This is not the Pittsburgh Penguins first door matt loss, this season. In fact, it’s part of a growing trend in which a couple of good games or wins are met with an (un)deserved night off. A few mistakes led to an early hole, and a few postage stamps allowed several front-line players to mail in an effort as the Penguins never challenged the San Jose Sharks in a 4-0 loss at PPG Paints Arena.
The Penguins actually looked like a cohesive 5v5 unit in the first period. They displayed good puck support and speed through the neutral zone. Defensemen were able to move the puck forward and the Penguins probably had the better offensive pressure. However, a couple of careless penalties, one by Jack Johnson and one by Zach Aston-Reese led to San Jose power play goals.
And another Phil Kessel turnover on the power play led to the Penguins 13th shorthanded goal against. Kessel has more ghastly power-play turnovers this season than Jason Voorhees has sequels and the turnovers are as ruthless, too.
“You can’t give them three early on in the game. It’s awfully tough to come back,” said Penguins center Matt Cullen. “This time of year you just can’t afford to give three in the first like that.”
Like that, for sure.
The Penguins were otherwise disengaged. They never clicked. When they had great opportunities, they whiffed on the shots or made mind-boggling passes. See also: Kessel, Phil.
Cullen also admitted the frustration of missing chances got to the Penguins.
“That probably goes to the frustration a little bit, too. We probably gave ourselves enough opportunities to get back in the game,” Cullen said.
He could be referring to the 2-on-1 with Crosby and Jake Guentzel to start the second period. Kessel had a clean pick at Sharks goalie Martin Jones but shoveled it into the side of the net and later in the second Kessel had a short breakaway but tried a no-look backhand pass to a covered Zach Aston-Reese.
It was every bit as bad as it sounds.
The Penguins penalty kill which has been a bedrock for the team was rock bottom, instead. Johnson saw a chance to help a puck battle at the top of the offensive zone and left his station to join. Unfortunately, so did fellow defenseman Chad Ruhwedel. You can guess the result as the Sharks claimed a 3-0 lead on that misfire.
In fact, that goal was probably the backbreaker.
It’s not a coincidence that Johnson had one of his worst games. Small aside: From working for a team and inside the game, I’ve seen this before. The players hear the noise. They’re human, so spare yourself the trite “they’re professionals,” response. As the extraneous noise increases, the player gets tighter. The play declines and the noise gets louder. Rinse, lather, repeat.
Take it from someone who’s been there and take it for what you will.