PITTSBURGH (93-7 The FAN) – In the final two periods most nights, the Penguins have looked every bit the team that has hoisted the Stanley Cup the past two summers. But it’s the first 20 minutes in which Pittsburgh has looked unsettlingly flat at both ends of the ice.
Take Saturday, for instance. Toronto was able to find the net twice in the first two minutes and boasted a 3-0 lead after the opening frame, chasing Pens goalie Tristan Jarry and eventually holding on for a 4-3 victory.
Sluggish starts have been a growing trend as Pittsburgh heads into Monday night’s game against floundering Colorado at PPG Paints Arena.
“It’s just mindset to get in there,” defenseman Olly Maatta said Monday. “You’ve got to be ready. I think the second and third period we played pretty good, but it takes being three goals down to kind of get that effort level up. We’ve got to make sure we have that right from the hop.”
The emphasis for a game against the Avalanche, losers of four straight until Saturday’s 7-3 win over Florida, is to not have to dig out of an early hole.
“I think our team responds,” Mike Sullvan said. “But having said that, the damage is done. When you chase games, it makes it difficult to have sustained success. That, for me, is the hard lesson we have to learn.”
Pittsburgh could soon get a boost in net, as Matt Murray has participated in the last two practices, including Monday’s morning skate. But Sullivan said that Murray will not be available when the puck drops just after 7 p.m. tonight.
Murray anticipates that he will head west with the team for their next three games, starting with the team’s first ever game in Las Vegas Thursday.
But going into that road trip with momentum, in Sullivan’s mind, hinges on the early stages tonight.
“It’s cost us games in the early part of the season and we have to make a concerted effort to fix it,” he said. “We’ve got to control what we can to be harder to play against.”
That’s a mentality that Sullivan appears to have gotten through to his team.
“We have to find a way to get four lines rolling right away and simplify our game,” added winger Patric Hornqvist, who Sullivan noted is a game-time decision against Colorado. “We’ve been saying this for 30 games here, but enough is enough.”