After two straight wins and at least a point in three straight games, the Pittsburgh Penguins offense returned to their season funk in a 2-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, Saturday at the PPG Paints Arena.
The Blackhawks not only outshot the Penguins 38-36, they had a clear advantage in both offensive zone time and scoring chances. In the first period alone, Penguins goalie Matt Murray stoned a pair of Blackhawks breakaways and got a pair of assists from the iron to his left.
Midway through the first period, Chicago defenseman Gustav Forsling finally lit the lamp, with power-play goal.
The Penguins killed off a Kris Letang Delay-of-Game minor, but moments later Murray was whistled for tripping. After a wild sequence which saw Murray make a pair of dandy saves on Artem Anisimov, and Riley Sheahan sliding across the crease to make a save, the Murray wall buckled.
From the top of the left circle, Forsling (2) was able to sneak a wrist shot through Murray’s five-hole. 1-0.
The Chicago pressure continued in the second period. Just a couple minutes into the period, Brandon Saad pinged another shot off the post, the third of the game. And, the Penguins needed another kick save by a skater (Matt Hunwick) to keep Chicago at bay.
The Penguins offense showed its first signs of life in the third period, with a shorthanded marker.
Penguins third line center Riley Sheahan was pinned to the boards in the Blackhawks zone, but outmuscled his competition for the puck and sent a strong backhand pass across the ice to defenseman Matt Hunwick.
Hunwick floated a backhand through Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford’s five-hole. 1-1.
The Penguins momentum was short-lived, however. Just 21 seconds later, Chicago retook the lead when Artem Anisimov beat Olli Maatta to a loose puck off the end boards, quickly turned it to his forehand and stuffed it in. 2-1.
“I’ve got to do a better job of getting body position,” said Maatta. “It’s just a mistake I made.”
Maatta didn’t shy away from criticism, Saturday. Not only did he bluntly assess his role on the game-winning goal, he also spanked his team’s lapses.
“We fell asleep a couple times. That can’t happen against this good of a team,” lamented Maatta.
The Penguins thought they tied the game, with under 10 minutes remaining. Jake Guentzel buried a chance from the slot, but…Maatta’s night got a little worse. Just before Guentzel’s shot, Maatta skated past Crawford–his right skate hit Crawford’s skates, which threw Crawford off balance.
The Blackhawks challenged. After a review, the goal was waived off. While the home crowd wasn’t happy, it was easily the correct call.
The Penguins applied heavy pressure in the final minutes, but could not tie the game. It wasn’t a 10-1 blowout, as the Blackhawks dealt the Penguins in the first week of the season, but it was a loss with only one goal scored nonetheless.
Kris Letang’s struggles also continued. He took three minor penalties, two left his team shorthanded (one of the minors was coincidental minors for roughing with Richard Panik). Letang’s third penalty led to Anisimov’s goal.
The Penguins penalty kill again yielded multiple results. The Blackhawks scored both goals on the power play and had five chances.
Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan’s intensity came bubbling through, immediately in the postgame presser. He used the word “Urgency” no less than six times as he spoke quickly and forcefully about the PK.
The Penguins are killing only 77.3% of power plays, fifth worst in the NHL.
The Blackhawks have beaten the Penguins eight straight times. (Credit Chicago-Sun Times beat writer Mark Lazerus for the stat).
Pressbox Nachos Returns!!
–Evgeni Malkin collided with Crawford midway through the second period. Crawford sought to cover the puck to the left of the crease as Malkin chased the loose puck. The resulting collision caused Crawford to head to the concussion protocol and Malkin earned a minor for goalie interference.
Crawford spent only a minute or two in the locker room. :52 of hockey to be exact. I’m not sure how much a doctor or trainer can determine in one minute. The NHL may want to discuss a bit more of an examination, eh?
Matt Murray said as a goaltender “you’d like to see that called,” but Murray also said his understanding of the rule is that a goalie cannot come that far from the net to cover the puck. Murray seemed a little surprised it was legal.
UPDATE **However, after pouring over message boards and the NHL rulebook, it appears a goalie has leeway from the goalline to the defensive circles, if he is under pressure. One example given, if a goalie comes out to challenge a shooter and holds onto the puck–that is legal.
Crawford wasn’t far enough from the net to warrant a penalty, in fact, he wasn’t far out of the crease.
–Olli Maatta has been the Penguins best defenseman this year. By a mile. However, a team counting on Maatta to be their best will be in trouble.
Letang must.find.his.game. If he can’t up his play in the short term, staying out of the box is an imperative. After a step forward against Ottawa, Saturday was a Neil Armstrong sized leap backward.
-It is with some sense of irony that I watch Matt Murray play brilliantly but suffer from a lack of support and defensive zone coverage. Murray is getting the hung-out-to-dry treatment which was largely reserved for his predecessor last season.
Murray is holding the fort, despite a 2.81 GAA and .909 save percentage. …Don’t always believe the numbers… Murray has been Four-Star.