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Penguins Grades: Self-Destructive Pens; Big Questions Looming



Pittsburgh Penguins game, Ryan Graves, Arizona Coyotes

TEMPE, Ariz — The Pittsburgh Penguins had a chance to tie the game in the third period by drawing a penalty during an Arizona Coyotes power play. Instead, the unfolding events were more a microcosm of an increasingly frustrating Penguins season.

Opportunities have been given, but too often, self-destruction follows. The Penguins trailed by one goal in the third period with a forthcoming power play until Kris Letang lazily tapped a pass toward the empty net for Evgeni Malkin, who deflected it into the open net.

Yeah, the Penguins put the puck in their own net for a backbreaking goal.

“Well, if you look at it, my pas was going in the corner, not in the net,” Letang said. “But I should know better. I should not go backward when there’s no goalie.”

Malkin declined comment after the game.

“Shit happens,” said a frustrated Lars Eller, both of the own goal and the overall effort.

Instead of pushback, the Penguins managed to play an even more mistake-prone sloppy version of their game, yielding yet another breakaway goal, this time to Nick Bjugstad.

In the biggest indictment of the team’s game, Letang put it bluntly.

“It doesn’t feel good. I don’t think we came in with the right attitude to take the take the momentum of the game on our side and apply pressure,” Letang said. “We let them play, and they have tons of skill. So eventually, they make you pay.”

The Penguins have gotten back in the playoff race only to give away a pair of games on the two-game road trip. First, they whiffed on a 2-0 lead against the Vegas Golden Knights, basically folding in the third period.

“(Not having the right attitude) is not great. You’re going to have games where you don’t have it,” said Eller. “On this trip, that Vegas game really bothers me more because we had a good game, and when you’re playing well, you got to win those. We did for two periods, and then we didn’t today. There were too many things that weren’t there. Attitude (and) execution is everything.”

They tied the game twice against Arizona before baffling mistakes forked over yet another vital two points.

Worse, the Pittsburgh Penguins heart monitor had a flatline for most of the game. Despite playing in an intimate setting with mostly Penguins fans, the team was sloppy, haphazard, and simply not emotionally engaged.

They lacked a consistent rhythm of any kind.

They made horrible mistakes. Even the Sidney Crosby line.

One might think blowing the game against Vegas on Saturday would have made them angry. One would think wrong. The Penguins’ start was tepid at best.

THE Big Question

It’s an honest question. Do they really want it? Are they really, down deep, willing to do whatever it takes to win, to make the playoffs, and see how far they can go?

The All-Star break is looming, and that is the line of demarcation for president of hockey operations/GM Kyle Dubas to evaluate this team.

Two bad games have undone one big step forward. At key moments this season, with opportunity in front of them, the Penguins have handed it back.

They’re not sending a positive message to Dubas.

The Game

Former Penguins sparkplug Jason Zucker beat Jeff Carter to the net early in the first period and converted a one-handed pass from Pittsburgh native Logan Cooley.

Cooley flashed his speed and skill a couple of times throughout the game. The rookie is going to be a special one.

Penguins defenseman Erik Karlsson had a few adventures. Karlsson had one of those moments in the final minute of the first period when the puck got behind him at center, and he didn’t react. Zucker had an unsuccessful breakaway.

On the Coyotes’ third goal, Karlsson and Graves were scrambled below the goal line. Both were in the proper position, but neither made a proper play. Alex Kerfoot was open at the post as Zucker picked the puck from Graves and immediately chipped it to Kerfoot.

The goal was 91 seconds after Sidney Crosby tied the game with an incredibly little chop shot over Connor Ingram’s shoulder.

Graves and Karlsson on the ice can be matchsticks and gasoline. Monday, they were incendiary.

An interesting note: Tristan Jarry got the start, seemingly interrupting the Penguins’ recent rotation that rewarded hot goalies or gave the other a chance after a loss. The weird schedule with four games in two weeks and then a bye week perhaps prompted Sullivan to go back to his starter rather than letting him go weeks without a game.

Jarry gave up five but stared down numerous breakaways and point-blank attempts.

Penguins Analysis

Intent. That’s been the new buzzword for coach Mike Sullivan regarding the Penguin’s desire to play a proper game. It’s an umbrella term to define effort, intensity, desire, and all of the other emotional intangibles necessary to win.

The Penguins had none. It was rather pathetic and eye-opening for a team fighting for a playoff spot.

These nights cannot happen. Yet the Penguins had two in a row.

Inexplicably, the Penguins’ defensemen tried to jump forward while forwards tried to double-cover players, leaving others wide open. All lines made defensive gaffes, were not strong on the walls, and were lazy near their own net.

It was an incredibly unhinged, uninspired effort from top to bottom.

The Coyotes kept possession of the puck, back and forth around the wall in the offensive zone.

“I think we just didn’t play very good defense. We gave them way too much time and space. We didn’t close quickly enough,” Eller said. “They were rimming pucks back and forth on the wall like three or four times, and we just didn’t do a very good job of anticipating that. So that led to a lot of zone time. It was like 10, 15 seconds, and it’s time where we are skating without the puck and wasting energy.”

Penguins Report Card

Team: F

Unacceptable effort. Do they really want this? Do the Penguins really want to win, or do they want to play individual games? We should have a serious talk about Karlsson and his future with the Penguins, soon. The same is true of Malkin’s role on this team.

I’ve laid the groundwork with the Sunday analysis. Monday, each was exposed. Again. It’s not all on those two. Graves was bad. The fourth line was beaten for an important goal. And no one especially exerted themselves in any of the zones.

Power Play: F

The Penguins had three power-play shots in just short of five minutes of power-play time. They also gave up three shots. It’s lifeless.

Mike Sullivan: F

If there was a game to send a message to the troops or let loose with a good tirade, this was it. Things were headed south, but the Penguins were magically still in the game. Someone important needed to ride some pine. A few ears needed to be bent with blue air.

Rickard Rakell played only 13 minutes, but perhaps some bigger fish could have been served some popcorn and a cold shoulder.

Tristan Jarry: B-

He was actually quite good, but four goals is four goals.

Ryan Graves-Erik Karlsson: F

Just can’t have your second D-pair play this poorly. They were soundly beaten, and Karlsson made several whopper mistakes. Graves was a minus-3. Karlsson was on the ice for Crosby’s goal just after a power play expired, so his total was minus-2.