VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Consecutive neutral zone turnovers midway through the third period, one by Kris Letang and the next by Danton Heinen, were a microcosm of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ night. The Penguins had momentum and better play in the third, but the turnovers led to Andrei Kuzmenko’s goal and a 3-1 Vancouver Canucks lead.
Chants of “Bruce there it is,” to honor Vancouver coach Bruce Boudreau who won his 600th game the night before, began to rain down from the crowd. Vancouver added a couple more goals in the final minutes and beat the confused Penguins 5-1 at Rogers Arena.
Bo Horvat had two, and J.T. Miller also scored an empty net goal as the Penguins unraveling western road trip took another negative turn.
The Penguins have lost three in a row and been outscored 14-2 since claiming a 3-1 lead in the second period against Edmonton last Monday.
“I don’t think anybody likes losing. I guess it depends how you classify (frustration),” Sidney Crosby said. “I’d say that nobody likes losing, and you know, we’re not happy with the results right now, and we’ve just got to get better.”
Midway through the second period, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan had enough of his ineffective defense and made changes. P.O Joseph began playing on the top pair with Kris Letang, and Brian Dumoulin dropped to the third pairing with Jan Rutta.
Sullivan had a simple message to his team after the game.
“It’s not good enough,” he said.
However, the Penguins could not crack minor league journeyman goalie Spencer Martin, 27, who had just 10 games of NHL experience before Friday night.
The bottom six forwards also didn’t get much ice time, as Sullivan relied on the star players in his top six. After two periods, Drake Caggiula and Josh Archibald had played under six minutes. Sam Poulin and Ryan Poehling were just over six minutes.
Sidney Crosby played 16:27 of the first 40 minutes, but the inconsistent Penguins trailed 2-1. Crosby finished over 23 minutes.
“A lot of that is circumstantial. We’re chasing the game,” said Sullivan. “So when you chase the game like that, you lean on your offensive players a little bit more than you’d like. But that’s that was the circumstance tonight.”
The Pittsburgh Penguins’ energy level was higher at the start of the first period than at the end. The Penguins earned only five shots on goal in the opening period but a few Grade A chances. Evgeni Malkin, Rickard Rakell, and Brock McGinn had short breakaways behind the Vancouver defense.
Martin made the necessary saves.
Vancouver was playing their second game in two days. They earned their first win of the season by beating the Seattle Kraken 5-4 on Thursday night. However, Vancouver began to gain momentum throughout the opening 20 minutes.
Later in the first period, the Penguins successfully killed a slashing penalty by P.O Joseph but missed a few opportunities to clear the zone or gain possession. In the following seconds after the penalty, Ilya Mikheyev zipped a pass across the crease to Tanner Pearson (1) for an easy tap-in goal.
Just 32 seconds into the second period, Vancouver extended their lead not on a Penguins mistake but a soft goal. Penguins center Ryan Poehling narrowly missed a shorthanded chance, but Bo Harvat (5) fooled Tristan Jarry moments later from the right wing circle with a sneaky wrist curl and high wrister.
Rickard Rakell converted a Penguins power play later in the second period. Bryan Rust was alone in the slot. Martin made the initial save but Rakell (4) swatted the fluttering rebound into the net.
That was the first and last offense the Penguins for the Penguins.
Midway through the third period, the competitive portion of the game ended with the pair of neutral zone turnovers. First Letang, then Heinen led to the third Vancouver goal. Kuzmenko (3) zipped a shot past Jarry.
“It’s a tough loss. It’s hard to say what’s the problem right now,” Evgeni Malkin said. “I mean, we played hard for sure. Every team is so good right now. It’s better every year. And we just need to play right right, win faceoffs, and don’t take penalties.”
Bo Horvat (6) scored his second of the game with a power play goal later in the third, and J.T. Miller (5) added an empty netter in the waning minutes
After a pair of disjointed and somewhat disorganized periods, the Penguins clicked at the start of the third. Trailiing just 2-1, the Penguins peppered Martin with 15 shots in the third period, most in the first 10 minutes.
But second chances were rare, as were finishes.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are now 4-3-1. They face the Seattle Kraken Saturday at Climate Pledge Arena.