October was not a very good month for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
They entered it confident that they could contend for a Stanley Cup, but have left it marooned at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings.
And they ended up there because of what has to be their most gut-wrenching defeat of the season. And maybe in years.
Mason McTavish beat Tristan Jarry on a shorthanded breakaway with 12.8 seconds left in the third period to give Anaheim a 4-3 victory at PPG Paints Arena Monday evening.
That would have been bad enough, but McTavish got his goal immediately after leaving the penalty box, where he had watched the Ducks snuff a 5-on-3 Penguins power play that lasted one minute, 49 seconds.
“Right now, we’re finding ways to lose,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “We need to find ways to win.”
The loss was the Penguins’ fifth in six games — the past four of which were played at home — and dropped their record to 3-6.
Anaheim, meanwhile, completed a 4-0 road trip.
The Penguins started the opening period with something that hadn’t been part of their game for a couple of weeks — a power-play goal.
Ducks defenseman Radko Gudas was sent off for tripping two minutes into the opening period, and Erik Karlsson hammered a shot past Anaheim goalie John Gibson from the top of the right circle 55 seconds later.
Evgeni Malkin and Reilly Smith got assists on the goal, which was Karlsson’s second of the season and his first point in five games.
Karlsson’s goal was the Penguins’ first during a power play in seven games; they had failed to manufacture one in seven of their first eight games, the lone exception being a 2-for-3 performance during a 4-0 victory in Washington in Game 2.
After the Penguins killed a tripping minor assessed to Ryan Graves at 3:26, Jakob Silfverberg pulled Anaheim even by tucking in a shot from near the left post at 8:28.
Bryan Rust, who entered the game tied with Sidney Crosby for the team lead in goals with five, had a chance to put the Penguins back in front when he got a breakaway just 10 seconds after Silfverberg scored, but he was unable to beat Gibson.
The Penguins got their second man-advantage of the period when Anaheim’s Cam Fowler went off for holding at 18:37, and Gibson had to make a remarkable stop on Crosby in the waning seconds to preserve the tie.
Crosby had the puck in the right circle and threw it toward what appeared to be an empty net, but Gibson was able to lunge and get the blade of his stick on the shot.
Gibson injured himself making that stop, and was replaced by Lukas Dostal at the start of the second period.
Although the Penguins dominated the first half of the second period, partly because of the penalty that carried over from the first 20 minutes and another given to Anaheim center Adam Henrique at 3:17, they were unable to generate a go-ahead goal.
The Ducks finally got another chance with the extra man and Penguins-killer Frank Vatrano made the most of it, sticking a high shot past Jarry from the left dot at 11:51, just 35 seconds after Crosby was called for holding.
The goal was Vatrano’s ninth in nine games and his 10th in 19 career games against the Penguins.
Rust made at least three saves in and around the crease during a furious Anaheim flurry a few minutes later to keep the Pittsburgh Penguins within one.
The Ducks appeared to take a 3-1 lead at 18:20, but the goal was immediately waved off by referee Frederick L’Ecuyer, who ruled that Sam Carrick had pushed Karlsson into Jarry.
Anaheim coach Greg Cronin challenged that decision, but it was upheld by a video review and, per NHL rules, the Ducks were assessed a delay-of-game minor.
Cronin vigorously protested NHL Situation Room’s verdict, and was given an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, which meant the Penguins had a two-man advantage for up to two minutes.
They needed 65 seconds of it to tie the game, as Evgeni Malkin drove a slapshot by Dostal from the top of the right circle with 34.3 seconds to go before the intermission.
Karlsson got the lone assist on that goal, Malkin’s fifth.
Cronin, visibly outraged by what had transpired, was given a game misconduct after Malkin scored.
His mood probably didn’t improve when Radim Zohorna put the Penguins back in front, 3-2, at 1:25 of the third, as he backhanded a Drew O’Connor rebound by Dostal, but the lead didn’t last long.
The Penguins were unable to get the puck out of their end and Ryan Strome got it to McTavish, who was alone in front of Jarry and put the puck past him at 3:01. It proved to be the first of two goals he would get in the period.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are scheduled to practice Tuesday at noon at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.