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PHN Extra: Penguins Analysis and Report Card vs. LA Kings

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PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 15: Pittsburgh Penguins Right Wing Phil Kessel (81) looks on during the second period in the NHL game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Los Angeles Kings on December 15, 2018, at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, PA. (Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire)
PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 15: Pittsburgh Penguins Right Wing Phil Kessel (81) looks on during the second period in the NHL game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Los Angeles Kings on December 15, 2018, at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, PA. (Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire)

PITTSBURGH  — The Penguins inability to suppress shots or properly handle the puck were again issues but the sting was salved by another victory as they beat the LA Kings, 4-3 at PPG Paints Arena, Saturday.

We’ll avoid the suspense and award Bryan Rust another A+ for his effort. Since his hat trick last week in Colorado, Rust has been an animal for the Penguins. It’s hard to believe he is the same player who stumbled to only one goal in his first 20-plus games. Though Saturday Rust’s contributions cannot be called depth scoring as he began the game and flourished on Sidney Crosby’s right wing. He assisted on Matt Cullen’s shorthander and scored on a two-on-one with Crosby.

Matt Murray was also a necessary tool for the Penguins, Saturday.

“I was having a blast,” said Murray.

The downside of the Penguins victory was the inability to squash offense from the lowest scoring team in the NHL. The Penguins are not holding onto pucks, they’re making too many turnovers, and not swarming opponents when the puck is in transition. The “three stick rule” is being loosely followed but the Penguins are not making it tough on opponents.

“I don’t think we were as difficult to play against. I think we’ve to make more of a concerted effort to play away from the puck and defend,” said Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan. “It starts with our own puck management…”

And because the Penguins are defensively loose, their goaltenders were forced to make far too many saves Friday and Saturday night. It was a bit more forgivable against the very strong Boston Bruins, Friday. Much less tolerable against the worst team in the Western Conference.

The Kings made it easy on the Penguins to start. LA defaulted to a soft 1-2-2 neutral zone setup for much of the game. However, after the Penguins zapped the Kings with a stretch pass and a  touch pass to Sidney Crosby up the middle for a two-on-one with Bryan Rust (who scored) the Kings had to become a little more aggressive.

The Penguins second line with Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and Zach Aston-Reese was a mashed up effort. Their disorganization and missed spots spotted LA three goals, including the waved-off tally in the first period. The Kings first two actual goals were the result of Malkin-Kessel turnovers and missed coverage. Aston-Reese was left to fend for himself in the defensive zone at least a couple of times.

It would be a mistake to choose one for blame. Fervent loyalties to either aside, opponents are feasting on that line and neither is immune from the criticism.

The Penguins other middle line centered by Derick Brassard was effectively the Penguins fourth line, Saturday. After near non-existence, Brassard and Tanner Pearson played less than 12 minutes. Only fourth liner Garret Wilson played less, but only by a few seconds. Riley Sheahan’s time on the penalty kill raised his ice time, but the Penguins third line was a forgotten piece.

Brassard had the least 5v5 minutes at 9:43 according to NaturalStattrick.com.

The Penguins middle lines may as well be in middle earth. Per usual, the top line and the fourth line, which received heavy minutes with Matt Cullen, Derek Grant and Garrett Wilson did their jobs. In fact, the Penguins fourth line earned heavy defensive responsibilities deeper into the game.

Clearly, Sullivan wasn’t going to hand those responsibilities to Malkin-Kessel.

And so we begin the report card.

Penguins Report Card

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now owner, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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