The Penguins sure do know how to make things interesting, don’t they?
In a vacuum, you take last night’s result any day of the week.
As the criminally underfollowed @404ResponseCode rightly pointed out last night, the Pens were on the road, without Malkin, playing one of the best possession teams on Earth who just happened to be one of the best teams out there since January 1st, fighting tooth and nail for a playoff spot. With those odds stacked against you, playing them evenly and getting a point out of it is inherently good.
But blowing a late lead (again) changes the whole view of the game to that of sullen and despair.
Look. Blowing a lead sucks. We know it. You know it. Your great great grandmother that died of dysentery on the Oregon Trail knows it. And the Penguins certainly know it, too.
Perhaps the gloom and doom is slightly more overplayed than yelling “1975” at Flyers fans when you were born in like 1994.
A win would’ve been nice when you consider that the Isles were shutout by the Bruins and the Jackets fell in Calgary, but a win would’ve robbed us of seeing these Bunch of Jerks from celebrating with Duck Hunt in their Storm Surge show (though, can someone tell these kids liking the rain no longer counts as an idiosycrasy?).
Either way, the Pens are fine, sitting 6 points clear of the bubble, where the Habs have the Jackets looking over their shoulders, and two points back from the Isles. The Habs, Isles, Jackets, and Canes all have much more difficult remaining schedules than the Pens do, too.
After 11 games on the shelf, Kris Letang returned to the lineup in place of Zach Trotman. HCMS made no other lineup changes to the team that fell in OT on Sunday to the Flyers.
Meanwhile, Phil! finally surpassed Craig Adams for longest games played streak in Pens history. Adrian had a really good write up about it here.
Couple of odd-man rushes kicked the game off with each team trading off punches, while defense was largely optional. The Crosby line was buzzing out of the gate (until HCMS flipped McCann and Rust), but was supplanted by a great period from the Simon-Bjugstad-Hornqvist line. They looked the likeliest to score through the first 20 minutes, but both goalies were turning away good looks with regularity.
That said, the flashiest of the saves came from Petr Mrazek at the other end of the ice, denying Bjugstand and Simon on one chance…
…And turning away Bjugstad alone on the back stick on another one late on.
Really even first frame down to every single stat. Played fully at 5-on-5, shots were even at 11-11. Carolina CorsiGods held a slight 23-21 edge in shot attempts and 4-3 edge in high danger chances, an 11-6 lead in scoring chances, and an even 18-18 split in unblocked shot attempts.
Pens had registered 3 high danger shots on goal, though, compared to the lone HD SOG the Canes had.
Both teams picked up the 2nd where they left off in the first until the 3:03 mark when Crosby went off for tripping Aho and Williams caught a high-sticking penalty during the delayed penalty for Schultz’ stick catching 87 to give us a little 4v4 time. Bad call that would be made up for later on.
Also picking back up where he left off: Petr Mrazek, denying Crosby shortly after the 4v4 expired from the faceoff circle. Crosby scores that 99 times out of 100. This was the one.
CAR –9:38 – McGinn; A: Faulk – 1-0
As of course is tradition, when the Penguins can’t beat a goalie standing on his head, they’ll find a way to give up a goal at the other end of the ice.
This one came from the stick of Brock McGinn, illustrating exactly why no one would ever name their kid Brock. As a general rule, if your name is the same as a Pokemon character, you’re probably an asshole.
The play got started after the Penguins lost a battle in the corner of the offensive zone. Carolina dug it out and sprung Michael Ferland on a breakaway as he burned by Jultz. Murr stood tall to turn it away for Jultz to win the battle for the rebound and chip it up to McCann.
With Ferland trapped deep and McCann having some free ice ahead of him, the Pens looked like they were out of danger.
Until McCann threw the puck to the far side of the ice, creating a 50/50 race for it between Phil! and Faulk. They met there at the same time, but the chip stayed with Faulk instead of 81. Faulk was able to gain the zone, beat Phil!, and have enough separation between himself and Johnson to find McGinn burning in from the left wing.
The below view gives you a really good idea as to what went wrong. McCann goes straight to the bench after throwing the puck across ice, which is why Cullen is so late getting back on McGinn. Johnson is kind of caught in no man’s land here after Faulk beats Phil!. If he steps to Faulk, it only amplifies the 2v1 situation Jultz is already dealing with with Martinook and McKegg crashing the net. But by continuing to back off and back in, Faulk has a a 4 lane highway to pass the puck. And because of the rough change, Cullen has no chance to get back on McGinn.
No player in the NHL is missing from there, either.
PIT –10:16 – Guentzel; A: Crosby, Rust – 1-1
The Penguins of October/November would’ve taken that goal against, mixed it with no solution to the Mrazek Problem, packed it up and headed to Nashville.
But new calendar year Penguins don’t do that and, 38 seconds later, they were level again before you even had a chance to vomit your Steel Reserve into your lap.
This time, it was after the Canes turned the puck over to them in the offensive zone after some really great defending by Letang on Williams. Watch when Williams enters the zone here. Letang keeps a nice gap, keeps the puck in front of him, and even as Williams tries to dance to the middle to get a shooting lane, Letang and Dumo combine to shut that shit down, forcing him into finally throwing a hopeful shot towards the net from a bad angle.
