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Penguins saying the right things, but actions speak louder than words

The Pens try to tighten up defensively

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NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Penguins release a practice schedule at the beginning of the month for the media that lays out the various practice times, locations, game days as a road map for what is ahead. Due to the collective bargaining agreement there are also so many days built in for players to be off, where they get a break. Perhaps luckily for the players, one such off day was scheduled for today on Sunday.

Coach Mike Sullivan was not a happy camper after another sloppy, poor, uninspired, just plain bad, pick-a-negative-adjective-of-your-choosing performance.

“I think we’re a team right now that just wants to score instead of playing the game the right way,” Sullivan said after the 5-1 loss to the Canadiens. “That means playing on both sides of the puck. It’s in the details, it’s making calculated decisions, it’s making good line changes.”

Sullilvan’s anger and embarrassment would only rise as he continued.

“Right now, we’re not even close to where we need to be. That’s what I learned from this game tonight, that we’ve got a way to go if we’re going to become the team we want to become. It starts with a mindset.”

“Until we learn how to play defense and become harder to play against, then we’re not going to control outcomes.”

Sullivan is right on the money. He’s got an interesting challenge to get a talented team, who knows they are a talented team, to give a consistent effort early in the season. And when it goes off the rails or if they don’t really respect an opponent they simply shut off the compete and take the loss and move on.

Needing to be a lot better all-around isn’t lost by the players, at least in quotes that sound nice after a game.

Bryan Rust added the obvious in his post-game comments when asked that, “yeah they did out-work us”.

Hornqvist would also add:

For sure they out-worked us. They came in here and they were hungry. They got their legs under them right away. They played really well, and we couldn’t keep up. They won every 50/50 battle and teams that do that usually win. We got outplayed.”

Saying it is one thing, doing it is another. If a team doesn’t seem to catch the Pens attention or if they don’t get out to a good start, they’re a team that’s going to fold up shop early in the season. It’s maddening for fans and the coach but this is a skilled team that is going to have stops and starts in the course of the year and this time of year matters the least to them. Should it matter more? Yes. Will they back up the talk with an honest effort? Time will tell.

The Pens players may have avoided a tough practice today from an unhappy coach thanks to the schedule, but they’re due back on Monday and Sullivan’s memory is long. His challenge this year seems the same as every year- to get a better buy-in from a good team that isn’t terribly interested in early season games. Luckily the next opponent Western Conference champion Vegas Golden Knights with of course one Marc-Andre Fleury should definitely be a matchup to focus on.