In a city known for obstruction, burglary and being offensive, the Pittsburgh Penguins ability to score at even strength remained an unproven conspiracy. The Penguins flatlined in a statement game against the Washington Capitals, 4-1, Friday at the Capital One Arena.
Phil Kessel was credited with the Penguins lone goal. Kessel benefited from Russian interference when his centering pass was deflected into the net by Capitals defenseman Dmitri Orlov. Otherwise, the Penguins offense suffered from gridlock.
Matt Murray was a wall but was trumped by Capitals netminder Braden Holtby who earned his 200th career win. The Capitals had too many good chances and converted a pair of power plays and an empty-netter.
The monumental mistake came from Kris Letang, who continued to look for the foggy bottom of his season (Ok, ok, I’ll stop the puns…eventually). With the game tied at one, Letang earned a pair of minor penalties on the same mugging of Capitals forward T.J. Oshie, late in the second period.
The Penguins filibustered the first 3:59 of the Capitals four-minute power play, but Oshie earned the eventual game-winner with a deflection:
The goal spooked the Penguins, and the Capitals landslide victory began. (Ok, those were the last two. Maybe). The Capitals also outshot the Penguins 31-28 and generally owned play throughout the third period.
The highlight for the Penguins was midway through the first period. Fourth-liner Ryan Reaves set a physical tone for the Penguins. Mid-way through the first period, Reaves dished a strong check on Capitals tough guy Liam O’Brien which led to mitt dropping ball. Reaves landed a few right hands and iced O’Brien.
Capitals defenseman John Carlson scored the first goal of the game. His power play slapshot from the point was deflected past Murray. Chandler Stephenson scored his second goal of the season to make it 3-1 with about seven minutes remaining and Jakub Vrana added the empty net goal.
Low Approval Ratings, Bottom-6
The Penguins do not have any answers, currently. Without a potent power play, the Penguins have shown little ability to connect over the last 10 games.
Beginning at the bottom, the Penguins bottom-6 attempted only eight shots, total. Only four shots found their way to the net, which produced one rebound. Stats according to NaturalStatTrick.com.
Eight attempts, four shots, one rebound. There’s no need to cherry-pick stats (there’s another, sorry). Simple math says half of the Penguins forwards accounted for only 14% of the shots.
Riley Sheahan continued his offensive drought, with one shot. Greg McKegg had a glorious scoring chance, but played just six minutes. Ryan Reaves and Tom Kuhnhackl were not credited with a shot attempt.
Top Heavy, No Momentum
The trend has been unmistakable. No cover-up is possible. The Penguins bottom-6 has been a black hole of offense.
Hockey has moved away from individual plays and towards momentum goals. It’s impossible to create momentum when the third and fourth lines are not playing in the offensive zone.
The Penguins top line is also struggling. Jake Guentzel did not register a shot attempt, Friday. However, the numbers show the Penguins top line is getting a significant volume of chances. Crosby specifically had 10 scoring chances but yielded 13.
Simply, the Penguins are a top-heavy team which is not getting any contribution from the bottom forwards. Head coach Mike Sullivan again juggled the lines early in the game, but neither Jake Guentzel or Conor Sheary could jump-start the third line.
Cat Fish Ahead
The Penguins will play complete their sixth set of back to back games tonight in Nashville. Last week, the Predators acquired Kyle Turris from the Ottawa Senators in the three-way deal with the Colorado Avalanche which centered on Matt Duchene.
You may remember the Penguins last visit to Nashville… For any fans who made the trip, please give my buddy, Predators President Sean Henry my warm regards. And, definitely have a mule kicker at Acme Feed and Supply for me.