It was a playoff game without all of the desperation, scrapping and relentless physicality. For that matter, there wasn’t a plethora of offensive chances or space. Instead, it was a skating game and chess match. The Carolina Hurricanes defensemen especially Dougie Hamilton activated into the offensive zone while the Pittsburgh Penguins settled into a low zone, wall game. But the Penguins again yielded a goal against the extra attacker; the fourth time in the past 12 games and lost via a shootout, 3-2 at PNC Arena.
It was a chess match until the middle of the third period. The Penguins were able to crack Carolina and begin to exert their superior physical strength. The Penguins controlled Carolina, physically, in the third. However, the Penguins didn’t show enough finish and Carolina goalie Petr Mrazek was able to cleanly make the saves.
“We were really good. That was the best period we had. We thought we controlled the play in that period,” Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said.
It’s beyond a slump for Phil Kessel who had a Grade A chance from 20 feet but Mrazek gobbled it up with a glove save.
A glove save…something of which Matt Murray was one short, Tuesday night. Murray bricked Hamilton’s knuckling shot.
There is something missing from the Penguins attack: Great shots. Opposing goaltenders have not had to make as many spectacular saves. That’s not something which can be quantified on stat sheets but the Penguins are in position but have scored only four goals in the last 190 minutes.
Team slump or lack of finish? I’m sure there will be plenty of answers on that rhetorical question but the next few weeks will galvanize a few players’ futures with the team.
“The way these guys play tight defense, it’s usually off a shin pad, a rebound, whatever. We’ve got to find ways to get there,” center Nick Bjugstad said. “We’ll definitely take note of the lack of scoring but these are just tight games overall.”
NOTE–In tight checking hockey games, the third member of the line is vitally important to provide puck support and take the open ice. The Penguins second line, with Teddy Blueger, Bryan Rust/Jared McCann, and Phil Kessel were consistently short the third stick in the battle and in the offensive zone. Consequently, they garnered only one scoring chance. More in the Report Card.
Carolina tried to outskate the Penguins. Headman passes and offensive off the rush. Carolina excelled at bringing the trailer into the play. The Penguins did a good, but not great job of defending it. The fourth Hurricane presented an opportunity for Carolina but not the same disaster we’ve seen befall the Penguins when teams attempt to exploit their weakness of occasionally defensively-challenged wingers.