PITTSBURGH — Later in the third period, Sidney Crosby pushed the rebound through Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Curtis McElhinney but the puck slid just wide of the post. The crowd exhaled as the Penguins again missed a scoring chance. Carolina outskated the Penguins who otherwise looked disinterested for most of the game, except for whichever line Sidney Crosby centered. Carolina pulled to within four points of the Penguins with a 4-0 shutout win at PPG Paints Arena.
Crosby was double shifted through several points of the game, including taking over the third line which has not yet found a stride since the Penguins acquired Jared McCann with Nick Bjugstad last Friday. Crosby even took shifts with McCann on the wing. However, nothing produced a goal.
One day after their head coach Mike Sullivan tore into them for a soft practice, the rest of the Penguins turned in a creampuff game against a team which often struggles to find enough finish to accompany their league-leading shot total.
Though head coach Mike Sullivan disagreed with negative analysis.
“After the first two periods, by our calculations, the scoring chances–we did pretty well,” Sullivan said. “They had a couple of long shifts so it looks like (they had more zone time).”
Phil Kessel had a rough first period. His passes frequently found a mass of bodies rather than a teammates tape. Near the end of the first period, Kessel’s attempted circle to circle pass in the offensive zone was intercepted. Carolina quickly transitioned against Tanner Pearson and Jusso Riikola. Carolina center Jordan Martinook (12) had plenty of time and space in the left circle.
Penguins goalie Matt Murray usually makes the save but it trickled through for the only goal of the period.
Penguins defenseman Kris Letang shook his head, grimaced and tried to come up with an answer, “I don’t think we sustained it shift after shift. We had one good shift, they had one good shift. They scored a goal and it kind of deflated us.”
The second period was another snooze fest for the Penguins, save a few minutes in the middle of the period. After extended pressure, Carolina earned a two goal lead on another long-range wrister. Defenseman Brett Pesce was unchallenged at the top of the left wing circle. Pesce (5) picked the top shelf from 35 feet and Murray again allowed a goal he’d like to have back.
The Penguins finally found some life later in the third period. However, it was far too late. The crowd had already hit the exits, assuming their team had done the same.
“When we’re fighting pucks, we’ve got to stay closer,” said Sullivan. “I thought out third stick was late.”
Crosby was doubled shifted in an attempt to find offense. Newly acquired Jared McCann wasn’t cutting it on the third line with Dominik Simon and Patric Hornqvist. However, Crosby’s best attempts were blunted by good saves by McElhinney and not enough follow up by his teammates.
“We have to play 60 minutes. We have to be invested between guys,” said Letang.
Michael Ferland (14) scored the empty netter. And Andrei Svechnikov (13) scored with less than one minute left for further insult.
Matt Murray stopped 28 of 31 shots. McElhinney made 23 saves for the goose-egg.
“We’ve got to continue to push to raise the bar,” Sullivan said.