We’re at a crossroads here, folks.
On one hand, we’ve seen players watch games from the pressbox over a lack of positive impact.
On the other hand, we’ve been subjected to players objectively costing the Penguins games inexplicably see consistent, regular minutes.
Mike Sullivan is a great coach. He’s one of the best tacticians in the NHL. He’s brought this organization two championships. He’s made some impossible decisions with surgical precision. He should’ve been nominated for the Jack Adams this year.
And when Crosby and Malkin are gone, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him lead the next generation of Penguins. None of that should get lost here.
But the next 40+ hours are going to be incredibly telling in terms of what kind of coach he is.
Because the Penguins have some glaring issues. We all see them.
And you’re lying to yourself, your peers, your readers/listeners, and everyone in between if you don’t think those issues start with the 3rd D pairing. From Gentille:
[T]he Penguins’ third pairing of Jack Johnson and Justin Schultz hasn’t just been awful — it’s apparently set in amber. Of the Canadiens’ seven 5v5 goals this series, five have come with Johnson on the ice. On four of them, he’s been with Schultz out there, as well. Montreal scored one of its four goals Wednesday night on a sequence when the two had somehow managed to switch sides. They were both below the goal-line for the winner in Game 1. They’re not passengers here; they’re driving the bus.
Smart money is on them playing in Game 5; the coaching staff probably likes Schultz on the power play — which, ironically, showed signs of reanimation on Wednesday — too much to move him. Juuso Riikola, the lefthanded Johnson replacement, is in the doghouse for reasons we may never understand. Chad Ruhwedel could do it, but the forwards have also played most of the season with a lefty on the left side. It’s tough to imagine that changing, for better or worse.
So, this is what you’ve got: two guys who are brutal together and also essentially quarantined. Don’t keep whatever they’ve got from spreading, the logic goes. It’d make more sense if we hadn’t watched them combine to be the single biggest factor in both losses. This is happening. We’ve all seen it. The game ended, like 10 minutes ago.
Jack Johnson may have some intangibles that we don’t know about; that don’t show up in the data or just, ya know, by watching him play hockey. The same can be said about Patrick Marleau, who was nearly as much of a liability in this one as Johnson continues to be.
We hear all about how the players and staff love Johnson. We hear all about how he’s a great leader in the room. We heard rumblings about how the players were upset when he was benched in Game 1 last season in favor of a player they had won championships with. We hear nothing about why he continues to see the ice.
But leadership isn’t just saying shit in the locker room. Leadership isn’t just stepping up and scoring goals or making plays in big moments.
Leadership is also making tough decisions; making decisions that may not be popular, but benefit the group at large. Leadership is also being consistent in your messaging.
Because if the message to players like Juuso Riikola or Jared McCann (or potentially Matt Murray come Friday) is “if you don’t perform, we’ll replace you with someone who will,” then what sort of message is it sending when Jack Johnson, Patrick Marleau, and Justin Schultz (who was the extra attacker for the 6v4/6v5 over Bryan Rust and Jason Zucker!) continue to get sent over the boards; continue to make the gameday lineup; continue to cost the Penguins goals; continue to cost the Penguins games?
That’s not consistency in your messaging. That’s not leadership.
That’s packing your bags and loading up the plane to start your offseason early for the second year in a row.
And unless the end result is Alexis Lefreniere, then this is just another wasted year of Crosby, Malkin, and Letang.
It may prove to be that anyway.
This time, there’s no novel that requires a roadmap to tell you that there were no changes in the lineups because there were changes. Jared McCann was the lone change for the Penguins after struggling to really get involved in the series and was a healthy scratch, replaced by Sam Lafferty as the 3rd line center.
For the Habs, some ten seasons later NHL 20 generated name “Jake Evans” replaced Jordan Weal on the 4th line.
There’s probably about a 97% chance anyone named “Jake Evans” looks exactly like this.
First great chance of the game came from Jeff Petry jumping in on a 3v2 on the opening shift of the game. It wasn’t a particularly inspiring start for the Penguins and was made to be even less inspiring about 5 minutes in.
MTL – 4:57 – Weber; A: Lehkonen, Byron – 1-0
This play started with an offensive zone draw for the Penguins. It was drawn up for Schultz to take a one-time shot, meaning his was set up on his off-side.
That also meant Jack Johnson was on his off-side and put in a position to have to keep the puck in at the point. He had a couple chances at it with Lehkonen hounding him, but being on his backhand was the same result as Dumoulin on Suzuki’s goal in Game 1: bad.
Lehkonen wasted no time getting the puck forward and the Pens 3rd line found themselves outnumbered as Montreal beat them up ice. No one picked up Shea Weber, who got a few cracks at it before beating Murray.
