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Ron Cook

Ron Cook: Mike Sullivan has plenty of reasons to be angry

Mike Sullivan was in no mood Sunday night to discuss the Penguins’ many shortcomings in their 2-0 loss to the New York Islanders. Each of his answers to five questions was brief and terse. He was more perturbed than he has been all season. He had plenty of reasons to be angry.

Evgeni Malkin was much more forthcoming about how the Penguins could play so poorly with so much at stake in the East Division standings. He said plenty in just five words.

“We need work. Whole team.”

The Penguins’ day started horribly. Boston, Philadelphia and Washington all won their games. The Penguins are competing with those teams, as well as with the Islanders, for a playoff spot. Then, things really turned ugly. The Penguins’ no-show effort against the Islanders was inexcusable. As a result, they find themselves in fifth place in the division, two points behind the Flyers for the final playoff spot. And the Flyers have played two fewer games.

The Penguins’ minus-5 goal differential is easily worse than the four teams ahead of them.

“We should play better, for sure,” Malkin said.

I’m not going to argue with the man.

The Penguins have been a good team late in games most of the season. They had won nine times when trailing or being tied after the second period, coming back four times from third-period deficits to win and getting a loser point in a fifth game. They are 7-1 in games that went beyond regulation.

But the Penguins can’t keep falling behind like they did again Sunday night. They came from behind in 10 of their 11 wins, but that is no formula for success. The Islanders scored a power-play goal late in the first period by Oliver Wahlstrom to take a 1-0 lead. The Penguins managed just two shots on goal in the first period and only eight more in the second period against rookie goaltender Ilya Sorokin, who was making just his fifth career start and first in 12 days. That also isn’t a formula for winning.

Sullivan tried just about everything during the game to get his team going, but nothing worked. He put Bryan Rust back with Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel on a line that had been the Penguins’ best before he moved Rust with Malkin a few games back in an effort to get Malkin going. The Crosby line played nearly half of the third period Sunday night but couldn’t beat Sorokin.

Nobody could.

Sullivan also didn’t have any answers for the Penguins’ abysmal penalty-kill unit. It is working at just 72.2 percent efficiency this season and is, perhaps, the biggest reason the team is outside the playoff field. The Islanders scored on two of their five power-play chances Sunday night. When J.G Pageau made it 2-0 late in the second period, the Islanders completed a run when they scored on six of 10 chances against the Penguins’ penalty kill.

Sullivan was so frustrated with his penalty kill that he sent out Crosby and Rust after Guentzel was called for tripping in the second period. Pageau scored, anyway.

Of course, the Islanders scored.

No matter who’s on the ice, the Penguins can’t kill a penalty.

“We are what we are,” Sullivan said, biting off his words. “We’re giving up too many goals there. It’s not good enough.”

The Penguins had better find some solutions quickly because the games aren’t going to get any easier. The stretch they just played – six against the Islanders and four against the Capitals, going 6-4 but giving up loser points in three of the games -- is being followed this week by three in a row against the Flyers at PPG Paints Arena. The Flyers beat them easily, 6-3 and 5-2, in Philadelphia in the first two games of the season.

Those five telling words from Malkin are worth repeating:

“We need work. Whole team.”

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