DETROIT — With conventional methods having failed to light a fire under his team, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan has settled on a simple and basic message to his players with five games left in the regular season.
Just look at the standings.
Frans Nielsen and Luke Glendening scored in rapid succession in the second period, leading the Detroit Red Wings to a 5-2 victory over the Penguins on Tuesday night.
The Penguins remain in second place in the Metropolitan Division with 92 points, but boy, is there a horde of teams right on the doorstep ready to knock them from that perch.
Columbus, Philadelphia and New Jersey are within four points. Florida is seven points back with games in hand.
Forget battling for home-ice advantage. One of those five teams is going to miss the playoffs, and the Penguins are acting like there’s no chance it could be them.
It certainly could.
“We’re fighting for our life for a playoff spot,” Sullivan said. “Nothing’s inevitable in this game. We’ve got to go out and earn it every day.”
The Penguins also lost center Derick Brassard to a lower-body injury. He did not play in the third period. Sullivan did not have an update on his condition after the game.
In a micro sense, the Penguins lost Tuesday night’s game in a 41-second stretch of the second period.
It started with a Nielsen goal against a Penguins penalty-kill unit that has struggled terribly in recent weeks.
Martin Frk gathered a puck in the right faceoff circle, faked a shot and made a perfect cross-ice pass to Nielsen at the left dot for a shot into an essentially empty net at the 14:28 mark.

The Penguins have allowed 10 power-play goals over their last nine games.
The Penguins compounded the problem with a sloppy effort on the next shift. It culminated in a Nick Jensen shot from the blue line knocked in by a Glendening tip from the top of the crease.
“You’re going to give up goals, you’re going to make mistakes, but we can’t allow teams to grab momentum like that, giving up a couple of quick ones,” Sidney Crosby said.
The Penguins managed just 12 shots in the first two periods. Crosby scored on the game’s first shift, and Kris Letang added a goal in garbage time late.
“I thought we had some zone time, we had some possession time, but not a whole lot to show for it,” Sullivan said. “When teams defend hard, you’ve got to get into the hard areas. You’ve got to be willing to go to the net and take a cross-check and look to get a stick on a puck or get your nose over it for a rebound. I don’t think we were willing to do that tonight.”

In a macro sense, the loss kept the Penguins stumbling in a number of ways.
• They’ve been bad on the road, winning just twice in their last seven games away from home.
• They’ve struggled against non-playoff teams, dropping convincing decisions to the Islanders and Red Wings in the span of a week.
• They’ve failed to put together any kind of consistency, alternating wins and losses for the past 10 games.
“Lack of urgency. Period,” Letang said. “When you go into a game against a team that’s young, they’re hungry, they have nothing to lose, they’re going to put it out there. They just worked harder than us. There was no response from our team, and that’s a problem.”
Sullivan often talks about problems that can be fixed with a simple change in mindset. Inconsistent effort is certainly one of those.
“We weren’t playing the game with the level of urgency that we need to have success,” Sullivan said. “When you’re not committed to play the game hard and play the game smart, you run the risk of getting beat.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.