The Penguins' Sidney Crosby reaches out to stop the puck with his hands along the boards Sunday against the Blues.
By Shelly Anderson / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Tuesday night, in arenas about 250 miles apart, two coaches shared a concerned. They didn't like seeing their players get penalized in their offensive zone.
"We talked with our team [about] not taking offensive-zone penalties. ... We took two offensive-zone penalties [Tuesday] night, and we shouldn't take those," Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter said Wednesday after his team held a lightly attended optional practice at Consol Energy Center.
About 15 hours earlier in Consol Energy Center, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma expressed frustration over his team's offensive-zone penalties, particularly a slashing infraction by winger Jussi Jokinen.
The difference in the scenarios was the Kings rallied for a 5-4 shootout win at Washington, while the Penguins twice forged a tie but lost to Phoenix, 3-2, on a goal scored as Jokinen was stepping out of the penalty box.
Tonight, the Penguins will face the Kings.
The commonality of what happened with those teams Tuesday, beyond the specifics of the penalties, is composure, or lack thereof. As Sutter said, undisciplined penalties are a sign of a loss of composure.
The Penguins get that connection, too. It's one of the reasons that after the loss against Phoenix they held a brief players' meeting. Defenseman Brooks Orpik was the keynote speaker.
"[Orpik] talked about it after the game -- it's not like we're taking penalties [while] trying to keep out scoring chances or desperation plays; it's more just mental errors," Penguins center Brandon Sutter, Darryl's nephew, said. "We've had our fair share this year, especially the last three weeks. As a team, we've got to be better than that.
"We talked about it as a group. The main thing was, we talked about where the penalties are happening. Penalties are going to happen -- it's part of the game -- but we've got to limit the ones we're just giving to them. Again, it's not desperation plays; it's just mental errors.
"We can do a much better job of that, and we will."
While Los Angeles has had only occasional lapses in composure in another strong stretch run -- the Kings have won 12 of their past 15 games and can tie a franchise record tonight with an eighth road win in a row -- the Penguins haven't been thrilled with their play in a lot of games since the Olympic break ended a month ago.
The Penguins are 6-6-2 since the break.
They have two regulation losses in a row at home for just the second time; a third would be their longest such streak.
They have been on the brink of clinching a playoff spot for a few days. They need one point -- anything other than a regulation loss -- against the Kings to assure themselves of an eighth postseason appearance in a row.
Just getting to the playoffs isn't much more than a formality for the Penguins, who had a 13-point lead atop the Metropolitan Division before a Wednesday night game between the New York Rangers and Philadelphia.
Of much higher importance to the Penguins is getting their game in order -- restoring composure, for example -- before the playoffs.
"We have 10 games to kind of rally the troops and get things going the right way," said defenseman Matt Niskanen, who called the loss to Phoenix "frustrating" because the Penguins were flat.
"It does happen, as much as you don't want it to," he said of such games.
"But it seems like it's been a few too many of them in the last two to four."
It likely hasn't helped that the Penguins' post-Olympics schedule is jam-packed. They played their first 14 games after the break in 27 days, including three sets of back-to-back games.
There are three more sets of back-to-back games -- including tonight against Los Angeles and Friday at Columbus -- as the Penguins play their final 10 regular-season games over 18 days.
Which helps to explain why the Penguins called off practice Wednesday.
The Kings' schedule has two fewer games than the Penguins between the Olympics and the playoffs, but Los Angeles has a bigger source of motivation. The Kings want to hold onto the third spot in the Pacific Division and avoid falling into a wild-card spot.
Stretch runs have been good to the Kings. In 2012, they finished with an 11-3-4 run to squeeze into the playoffs as the eighth and final seed in the West. Then, they won the Stanley Cup.
A year ago, they went 17-10-3 down the stretch.
"We're always kind of chasing at the end of the year," Los Angeles defenseman Matt Greene said.
"You don't want to be doing that, but it's the situation we've been in the past several years trying to get into the playoffs or, now, trying to keep our spot."
Greene said that kind of chase helps the Kings sharpen their game for the playoffs.
Darryl Sutter said it's about maintaining a controlled desperation.
"It's just a composure thing," he said. "When you're a confident team, you're a good team. It's impossible to always have a lead. All sorts of things can happen during a game. There are things you have zero control over, but try and play with composure -- meaning make the good play under pressure and know that you're going to get hit, all those things.
"When you do that, everything takes care of itself."
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