The Pittsburgh Penguins controlled large portions of the game and more importantly controlled the dirty zones along the wall and down low against the Chicago Blackhawks. However, after 40 minutes they were tied 3-3 with the Chicago Blackhawks. A few failed clearing attempts on a third period Chicago power play, the Penguins trailed. Their penalty killing was the culprit Sunday night as Chicago hung three on the PK including two just after a power play expired.
The Penguins lost to the Chicago Blackhawks for the 10th straight time, 5-3 at PPG Paints Arena.
The Penguins penalty killing, which is ranked in the fourth in the NHL, allowed cross-ice passes and space to shooters. To great success, Chicago made DeSmith and the defenders move side-to-side and DeSmith was not at his best.
“Special teams were the difference tonight. I thought five-on-five we played fairly well. I put my money on our guys five-on-three any day and we usually don’t give up two on the penalty kill,” Jack Johnson said.
At even strength, the Penguins had answers for nearly everything. They began the game with stretch passes out of the zone and transitioned to lateral plays at the blue line as Chicago adjusted by retreating but confronting the puck carrier at the blue line. Bryan Rust sneaked behind the defense a couple of times and the Penguins were able to create space all night.
“I don’t think they had a scoring chance until the 8:45 mark of the first period, but I thought we got lured into a little bit of a track meet,” said Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan. “I thought we played a lot of good minutes. When you look at the difference tonight it was special teams.
The advanced stats also told a misleading story; that Chicago was competitive at even strength.
Perhaps the Penguins fell in love with the quick-cutting redirect play, as they used it no less than four times without success in the second period; that is part of the track meet mentality Sullivan mentioned. The Penguins third line tried it three times as all three forwards, Derick Brassard, Phil Kessel, and Tanner Pearson were stoned on their deflection attempts.
The line finally broke through–together–in the middle of the second period (more below).
Chicago top line pushed the Penguins in the second period with a puck possession game. Pittsburgh native Brandon Saad and Jonathan Toews combined for nine shots and 14 scoring chances (Toews had a game-high seven shots. Five at even strength).
“We kind of wanted a little bit of revenge tonight, in our own building. We just let it slip away,” said Casey DeSmith.
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PHN will have a full feature on the line, Monday based on conversations we’ve had this weekend. They finally looked like a cohesive unit. The key word which Brassard and Mike Sullivan used Sunday was “dangerous,” and the Penguins third line was finally dangerous. They had more scoring chances for than against. They lit the lamp, and they executed plays with puck movement–such things aren’t possible without good gaps and puck support.
I know Brassard takes the brunt of the blame because…he’s not Phil Kessel, but don’t sleep on him. If that line clicks, the Penguins will have a dynamite four lines.
Casey DeSmith: C
It wasn’t the affable netminder’s best game. In fact, it was the first time in weeks which the Penguins didn’t get timely saves or the ones they needed. DeSmith was beaten from long range by Duncan Keith–just Keith’s second goal this season. He may have been a moment slow to read Chris Kunitz in the slot. Kunitz doesn’t have the hands he once did. It was a Grade A scoring chance but one which goalies have been stopping. An extra half step and DeSmith would have had it.
DeSmith allowed four goals on 30 shots. His record dipped to 12-7-4.
Penguins PK: F
Kane is indeed very good at moving the puck from the circle through the seams. However, no player is THAT good. The Penguins failed to adjust to the Blackhawks power play which dominated the Penguins PK–at least the top zone. The Penguins weren’t beaten in front of the net or down low. Chicago didn’t even try to claim that territory. Instead, they stayed in the circles back.
The Penguins could have been more aggressive or gambled on the low zone by dropping a high forward to the middle to guard against the cross-ice pass like the New York Islanders and Tom Kuhnhackl did to the Penguins a few weeks ago (and it worked).
Evgeni Malkin: B+
The breakout game is coming. Perhaps Tuesday night, perhaps on the west coast. It’s coming like a freight train late for delivery.
Malkin worked the puck well with Simon and Hornqvist all night. The trio is fun to watch when Malkin is moving the puck to his teammates instead of the opposition. Malkin is simplifying his game and the Penguins have been and will be better for it.
Straight lines beat sideways. Simon and Hornqvist push Malkin in straight lines. Malkin attempted six shots and put three on the net. Only one giveaway.
Please consider subscribing to PHN Extra–just $21 per year. We’ll have a lot more from Derick Brassard and Mike Sullivan about the Penguins third line battles. Plus, we’ve got some cool insight from Riley Sheahan and Zach Aston-Reese about the Penguins fourth line success. All are coming up in the next couple of days.