The Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins combined for eight goals in the first period, three goaltenders, a fight between two of the largest players in the NHL and plenty of end-to-end action. The Penguins also provided defensive lapses, sloppy play and lost to the Boston Bruins, 8-4 at the TD Garden.
The Penguins have lost three in a row since they dealt Ian Cole and Ryan Reaves in the Derick Brassard ménage-à–trade. While the Penguins didn’t lose any part of their core or irreplaceable players in the deal with the Vegas Golden Knights and Ottawa Senators, they did lose a pair of players who brought a lot of chemistry in the room and toughness on the ice.
Olli Maatta scored just 35 seconds into the game. Moments after Penguins goaltender Casey DeSmith made a sparkling save, the Penguins scored on their first rush. Evgeni Malkin created a turnover deep in the Bruins zone, then spotted Maatta alone in the slot. Maatta slapped a bouncing puck past Bruins starting goalie Tuukka Rask.
The Penguins highlights ended there. The Bruins scored eight of the next 10 goals. Five in the first period.
Tuesday, Mike Sullivan said, “we look like we’re trying to outscore teams, not outplay them.” That situation got worse, Thursday.
One minute after Maatta’s goal, the Bruins tied the game. David Krejci (12) beat Tom Kuhnhackl to the net and deflected the puck past Penguins goalie Casey DeSmith.
Two minutes after Maatta’s goal, the Bruins took the lead. David Pastrnak (23) got a clean slapshot from the right wing circle. The puck hit DeSmith, hopped high in the air, landed behind DeSmith and tricked just past the goal line.
Five minutes after Olli Maatta’s goal, the Bruins scored a power-play goal, courtesy of a bad interference penalty by Evgeni Malkin. Newly acquired Bruins winger Rick Nash was left open in the crease. He easily deflected a pass beyond DeSmith.
Trailing 3-1, the New England native DeSmith was pulled for Tristan Jarry.
Things-only-got-worse. The Penguins whined to the officials, took petulant penalties and physically retaliated rather than patiently being the aggressor if the opportunity arose.
David Krejci eventually scored a hat trick and 6 foot 7 inch Penguins defenseman Jamie Oleksiak fought 6 foot 9 inch Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara in the second period, when the game became chippy.
It was bad.
In fact, Penguins look nearly identical to Mike Sullivan’s first days on the job. After Sullivan assumed control, the excitement of the newfound offensive freedoms overwhelmed the team. They lost four in a row while they recalibrated nearly everything from the on-ice product to the locker room.
Such things often require a reset or reboot to overcome, especially when the new player, Derick Brassard, is top shelf talent. The Penguins aren’t lost, but they have lost their grounding. They have the potential to score eight goals in a game because they have three skilled, scoring lines is too enticing. And that can be tempting.
“Yes, we have all the power in the world to score goals, but at the end of the day you’re going to have to play well defensively,” said Kris Letang. “Even if we have that much power in our room, down the road, we’re not going to win games like this.”
They gave Florida a six spot. They allowed the Devils to exploit their seams as if they were impatiently waiting to play offense. They were impatient and sloppy against the Bruins.
Such things are typically temporary. It is a matter of simplifying the game and adhering to their structure instead of firewagon hockey.
The Bruins onslaught continued in the second period, just as the Penguins defensive woes continued.
Matt Hunwick-Jamie Oleksiak
If the Penguins fans had their way, Matt Hunwick would be loaned to a team in Siberia. Or simply send Hunwick to Siberia to pay for crimes against humanity.
However, the Penguins have every motivation to get Hunwick on top of his game. The Hunwick-Jamie Oleksiak pairing has been bad. Awful. Terrible.
Oleksiak was playing the best hockey of his career before being paired with Hunwick, but that doesn’t mean the blame is Hunwick’s. Oleksiak left his man twice, Thursday. Each time that man scored. That’s not Hunwick’s fault.
If the pairings remain the same, Saturday for a late afternoon game against the New York Islanders, it would be a mistake. Only when all options are exhausted will the Penguins bail on Hunwick, so expect to see him remain in the lineup.
Plus / Minus for the Mayor
I’d be happy with easy plus/minus for each player tonight & over past three games.
— bill peduto (@billpeduto) March 2, 2018
Here are the plus-minus stats for the last three games, combined.
The Penguins do not look like the Penguins because they are not the Penguins from one week ago. Their six-game win streak and torrid February put distance between them and their wild-card challengers. Urgency and desperation gave way to excitement. Expect to see a better team, Saturday. And, a much better team after that.
Even though the calendar says March, these Penguins are beginning anew.