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Penguins GM Dubas says coaching isn't a reason for team's slow start

Kyle Dubas Pittsburgh Penguins Kyle Dubas - Pittsburgh Penguins via Twitter

CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP, Pa. (AP) — Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Kyle Dubas isn't blaming his team's sluggish start on coach Mike Sullivan.

Dubas said Monday the Penguins are “fortunate” to have Sullivan in the fold even with Pittsburgh near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings about a third of the way into the season.

“Do I think that that he’s the right person for this job now and far to the future? I absolutely do,” Dubas said.

Dubas praised Sullivan and his staff for their attention to detail and willingness to explore new avenues in search of a way to help the Penguins break out of a 3-5-3 funk since a five-game winning streak in early November.

“They’re trying to figure out what’s going to work moving ahead,” Dubas said. “So that to me has been the most encouraging part. And like any team that’s in this sport, we have to continue to find our way out of it. And I’m certain that Sully is the best person to help us in that regard.”

Sullivan, who led the Penguins to back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017, is the NHL’s second-longest tenured coach behind Tampa Bay’s Jon Cooper. Pittsburgh hasn’t won a playoff series since 2018, has the NHL’s oldest roster and is currently riding an 0-for-37 streak on the power play heading into Tuesday night’s visit from Arizona.

While star Sidney Crosby has been his usual dynamic self with 15 goals and 12 assists in 26 games, almost all of that success has come at even strength as a top power-play unit that includes Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Erik Karlsson has fizzled. Dubas says Pittsburgh's struggles with the man advantage have become almost outsized at this point but added the “players that we have and the coaching staff that we have are far too good not to solve our way out of it.”

The Penguins haven't scored on the power play since Nov. 11, one of the main reasons they are in seventh in the eight-team Metropolitan Division. Yet Dubas pointed to the team's solid play at even strength and steady goaltending as reasons to be optimistic. If the star-laden power play gets better, the results will quickly follow.

“If we can get that part of our game rolling ... I think we’ll have a good run of success and flow out of it,” he said.

Pittsburgh is currently dealing with injuries to several high-profile players, including forwards Bryan Rust and Rickard Rakell. Rust, tied for second on the team in goals with 10, is “week to week” with an upper-body injury. Rakell hasn't played since Nov. 19 with an upper-body injury of his own.

Dubas called the injuries “no excuse” and said if the players filling in can't help keep Pittsburgh afloat, the blame falls on him.

“If we have a depth issue that falls on my shoulders and should be held against me more than anybody else,” Dubas said.