The Pittsburgh Penguins near constant line shuffling, defensive mistakes and an increasingly good Carolina Hurricanes blew down the Penguins, 4-0 at PPG Paints Arena Thursday.
The first period showed the difference between the Penguins and Hurricanes. The Hurricanes were faster, and the Penguins displayed more individual talent and grinding as the teams skated through a tight checking, quiet period.
In the second period, the Penguins celebrated 70’s night by looking like the Bad News Bears. Carolina spent most of the period in the Penguins zone, as the Penguins fumbled their breakouts like political hacks trying to rob an office building.
Jeff Skinner took the puck from a vulnerable Ian Cole, who had been abandoned at center ice and had a clean shot at Penguins goalie Matt Murray. Skinner (13) snapped it over Murray’s glove hand, six minutes into the middle period. 1-0.
The Penguins turnovers, stumbles, and disorganization continued throughout the period. In fact, they looked like the Penguins of the ’70’s.
Late in the second period, Teuvo Teravainen (11) didn’t miss a wide-open net as the Penguins forwards forgot to cover anyone. A quick tic-tac-toe passing play, Jacob Slavin to Sebastian Aho and finally to Teravainen circumvented the Penguins defense and goalie. 2-0.
The assembled media asked Sidney Crosby if their emotional level was good enough. He shook his head.
“No. No…no,” said Crosby. Pittsburgh Hockey Now also asked Crosby if the aggressive line changes made it more difficult to generate offense.
“That’s a message to us that we haven’t generated enough,” said Crosby.
The Penguins line shuffling and disorganization continued into the third period. The same line did not appear on the ice twice for the Penguins for the first five minutes. Carolina continued to take advantage of lackadaisical mistakes.
Sebastian Aho skated past Justin Schultz six minutes into the third period. Aho (12) cut to the net and slipped a backhand through Murray’s five-hole. 3-0
Justin Schultz whose poor offensive zone pinch left Cole alone on the Hurricanes first goal and was walked by Aho on the third goal was also sullen.
“It was a big game for us. No excuses,” Schultz said.
A few minutes later, Aho (13) neatly deflected a shot past Murray. 4-0. All that was left was to beat the traffic.
Sullivan rejected Pittsburgh Hockey Now’s question about aggressive line shuffling.
“It wasn’t (a change) every other line until they got the fourth goal. We basically shortened the bench and went to three lines that stayed the same (Sullivan emphasized the word “same”). And it was an attempt to try to get back into the game,” Sullivan said calmly.
Postgame Analysis and Press Box Nachos
That was a brutal game. It highlighted the differences in the Penguins roster from last season to this season. The Penguins could not skate with Carolina. There were able to generate zone time by grinding Carolina in the corners, but the players able to do that were not able to maintain their level of play, and the Hurricanes found offensive chances in the aftermath. Great offensive chances.
The Penguins had only 21 shots
Cam Ward: “To be quite honest, it was a relatively comfortable night for myself. I think they’re one of the top-shooting teams in the league and we managed to hold them to 21 shots.”
I’m hearing this a lot from opposing goalies this season when they go up against the #pens
— Vince Comunale (@PGHVC) January 5, 2018
Ryan Reaves was the only right wing to not skate with Sidney Crosby. Crosby skated with Conor Sheary, Jake Guentzel, Dominik Simon, Daniel Sprong, Phil Kessel and perhaps the cotton candy vendor, too.
Guentzel did not play well at center. In fact, it was Guentzel’s line which was pinned in their zone for over a minute, early in the second period, which opened the floodgates for Carolina. It was all downhill for the Penguins after that shift.
–Justin Schultz had a night to forget. While fans were quick to slam Ian Cole for the ‘Canes first goal, it was a bad decision by Schultz which left Cole scrambling back without help or an outlet. A defenseman lunging for the puck trying to shield a rushing forward is going the offense’s way in most cases.
Aho also walked Schultz for the third goal.
–The fourth line magic with Reaves and Sheahan was present in the first period. In the carnage, it was lost. Sheahan would be a good fourth line center…if the Penguins had a third line center.
–I’m not crazy, am I? Sullivan and Recchi were aggressively switching the lines from midway through the first period, but especially in the third. Guentzel was all over the lineup from center to wing to center back to wing.
After Crosby called it a message, I felt it odd that Sullivan said they didn’t switch lines. There were ways to answer the question without opening the can of worms. I would have had better luck asking Todd Haley if he liked Tequila Cowboy.
–The Penguins mismanaged their roster situation terribly. They started Jake Guentzel at center. Sullivan has made clear with honest comments, beginning at the draft, that Guentzel was not considered an option at center unless necessary.
Why wasn’t Adam Johnson recalled as the WBS Penguins believed he would be? Or, even Greg McKegg called up to play center?
Why did the Penguins roll with Dominik Simon on the top line? The Penguins recently demoted Simon to make room for Sprong.
The Penguins are in serious trouble. All of the heart and effort in the world can’t make small wingers become adept third line centers overnight.
This exact situation was the culmination of months of decisions which were avoidable. …A column is coming for the morning.