Not even going to comment on Johnson losing a puck battle or getting beat to the net. Unsure why no one bothered to track Weber here. So just total mudbutt all around.
HCMS challenged this for interference and depending on your very fluid definition of whatever the hell goaltender interference actually is, he may have had a case.
But not here.
So the Penguins had to kill off the ensuing bench minor for a failed challenge, which they did, and earned a PP of their own less than a minute later when Ben Chiarot went off for slashing Crosby. It did not disappoint.
PIT – 8:40 – Hornqvist; A: Malkin, Crosby – 1-1
One thing that will always been a healthy remedy for a powerplayrectile dysfunction is some good ol’ fashioned hard work above all else.
And that’s what we got here from the top unit. Guentzel and Hornqvist overloaded the corner to keep the puck, with Hornqvist even taking a nasty cross-check from behind to make a play to 87 in support behind the net.
As soon as Crosby got the puck, you just knew it was going to end up in the back of the net.
Armia, Weber, and Petry were all trapped low as they were chasing the puck, none of whom were in position when Malkin got control of the biscuit.
As they panicked back into their box, Malkin froze them all with the fake shot, throwing it through the seam and hitting Hornqvist, risen from the dead, on the back stick.
The puck going in on the delayed penalty meant the Pens would get a full 2 minutes of another PP in the aftermath. It also did not disappoint.
PIT – 9:39 – Zucker; A: Rust, Marino – 2-1
This time, the box broke down with both Montreal forwards stacked on top of one another as Zucker worked the puck to Marino at the center point. Really underrated from Marino here to be able to get it through both Habs forwards, Rust in the high slot, and Marleau in front of Price.
Price does a remarkable job himself to also track it through the mass of bodies, but it was high blocker, leaving him with singular option of WAFFLE BOARDING IT AWAY.
With Rust in the soft area between the forwards and D, he was able to get body position on the rebound here, spinning away from Danault and slipping a pass right into Zucker’s wheelhouse.
We just love Jason Zucker goals, don’t we?
After all of that excitement and the return of the 5v5 hockey we simply have to love, the game slowed down quite a bit. Crosby’s line didn’t, but ya know.
Pens would take a 14-11 shot on goal advantage into the break, but the 15:54 of 5v5 yielded more equal results.
Shot attempts: 17-16 Pens
Unblocked attempts: 12-12
SOG: 10-9 Habs
Scoring chances: 9-8 Habs
HD chances: 5-3 Habs
Expected goals: 1.03-0.65 Habs
The Habs got the chance to open the period with 1:53 of PP time after Sheary “tripped” up Kulak in the offensive zone following some good bone crushing from the Sid and the Young Adults trio.
It was a dive, Chuck, and the Penguins killed it off.
And after the kill, the Pens started taking over. On one shift, it did appear that the Habs were going to burrow in deep, working down the wall on Dumoulin and Letang.
PIT – 5:34 – Blueger; A: Aston-Reece, Tanev – 3-1
Those two did enough and got some help dropping below the goal line from Blueger, forcing Weise to throw the puck up the wall to the point.
It was rolling the whole time, jumping over Mete’s stick and creating a foot race.
Mete had probably about a 20 feet headstart on Tanev, but if we ever wanted evidence that Brandon Tanev has probably chased down and eaten a gazelle in his life, you’re looking at it.
ZAR was so unlucky not to score on the initial feed, but no one picked up Teddy Blueger burning in to jam home the rebound.
We were all buzzing. The Pens were rolling. With a 2 goal lead, everything was gold.
Pens would have to kill off another penalty about a minute and a half later with Marino getting caught holding Yo Ell Armia.
Habs PP looked good, but Murray made the saves he had to and the guys in front of him made the blocks they had to. Sid and Jake finished off the last 15 seconds of it and nearly scored, but this isn’t horseshoes nor is it hand grenades.
MTL – 10:13 – Drouin; A: Chiarot, Weber – 3-2
What is hand grenades is chasing the puck in your own end of the ice.
And following a D-zone faceoff, that’s exactly what the Penguins did as the Habs worked it to the near wall.
As Weber takes control of the puck at the point, Rust, Malkin, Marleau, and Schultz are all on the strong side of the ice, crippling them from even making a play on Chiarot when he takes Weber’s pass.
They run around and it overloads Johnson and Schultz down low. Johnson steps up to take away Armia’s stick for any potential deflection. That’s fine, but it also leaves Schultz to take care of Drouin and Kotkaniemi in front of the net. It also meant this:
One of Malkin or Marleau has to stay back instead of attacking Weber here, too. Marleau recognizes it’s not going to be Malkin, so he drops back to Kotkaniemi, but it’s far too late and Drouin is tipping the shot-pass behind Murr.
