It was a slugfest. The Pittsburgh Penguins had to bring their big-boy pants and play hard or the Tampa Bay Lightning would have run them over with a smile and a snarl. However, the Penguins could not keep pace with Tampa Bay despite an overall solid effort and lost 5-4 at Amelia Arena.
Four in a row begins to sting when Carolina keeps winning. And Buffalo wins. And Philadelphia keeps winning. Carolina is now just one point back and Buffalo is only two behind.
“We know the situation. A few of the games we’ve been in, we haven’t found a way to them,” said Sidney Crosby. “Close games like that are going to be pretty common all the way (until the end of the season).”
The Penguins responded well to the Lightning physical aggression, including Sidney Crosby who essentially shook the change out of Tyler Johnson’s pockets and Jack Johnson put a few right hands into Alex Killorn. The Penguins did more than hold their own.
Unfortunately, at 5v5 the middle of the Penguins lineup was again a negative while the Penguins top line and the fourth line were stout. The problem is as inexplicable as it is real. However, as the game got feisty, Patric Hornqvist got better and so did Jared McCann. After an awful first period, that line rebounded to push the play in the second period.
The Pearson-Bjugstad-Kessel line? Ummm…no.
“I thought we fought hard all night. We battled. We pushed,” said head coach Mike Sullivan. “I still think to a certain extent the types of mistakes we make, we beat ourselves with some of the decisions we make with the puck and give them some real high-quality opportunities.”
But Garrett Wilson scored his first NHL goal. Finally!
Eventually, Crosby took over the Penguins second line with Pearson and Kessel, too. Pearson scored a late goal, courtesy of extra Crosby work.
The Penguins power play was also atrocious and gave up their league-leading 12th shortie. Phil Kessel made a half-hearted backhand pass into three Tampa Bay Lightning penalty killers. The pass had no chance for a good result and Tampa Bay was waiting for the gift. They quickly transitioned to offense and Anthony Cirelli used the backhand deke on DeSmith.
Criticizing Phil is a no-no in the Penguins fanbase, but boy is he earning a few truckloads of it. Struggling and then pressing is understandable. However, Kessel doesn’t play a complete game to compensate for the number of egregious mistakes which are piling up and hurting the Penguins.
“I have nothing more to say about the power play,” Mike Sullivan said as he shut down any questions about it or it’s continued “lack of conscience”.
X’s and O’s
A few of the Penguins lines played to the Penguins identity. It’s almost impossible to dominate a team as good as Tampa Bay. The only way to beat them is by fighting for every inch and puck. Teams cannot skate them out of their building or simply out-talent them.