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PHN EXTRA: Penguins Inconsistent, Lose; Report Card vs. Calgary



Pittsburgh Penguins Justin Schultz
PITTSBURGH, PA - FEBRUARY 16: Pittsburgh Penguins Defenseman Justin Schultz (4) looks on during the third period in the NHL game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Calgary Flames on February 16, 2019, at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, PA. (Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire)

There were a few performances to like by the Pittsburgh Penguins. Some deserved a better fate than a home loo to the Calgary Flames. However, not all efforts were equal and some deserved an afternoon of watching made for TV movies ghosts and the women who fall for them. Worse, a few players participated as if they would prefer to be doing that and the Penguins lost to the Calgary Flames 5-4 at PPG Paints Arena.

Evgeni Malkin spearheaded the Penguins comeback in the third period with two goals and a surge of energy but a three-goal deficit was too much.

“They scored goals and it was my mistake. I lost my man,” Malkin said. “We were better 5v5. We were back and we played hard.”

The Penguins continue to lose the battles with middle lines. While Jared McCann and Teddy Blueger battled their opponents to a draw, the Penguins second line with Phil Kesse, Evgeni Malkin and Nick Bjugstad were otherwise disheveled, disorganized and dominated until later in the third period.

That was when Evgeni Malkin got mad. The big bull took over the game later in the third period.

“I thought we played a pretty solid game and that’s what I told our guys afterward,” said head coach Mike Sullivan. “You’re going to play some games when you play pretty well and you don’t get the result.”

I disagree. They lost because Calgary played better, from top to bottom. To deny that, would be to miss the fundamental problem with the Penguins middle lines. The Penguins essentially used three power-play goals to be close. The man advantage too often makes the scoreboard reflect an effort which didn’t exist.

Some players wait for their power play points and don’t worry about the lack of even strength points because they count the same but power plays get scarce in crunch time and the 5v5 is far more important as the weather gets warmer.

From a tactical standpoint, the Penguins must start over too often because their middle lines too often are on the wrong side of the puck. The Penguins were not able to build sustained momentum and thus their scoring chances don’t build on each other.

Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin were also affected, and at times struggled with gapping, which created more opportunity for Calgary. They were both victims and culprits of the chaos. Dumoulin was on the ice for three goals-against.

The Penguins did present a well-balanced X’s and O’s game against Calgary. The Penguins were able to gain control of the blue line more often than recent games and push towards the net. Calgary is a disciplined defensive team so the Penguins rarely had numbers.

The low-to-high game was open and Justin Schultz nearly capitalized on his first shift since suffering a broken leg on Oct. 13. In his first game back, the crowd gave him just short of a standing ovation. The increased offensive presence on the Penguins blue line will pay big dividends as the Penguins “hang onto pucks down low.”

Brian Dumoulin had a couple of shots go wide of the net, and the Penguins had still more deflections go just wide. The Penguins did try to attack the right side of the ice and isolate the Calgary left side defenders. They were able to get pressure in the corners to a moderate degree.

The Penguins also pressured Calgary well and took away space. It was a solid game from two good teams. Calgary worked just a little bit harder in the dirty zones while the Penguins struggled to get offense from the middle of their lineup.

Sounds too familiar, eh?

Penguins Report Card

We’ll start with the good grades and the few A+ grades before we get into the floggings.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.