Malkin followed it up by taking a tripping penalty about 3 minutes later and the wheels really started falling off.
Technically, the Penguins killed it off, but does it actually matter?
MTL – 15:50 – Byron; A: Chiarot, Weber – 3-3
There was a clear and the Habs were able to lug it up ice right near the end of the kill, hitting Marino’s side of the ice with speed.
May be the only mistake John Marino has made this season, but it was bad as he gets worked and smoked by Byron.
Still, the Pens aren’t in bad shape. Crosby is filtering in behind so that Johnson can backfill for Marino. Instead, Johnson drops straight to the net, opening up the passing lane to Suzuki, who was just robbed by Murray.
Johnson remains anchored to the crease, doing fuck all to help out his netminder. Paul Byron skates right by him to collect the loose puck and attempt a wraparound that Murray initially saves, but isn’t able to lock the toe of his skate to the post before sliding into the net with the puck.
Sure, you can look to Murr here for not locking in, but with any competent defenseman playing there, he doesn’t have to worry about it.
Period ended with shots 13-11 in favor of Montreal. At 5v5:
Shot attempts: 15-15
Unblocked attempts: 13-11 MTL
SOG: 10-9 PIT
Scoring chances: 10-6 PIT
HD chances: 6-3 PIT
Expected goals: 1.01-0.63 PIT
The Penguins came out flying in the final frame, knowing that whatever transpired before the break didn’t matter. All they had to do was win 20 minutes.
The Pens got the kill with a little help from puck luck and the iron, but it only lasted about 19 seconds.
MTL – 5:33 – Petry; A: Chiarot, Danault – 4-3
Because the Penguins were scrambling when ZAR got released from the box, who failed to pick up Jeff Petry drifting all alone to the near circle.
There’s so much wrong here and part of it starts with Patrick Marleau having no clue where he’s supposed to be. Dumoulin and Letang track their forwards up towards the blue line and cycle back towards their net because their guys went for a change. Only Rust picks up on that, following Byron to the net.
Neither Marleau nor ZAR hones in on either defensemen, but more specifically Chiarot, because they’re too busy watching the cycle along the wall. Chiarot could’ve learned to fly a B-52 in the time he had to pick out his pass
And Jeff Petry could’ve learned how to fly a B-2 with as much time as he had to shoot.
Montreal only had 4 skaters on the ice when this puck went in, which went in off of Murray’s neck.
You give Carey Price and a Claude Julien team 14 minutes to close out a game, you can bet your bottom dollar they’re going to do it.
They did it for about 10 of those minutes, but the Penguins were afforded a chance to cost you your bottom dollar with a powerplay with 3:32 to play.
With about 18 seconds left on the PP, Murray vacated the cage for the 6v4 that turned into a 6v5 that turned into the Pens not being able to find the back of the net or the offensive zone for the final 30 odd seconds of the game.
- If HCMS goes to Jarry on Friday, you could hardly blame him if for no other reason than to switch things up and try to inject something into these guys; to tell them that they let Matt Murray down when it mattered most. I thought Murray wasn’t as bad as it’s being suggested. He made 6 saves on 9 high danger shots against, stopped all 12 mid-danger shots he faced, and allowed 1 low danger goal on 6 shots. You can make the case that he should’ve done better with the Petry goal just as much as you can make the case that Petry shouldn’t have had the puck all alone in that position to begin with. He was a little unlucky on the game-tying goal by not getting his skate locked to the post, but isn’t immune from criticism, even if it is unlucky. But just look at where the goals (and shots) came from. Simply not good enough from the players in front of him.
- The third line saw 6:33 of 5-on-5 ice time last night. They gave up 11 shot attempts, registering just 3. In unblocked attempts, it was 10 against, 2 for. They got out-shot 7-2, generated 0.11 expected goals while giving up 0.57, and generated 1 scoring chance (1 high danger) while allowing 5 (3 high danger). Somehow they were even worse without McCann.
- For all the reasons Gentille mentioned in his post, it absolutely will not happen, but you have nothing to lose by rolling out Guentzel-Crosby-Sheary//Zucker-Malkin-Rust//Rodrigues-McCann-Hornqvist//Tanev-Blueger-ZAR///Dumoulin-Letang//Pettersson-Marino//Riikola-Ruhwedel? You’re not going to win a championship with Johnson-Schultz if you’re already struggling to beat the worst team in the “playoffs” with them and it’s hard to imagine two guys that aren’t in game shape like Riikola and Ruhwedel would be worse than what’s currently out there.
See you Friday at 4 PM. Crosby’s birthday and whatnot. Go Pens.