The message the players received from the coaching staff after Thursday's season-opening loss to the Sabres was simple.
"We just have to be better," Jared McCann told me after Saturday's morning skate. "There's no easy way to put it, it just wasn't good enough. We have to be better. We practiced hard yesterday and looked at the video to see what we did wrong. It's things we can fix and tonight we're going to come out with a better effort."
"Just overall we have to be better," said Teddy Blueger. "We didn't compete hard enough, getting out-chanced, out-shot, those kinds of things."
"It was obvious, everybody knows," Dominik Kahun was telling me. "It seems like Buffalo was just more ready than us. We, for sure, learned from it, and we have to be ready tonight."
Obviously, having a better effort to start the game is key. By the midpoint of the first period of the opener, the Penguins were being outshot 10-2 and an even strength shot-attempt differential of minus-14. They weren't able to get any chances off, let alone get them to the net.
The Penguins as a team looked like a disjointed mess for most of the game, with the notable exception of the second line. There were moments of clear individual effort from different players, they just weren't able to come together after stumbling out of the gate.
"It's tough when you start off on the wrong foot," Blueger told me. "Guys are trying to create on their own a little too much, rather than trusting their teammates and using their help. That's something we need to do better."
After Thursday's game, Sullivan said the Penguins needed a "more collective, cooperative effort in all three zones."
The emphasis there is on "collective, cooperative," which is what Blueger was talking about when he said that guys weren't trusting or using their teammates enough. In speaking with other guys, it's clear that was a focus when the coaching staff was going over film of the game with the players.
"We just didn't play together as a team," said McCann. "We weren't together around the ice, we didn't support each other. I feel like it was an individual kind of team effort. But when we watched the video it wasn't like we were trying to do it. It was just something that happened and we have to move on and focus on the next game."
"We have to play more together, be there for each other more, play close to each other," Kahun said. "Just play more in the offensive zone, hold onto pucks, because the game was more back and forth all the time, we want to stick more in the offensive zone and we should be good."
Going into Saturday's game against the Blue Jackets, do the players just wipe the mess that was last game from their memories and start fresh? Do they learn from it and try to build off of it? It's a little of both.
"The last game has been in the back of our heads, so hopefully it'll create that energy that we need," Blueger said.
"For a couple of hours after the game you think about it, see what you did right, see what you did wrong, even into the next day," McCann said. "But once that's over, once the video is done with, you learn from it and you move on."
"You have to forget a game like that, but you learn from it, too," said Kahun. "We know our mistakes there, we just weren't hard enough on pucks. We just gave up too many scoring chances. We learn from it and make it better."
It would be pretty hard to make things worse compared to last game, so it's only up from here.
• It was an optional skate that only lasted about 20 minutes. No line rushes, no special teams work. Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist, Kris Letang, and Justin Schultz were the only players absent.
• As expected, Matt Murray was the first goaltender off the ice, indicating he will start.
• Since it was an optional skate and we didn't get any line rushes, we don't know what the lineup will look like tonight. If yesterday's practice is any indication, Dominik Simon could end up back on the top line. Sullivan honestly sounds like he's tired of explaining to people what the coaching staff sees in Simon's game, so he kept it short when asked why he was comfortable with Simon on the top line.
"He's a good player," Sullivan said. "He's strong on pucks, he makes plays. He's just a good, solid 200-foot hockey player."
Faceoff tonight is 7:08 at PPG Paints Arena, where Dave, Sunday and I will have your coverage. The Penguins will have an off day on Sunday.
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