Penguins’ Lack of Discipline Results in Lasting Damage

The Pittsburgh Penguins’ locker room immediately after their 4-0 loss to the Canadiens Tuesday night was a tense place to be. Reporters had seen Mike Sullivan in better spirits after actual playoff losses. One reporter said that this was “probably as aggravated as I’ve seen Mike Sullivan after a loss.

Mike Sullivan gave short responses to most of the questions, but on one answer he was very direct. “We clearly have to be more disciplined,” he told reporters after the game on Tuesday. “We can’t take the penalties that we’re taking.”

A Collapse Against the Canadiens

The core of the problem wasn’t that the Penguins got too many penalty minutes overall – in fact, they ended up getting two penalty minutes less in total than the Canadiens. The problem was that the penalties they took were easy calls that were extremely poorly timed. Twice, the Penguins managed to get a penalty called on them immediately after a Montreal penalty was called, effectively negating any power play opportunities they might have hoped to have. The list of penalties they did manage to rack up was an embarrassing one, including holding the stick, hooking, tripping, and slashing, all of which were avoidable stick penalties.

The Penguins marketing team clearly took Sullivan’s “disciplined” remarks to heart; the article the Pens news team published the next day was entitled “Pens Focusing on Discipline.” That was what the marketing team had pinpointed as the reason for the Penguins’ embarrassing shutout loss against a Carey Price-less Canadiens; the players simply weren’t disciplined enough.

Penguins’ Continued Issues with Discipline

The Penguins won their next game against the San Jose Sharks, their old rivals from the Stanley Cup Final a few months ago. When looking at the final, triumphant score of 3-2, it might be easy to say that whatever discipline problems the Penguins had been experiencing were in the past. The final score does not, of course, tell the whole story; at the end of the second period, the Penguins were down 2-0 and seemed to be having trouble getting cohesive opportunities to shoot on goal.

The Penguins managed to rally Thursday night, scoring three goals in the third period and ending the game with only three penalties against San Jose. The Penguins’ game-winning goal was actually scored on a power play. The fact that they struggled in the second period is worrying, however, because it indicates that the Penguins might feel tempted to play the way they did against the Canadiens on Tuesday. Desperate teams are not usually disciplined teams, and the Penguins’ lack of discipline against the Canadiens will continue to haunt them into the future.

Complete Penguins Coverage From THW

Lasting Damage from Lack of Discipline

The Penguins’ sense of pride was not the only thing hurt by Tuesday’s 4-0 shutout; Kris Letang and Conor Sheary were both out of the lineup on Thursday because of injuries sustained in Tuesday’s game, Sheary in the second period with a high stick to the face and Letang in the third with a hard hit into the boards. Luckily for them and the Penguins, these injuries are not supposed to keep them out of the lineup for long. Letang and Sheary’s injuries will serve as a warning to the team, however, of what can be lost with sloppy play. These losses can be as severe as missing key players from the lineup in the next game. Part of the reason that Sullivan was angrier about this loss than he had been about playoff losses may have been that this is an unsustainable way to play.

The Penguins need to heed their coach’s warning and not take unnecessary penalties that lead to desperate play that could lead to key players being out of the lineup with injuries. And, if these key players have to get injured, then they can at the very least take advantage of the resulting power play instead of sabotaging it seconds in by taking a second penalty and therefore cancelling out the advantage, as was done with the Conor Sheary penalty on Tuesday. The poor man just had his face slashed with a hockey stick; the least the Penguins could do would be to try to actually get a power play out of that.