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‘Didn’t Deserve to Win’: Penguins Report Card vs. Toronto

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Sidney Crosby Pittsburgh Penguins

Not every game is a winner, and some nights, the legs aren’t there. The Pittsburgh Penguins had a chance to pound the stake through the heart of the Toronto Maple Leafs and create a city-wide meltdown. Instead, Toronto pressured the Penguins and took advantage of the Penguins faceoff failures for a trio of goals in the Toronto 4-0 shutout win.

After Toronto got their legs in the second period, the Penguins were never again in the game. Perhaps the Penguins were lulled to sleep on Tuesday in the dominant 5-2 win. Thursday night, the Penguins didn’t show the fighting spirit or effort to which we’ve become accustomed.

With some irony, Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan talked about applying pressure on the pregame telecast.

“Make (Toronto) make plays under pressure. If they can make three plays tape to tape under pressure then we’ll need a save.”

Instead, it was Toronto that pressured the Penguins, which was unable to make the tape-to-tape plays.

“We didn’t deserve to win tonight. They played better than us,” Sullivan said. “They outplayed us. They got what they deserved, and so did we.”

And those faceoff losses. The Penguins are not a good faceoff team. On Thursday night, the team was only 38%. Andrew Agozzino won two of three faceoffs. And winger Brandon Tanev won both of his faceoffs, but the Penguins centers were abysmal.

The faceoffs themselves are not

“They’re a really good team in the offensive zone. Unfortunately, we didn’t play enough in their zone and wear them down there,” said Penguins captain Sidney Crosby. “Early in shifts, they had a lot of energy to work and move and do what they do in the offensive zone.”

Penguins Tactical Analysis

The dominos fell based on the Toronto pressure and the Penguins inability to pushback. Mike Sullivan’s postgame comments weren’t soft, either.

“We didn’t compete hard enough off the loss. We didn’t defend hard enough. We didn’t defend the net-front nearly as hard as we need to,” Sullivan growled.

Crosby was less surly but no less honest.

“Our forecheck and our ability to win battles and keep the puck in their end wasn’t good, and because of that, we spent a lot of time in our own end,” he conceded.

The coach and the captain were perfectly correct. The Penguins didn’t break free of the Toronto pressure. Wingers didn’t skate hard enough to defend. Nor did the forwards skate hard enough to provide puck support to spring the Penguins out of their own zone.

The Penguins didn’t pin Toronto in their own zone. That came from a lack of numbers on the puck, but also a lack of available bodies in the area. My notebook had a few shifts marked as potential turning points, but there was never a follow-up.

Toronto used superior numbers to compensate for their lack of strength. The blue and white dropped numbers below the dots to clog the dirty zones and make it harder for the Penguins to control the walls and corners.

The clog created opportunities for the Penguins to go low to high, but they didn’t win enough battles.

The Penguins also didn’t defend well enough to catch Toronto with their transition game.

There was a reason why Sullivan was surly. Notice the Penguins lack of shots or pressure anywhere near the net. Note the heat map from NaturalStatTrick.com

Pittsburgh Penguins Report Card

Well, this will be tough…

Matt Murray: B-

Murray could have made an extra save, maybe two, but it wouldn’t have mattered. Murray made some very good saves in the first period and throughout the game. The goals were solid goals, but Murray could have taken a couple away, too.

Juuso Riikola: C-

Riikola skated the puck low, but he inexplicably overcommitted on Kasperi Kapanen’s breakaway goal. Like everyone else, Riikola was mostly invisible. He and defense partner Chad Ruhwedel combined for zero shots.

Jared McCann: B-

Not many Penguins were very good on Thursday, but McCann dropped the gloves with Kapanen. McCann held his own, too. Center Evgeni Malkin was not right in the faceoff dot, but McCann wasn’t on the puck either.

Bryan Rust: B

Rust had a tea high three shots and a team-high five hits. Rust was one of the noticeable Penguins whose feet were moving.

Evgeni Malkin: B-

Malkin played hard. It wasn’t a lack of effort. It was a lack of the puck. He lost 11 of 15 faceoffs, but his wingers didn’t converge on the puck after the draw.

Short report card tonight. The game didn’t have enough tactical features or efforts, which is why the Pittsburgh Penguins were smothered.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now owner, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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