There wasn’t a pizza on the roof or any Heisenberg references, but the Pittsburgh Penguins are breaking bad. They received a good spanking from the Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday and Sunday. The Penguins were likely given a few terse words from head coach Mike Sullivan, but the thumpings they received from the Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes, which came after their recent six-game losing streak, should have stung far worse.
The mood in the locker room was dark. Pitch black, actually. Bewilderment. Confusion. Dejection.
On the ice, the Penguins earned their fate. When PHN began to diagram the miscues, blunders, and weak defensive efforts, we didn’t set out to target Penguins center Evgeni Malkin. However, he was especially lax on Sunday, and a couple of the breakdowns will target Malkin losing his coverage. Malkin first lost his coverage on rookie Morgan Geekie, who was playing in his first NHL game. Later, we’ll break down the wild scramble in which Malkin lost Vincent Trocheck.
“We’re just a little bit disconnected. We’re not executing, and we’re not anticipating a lot of it is the play away from the puck,” Sullivan said.
Malkin is far from the only culprit from the weekend. Don’t take the following breakdowns as pointing a single finger. Instead, the plays are indicative of head-scratching plays made by all of the Penguins lines, including Sidney Crosby, who was tagged with a few lapses on Saturday.
After their embarrassment on Saturday, the Penguins scored an important first-period goal on Sunday. They earned a lead and had every reason to feel good…for about 31 seconds.
Evgeni Malkin lost the faceoff to Geekie, and that was the beginning.
We don’t need to breakdown Malkin’s play too much, but it’s indicative of so many failures in the last two games. There are several deeper factors, also. Why wasn’t the fourth line, or third-line taking the defensive zone draw shortly after a goal? That’s an error on Sullivan. In addition to Malkin’s mistake, you’ll also notice no one else was hard on the puck. Carolina moved it quickly and easily.
The Pittsburgh Penguins played moderately well in the first period. In the second period, the wheels came off. The scurryfunge in the crease started the Penguins downfall. Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry made an acrobatic save and managed to grab the puck before it crossed the line, but just count the number of plays the Penguins failed to produce.
First, the video:
Ok, if you counted six missed opportunities to make a play, you earned a gold star.
The first play which could have been made was defenseman Justin Schultz going back on the puck. Rather than turning his hips to the forehand or backhand to play the puck in either direction, he essentially ate it, then lost the puck battle.
Above, you’ll see Trocheck and Malkin eyeing the puck battle created by the Carolina forecheck and Schultz’s inability to move the puck in either direction before being tied up.
In the next still, you’ll see Trocheck blow past Malkin for the loose puck, which sets off another chain of events.
Now, Bryan Rust and Patrick Marleau are in a good position to defend the slot and defend the points. Schultz and Jack Johnson are defending the pair of net crashers (you can see Johnson getting dumped in front. A moment later, he returned the favor).
While the Pittsburgh Penguins have solid enough position here, Carolina kept moving, while the Penguins…did not. Once again, the Penguins were not hard on the puck, and Carolina was able to get the puck to the point and a clear shot on goal.
Above, you’ll see proper positioning by the Penguins defensemen Schultz and Johnson. Each secured their coverage.
But Trocheck lost Malkin, and Schultz was not able to get the rebound. I’m still not sure what to make of Patrick Marleau on this sequence, either. You’ll notice he moved very little through the entire 8-second sequence. Should Rust have called Marleau for help at the point so that Rust could intercept Trocheck? Should Marleau have sagged towards the slot for the rebound?
Each coach wants different things in that situation, so we’ll reserve any critique of Marleau.
The entire play was a flat-footed failure. That’s not winning hockey on any front.
The backbreaking goal was early in the third period. Again, it was an entirely preventable score, but Carolina outworked the Penguins.
In this play, the reliable John Marino, who was trying to peer through the aquarium on his head, was burned by the veteran Williams. Marino is still sporting a black eye and is gritting through the broken cheek.
On this play, Marcus Pettersson and Brandon Tanev switch, then remain out of position. Because Pettersson was being dragged to the top of the zone, he was hesitant. I would venture to say he and Tanev should have switched back as the puck went to the corner. Tanev would have been on the puck and nullified the play on the wall. Instead, Pettersson played it softly, which created space.
The Penguins have no one covering either point as Tanev had to stay at the net, Marleau was caught adjusting to the ill-fated adjustments…and so on…
And there you go. Disconnected. Disorganized. Carolina was able to scramble the Pittsburgh Penguins zone coverage with shots and structured play. The Penguins were chasing the game.
The mistakes are easily correctable, but the question begs, why are they happening so often at this point in the season? If anyone has that answer, Mike Sullivan and operators are standing by.