noll would be proud.)

In a nutshell, the Penguins don’t just win.

They led the Red Wings, 4-0, after one period. But instead of managing the lead, they tried to extend it by the stupidest means: cross passes, errors at both blue lines, bad turnovers that trigger the enemy’s escape, odd breaks allowed, attacking at the detriment of cycling, you name it, the Penguins botched it.

It was a dumb plan executed by a team that thinks they know best but haven’t been able to prove it by winning a playoff since 2018.

The 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 move.

Coach Mike Sullivan often says he doesn’t want to take the stick 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.

This is called framing. Otherwise, you are just changing lines.

Want to push the attack? Good. You have the talent to do it, if not the legs you once had.


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But know when not to. The Penguins are not capable of consistently playing high-octane hockey for 60 minutes. Their heads should count as much as their skates.

Age is supposed to bring wisdom. But sometimes you get old.

The Penguins aren’t hungry for stats. That’s not part of it. They just want to punch their chest and say, “This is who we are.

Except they’re not. Used to be, maybe.

A 4-0 home lead should be a death sentence for the opposition. Boston also has a former team. But the Bruins are thinking. They get up in pairs, the game is over.

Blowing up pellets 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 twice in Game 7. They lost all three games the same way they were beaten by Detroit on Wednesday, through madness and arrogance.

Sullivan needs to make the Penguins play smarter. As they need it, not as they want it. There has to be accountability when they don’t, not mealy meat culpas.

Nobody suggests the Penguins trap for 60 minutes.

But the Penguins played the day before. Detroit hadn’t. 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 push.

No need to mark them. Just bore them.

It is also not advisable to take a penalty for too many men when leading by one with less than four minutes to play. Dang, dong, hello! What a horrible and senseless mistake.

Sullivan also needs to hurt some feelings.

Defenseman Brian Dumoulin and center Jeff Carter are in big trouble. But they never miss a shift, let alone a game. Using them together is akin to suicide.

Dumoulin should have been removed for Ty Smith’s call-up on Wednesday. What was the point of summoning Smith from the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton branch of the Penguins and then not dressing him?

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


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Who you are seems to matter more than how you play.

The Penguins are now 1-6 in games decided in three-on-three overtime. It’s inexcusable given their talent and skating.

Or maybe not, because their approach seems totally clueless. Watch Evgeni Malkin skate happily behind the net to spark Carolina’s game-winning three-on-two in last Thursday’s overtime loss. It’s a three against three no-no.

After losing to Detroit, Malkin said things had to change. He said the same after his misstep vs. Caroline. Things haven’t changed.

If the Penguins are unwise, it’s fair to wonder if keeping the core trio together was a mistake. Is the goal to win or to warm hearts through the bond of eternal brotherhood? (When the Penguins go crashing, those three won’t all stay. Either that.)

The Penguins ooze a mixture of familiarity and staleness, perhaps heightened by knowing big moves can’t happen because the Penguins are tight against the cap. The list will remain as is. It’s up to the coach and the players to make the most of it.

Or they can just keep hanging themselves with their own rope. It is up to them to decide, as has been very clearly explained.

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