Dumo races over to the 50/50 puck, gets a piece of it, and Letang is there behind the net to clean it all up with a short little pass to Dumo peeling off the wall.
That’s where Dumo makes this goal happen. He takes the pass, has the confidence to back into the high slot and send Niederreiter the other way, and find Rust on the weak side of the neutral zone for the zone exit. Rust makes the smart play and ships it in deep for Crosby to give chase.
Crosby’s first pass to the slot failed, but he recollected, got his head up, and found Money Bag for the equalizer.
Then, just over 2 minutes minutes later, we got 2 more minutes of 4v4 time after Rust got hit with an interference call at the blue line and as Pesce went to the ice, his stick came up and clipped Rust, but that’d be the extent of the 2nd frame.
Again, in the 16 minutes of 5v5 play, play was pretty even. Shots on goal were an even 7-7 (10-7 Canes at all strengths). Carolina, though, did have a slight edge across the board in shot attempts (14-13), unblocked attempts (12-9), scoring chances (9-5), and high danger chances (4-2), as well as a 4-2 advantage in the high danger shots on goal.
Shockingly, the third period opened with not too much being between these two teams. But at 5:03, the Pens got the first powerplay of the night after Faulk went off for using Crisco in his hair.
Canes PK is one of the best in the biz this year and they showed it by preventing the Pens from even being able to set up on the peep.
With the kill, the Canes gained some momentum for a short period of time and the game started to open up, the Penguins started to get a foothold on it.
But they could not beat Mrazek.
PIT –15:23 – Letang; A: Rust, Guentzel – 2-1
But no sooner could some dickhead GIF and Stat Boy tweet that out did the Penguins make him eat his tweet with a wrench.
Controlled breakout city for the Canes as they beat the lone Crosby forecheck with Aho’s speed and skating. He split Jake and Rust, wheeled in on Letang and Dumo, and dished it off to Williams on the left wing when he pushed 58 and 8 back enough. His shot was turned aside by Murr for Dumo to sweep up to 87 for the quick out.
Elite vision and passing from Sid here to spring Money Bag, but watch Letang as Crosby hits this pass. He’s already bombing up ice, recognizing his chance here.
The only thing better was Guentzel’s play. He knows Faulk has the angle on him and knows Faulk is going to attack him. Money Bag baits him in, slams on the brakes, and knows he has Rust on the far post.
The pass from Guentzel is something special, but good on Rust for not getting too excited with the feed to 58 in front.
Brind-Amore got Mrazek out of the net with about 3 minutes left and the Canes started to surge, but Matt Murray looked up to the task early in the 6v5.
CAR –18:04 – Williams; A: Hamilton, Niederreiter – 2-2
That is, until an offensive zone faceoff with about 2 to play. Staal vs. Crosby. Mano y mano.
Crosby actually looks like he about won the draw, but Niederreiter is quickest to react, beating Cullen to the dead puck and getting it to Hamilton for a point shot.
He flubs it a bit, Rust can’t get a block, and Murr can’t hang on. Rust selling out for the block left Williams all alone to beat Letang to the rebound and bang it home.
Almost immediately after the equalizer, Jack Johnson put the Pens down a man on a 5v4 for the first time for this ridiculous hit, ruling out any possibility of the Pens having a chance to win it in regulation.
The Pens survived the last 1:44 of the 3rd at 5v4 to get into OT, though.
Then, they killed off the remaining 16 seconds at 4v3 and The Matt Murray Show began.
But on that Aho breakaway above, Letang got rung up for slashing (and a 10 minute misconduct), putting the Canes back on the PP for the remainder of OT, where the Canes nearly won it on multiple occasions, including a blocked shot that helped Johnson redeem himself for the penalty.
That got us to the shootout, but with Letang serving his 10 minute misconduct, the Pens were down arguably their best shootout guy.
Dougie Hamilton opened it and, with a handsy little move, beat Murr in tight.
Phil! was stopped next, despite getting his shot through Mrazek’s wickets.
- Pens are 0-5-2 in their last 7 road games without Malkin. Yikes.
- Pens owned the 3rd at 5v5, out-attempting the Canes 20-14 (17-11 in unblocked shot attempts), 15-7 in actual shots on goal, 7-6 in scoring chances, and 5-2 in high danger chances. That 3rd period alone should’ve been enough to win.
- Unreal goaltending duel. Murr with 37 saves on 39 shots (.949 SV%), making 10 high danger saves on 11 shots at even-strength (6 for 6 at 5v5). He also faced a staggering 8 rebound shots against, too. Mrazek had 36 saves on 38 shots (.947 SV%), making 8 high danger saves on 9 shots at even-strength with 4 rebound shots against.
- Letang in his return: 1 goal, on 4 shots (all at 5v5), a hit, a block, and 26:45 of ice time. At 5v5, his 5 individual shot attempts were 2nd most behind Dumoulin’s 6 and his 4 shots on goal were a joint-team-high with Dumo. Letang was also on the ice for 27 shot attempts for and 22 against (55.10%), 16-8 shots on goal (66.67%), 2-0 in actual goals, and 6 of 11 HD scoring chances (54.55%) in 18:01 of 5v5 ice time.
- All stats provided by Natural Stat Trick.
Game 2 of the 4 game road swing kick off at 8 PM in Nashville on Thursday before they turn their attention to Dallas on Saturday night. Do it. Go Pens.