Tuesday, the Pittsburgh Penguins lost to the Detroit Red Wings 5-2. The game wasn’t that close. The Penguins managed only 24 shots and went over 56 minutes between goals. Read Dan Kingerski’s Recap and Reaction here.
The entire PHN crew offered their analysis.
There’s just no letting the Penguins off the hook for this one.
It doesn’t matter that they scored first and got a late goal with goalie Matt Murray pulled. Or that Detroit had what seemed like triple figures in blocked shots. Or that what might have been a second goal by Sidney Crosby evaporated because there simply wasn’t a good enough video angle.
The Penguins’ 5-2 loss to a Red Wings team that is out of the playoff hunt and had been tailspinning big time was a poor performance at a poor time – and came in a two-week stretch when they also lost to two other also-rans, the Islanders, and the Rangers. They also have lost five of seven road games this month.
They will make the playoffs. Maybe they will flip a switch or find themselves with a favorable matchup, but it sure is tough to count on that. Against Detroit, they gave up four unanswered goals. They couldn’t muster nearly enough inspiration. Also, Derick Brassard left the game because of some sort of lower-body injury.
So, uh, bring on the Devils on Thursday in New Jersey. Whew boy.
The Penguins’ penalty kill was far from the worst aspect on their Tuesday night flop in Detroit, but there’s no untying the struggles of that particular unit with the team’s recent inconsistencies.
In the bottom third of the league in kill rate through Thanksgiving, the Penguins’ PK turned it around over the holidays and maintained that pace through the first week of March. It’s no coincidence that the team has gone 4-3-2 over its past nine while allowing 10 power-play goals in 25 opportunities.
There’s been plenty of talk in that dressing room about commitment, blocking shots, desire, etc., etc. But there’s been plenty of plain-old coverage mistakes during this porous PK stretch, as we saw Tuesday when Riley Sheahan and Carl Hagelin got their signals crossed at the top of the ‘box,’ allowing Frans Nielsen what amounted to a backdoor tap-in.
The Penguins were outshot at even strength for the second game in a row, but they need to get that penalty kill sorted just as badly as they need better five-on-five play.
Again, the Penguins looked lethargic defensively. Again, the Penguins underperformed against a team that is considerably inferior.
An issue continues to be atrocious defensive efforts at the point from wingers. Look no further than Niklas Kronwall’s first-period tally. Phil Kessel pinched in, almost admiring the puck-handling underneath. Detroit’s third goal, Nick Jensen stood alone at the blueline due to the gap given by the defending players. Bad gaping was again evident on the penalty kill. Frans Nielson was all alone on the powerplay goal because of miscommunication at the point between Riley Sheahan and Carl Hagelin.
Clearing attempts were better on the first penalty kill, but that is where it ended.
Jake Guentzel had an ugly night, highlighted by a hand-off that resulted in a shorthanded breakaway in the second and failure to get in the passing lanes as the low-man defensively. (i.e., Darren Helm’s tally)
It’s tough to find any positive from this poorly played affair, but Sidney Crosby is flying and playing the Penguins’ best 200-foot game. His line generated the only consistent scoring chances of the night.
When Pittsburgh isn’t scoring, the defensive woes are amplified. That was the case this evening in a game they needed to win the division. Being outworked by young teams who are playing for their jobs isn’t an excuse; only more of a reason to feast on the fresh meat.
The Penguins forwards are tip-toeing around the defensive zone. Phil Kessel and Jake Guentzel should order extra butter on their popcorn because they’ve alternated between engaged participants and spectators on the tough side of the blue line.
The Red Wings were on the second half of a back to back set. There isn’t a good reason why they had fresher legs than the Penguins. Skip the cliches about one game. The Penguins should be worried. Very worried.
After 77 games, habits are formed and mindsets are established yet the Penguins can’t maintain basic positioning.
When I spoke with Justin Schultz last week, I believed him when he said the Penguins wanted to flip the switch “right now.” In fact, the Penguins defensemen are playing well enough. Hang the lapses on the disinterested forwards.
The next few games, against New Jersey, Washington, and Columbus will tell us what we need to know about this team. The playoffs are not yet guaranteed, even if they are very likely. Perhaps good opponents will bring out the best in the Penguins, and we will finally get a look at what is under the hood of this hot rod.
The Jamie Oleksiak-Kris Letang pairing is intriguing, but Brian Dumoulin needs to be much better.
These Penguins have not yet earned the vacation they seem to be taking. Mike Sullivan seems to be out of answers. Now we get to see the locker room answer.