Connect with us


Penguins Grades: Bad Start, No Finish, Faltering Desperation



Pittsburgh Penguins game analysis, New Jersey Devils,

The Pittsburgh Penguins and New Jersey Devils are both fighting upstream in the Metro Division and the Eastern Conference wild-card race. New Jersey began the game with the utmost desperation while the Penguins chased them.

With the game in doubt, New Jersey caved in the Penguins’ defense and defensive zone coverage, ultimately embarrassing them in the third period. New Jersey scored twice in 16 seconds and eventually coasted to a 5-2 at the Prudential Center Tuesday. The win jumped the Devils over the Penguins in the standings, closing New Jersey to within six points of a playoff spot, dropping the Penguins seven back with 14 games left to play.

Read More: Penguins Overcome Slow Start, Still Lose 5-2 to Devils

Just when you think they’re out, they pull you back in … then get beaten soundly.

“We didn’t defend hard. We’ve got to defend harder,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “We had inside position. We didn’t control our net front nearly as much as we should have when you look at some of the goals they scored.”

While it’s tough to get excited for a trip to Newark, the Penguins’ apathy at the opening puck drop was nearly a killer. New Jersey swarmed the Penguins, and only the goalposts kept the Penguins from a multi-goal deficit. New Jersey brought their speed and intensity while the Penguins scrambled to find their feet.

Over the course of the entire game, the Devils hit the post five times. Heck, maybe six. The ice crew at the Prudential Center will need to repaint the cages.

“The start was disappointing. They came out with a lot of pace. We didn’t match the urgency,” Sullivan said. “So I thought we grabbed hold of (momentum) after the first whatever seven, eight or nine minutes. But the first bit of the first period, they certainly had momentum.”

It took more than 10 minutes before the Penguins had their first sustained offensive pressure.

The third period began 2-1, but the Penguins were outshot 15-9 in the third period and outchanced 8-3, according to

The Penguins adjusted. They greatly limited the odd-man rushes by largely making smarter decisions with the puck and getting deep on the young Devils’ defensemen, but they never led and never dictated.

The Penguins played around the net but couldn’t find a second bounce or any good luck to feel good. Jake Allen’s diving stop on Sidney Crosby late in the first period was a turning point, and the Penguins didn’t get a second goal until the 57th minute.

“If I get that one, maybe it’s a different game,” Crosby said.

For most of the game, it was a contest of which team could tilt the ice. Neither team traded chances; both kept pressure for minutes at a time but New Jersey’s pressure buckled the Penguins, but the alternate was not true.

New Jersey’s third and fourth goals were the result of generally awful zone coverage by the Penguins.

Penguins Analysis

The dichotomy between the teams and their systems was quite visible. The New Jersey Devils are there. No matter where there is, they are there. In fact, there is always one Devil tight on the puck and at least one Devil ahead. It’s a whirring blend of illegible red and black sweaters.

Allen won the goalie duel with Tristan Jarry. The mass of Devils around the net took away most second chances, while the Penguins’ defense crumbled several times as New Jersey’s speed scrambled the Penguins.

“We had some good looks in the second half of the first period, and then the second period … it was kind of deflating that we didn’t get a couple more goals than that when we controlled the game,” said Marcus Pettersson. “Then they won the battle in front of their net, and they won the battle in front of our net.”

Allen made 36 saves.

New Jersey GM Tom Fitzgerald may regret not getting Allen sooner. New Jersey would likely be a playoff team had they gotten the level of goaltending he’s provided since being acquired from Montreal.

Coach Mike Sullivan was forced to again move Ryan Graves around the pairings. He was walked early in the game by Dawson Mercer, then again a few minutes later, and Sullivan put him with Kris Letang.

While Jack Quinn got under Letang for the game-winner, Graves neither covered anyone nor took away the passing lane. The puck went through his feet. Graves remains a problem, and his gaps are more than generous, too. It is tough to avoid the pile-on because there’s just so much to pick at. It’s hard to find a positive to offset the large gaps, d-zone wandering, and lack of offensive support.

The Penguins were again hard-handed. They had 17 scoring chances in the second period but scored only once. At no point this season have the Penguins had an extended period of confidence with the puck. Every step, every game has been a fight.

Evgeni Malkin also took a bad penalty in the second period, which led to New Jersey’s go-ahead goal.

“It was unnecessary. It started with our lack of puck management in the offensive zone. We made a hope play at the top of the ice instead of putting the puck back down below the goal line, and that fed their transition game,” Sullivan said. “Then we ended up spending 25 or 30 seconds in our defensive zone defending. And then we get tired. And when you get tired, that’s when you make mistakes.”

Penguins Grades

Team: C+

They battled back from a brutal start. They were a step behind the Devils all night but didn’t give up until New Jersey scored the third goal midway through the period.

There are multiple players who are giving everything they have and then a little more. Sidney Crosby is a given in that category. The hockey gods weren’t kind to him Tuesday. He had a few chances near the net but couldn’t slip it past Allen.

Performances to Like:

Lars Eller. The Penguins’ third line, led by Eller, was the first to pushback in the first period. Eller has taken his game to the top level. He’s hard on the puck, aggressive in the offensive zone, and unbeatable in the defensive zone.

Drew O’Connor. Maybe it’s the young legs in a brutal March slog, but O’Connor looks pretty good beside Crosby. He’s on the puck. He’s getting to the net or taking the puck there. He’s not a magid scorer, but he and Crosby were the only two Penguins with three high-danger chances.

Bryan Rust. Like O’Connor, he’s all over the ice and never lacks effort. He, too, was close on a few.

P.O Joseph – John Ludvig. Their run of strong play continued. Ludvig was again noticeable in the offensive zone, and they defended well.

Evgeni Malkin. He’ll appear on the positive and negative ledger. He was a puck-hound in the first two periods. He was on the wall and down low with his linemates Michael Bunting and Rickard Rakell. They set up the Penguins’ first goal, scored by Marcus Pettersson.

But oh that penalty. And he could have done more to get to the net himself. He didn’t have any scoring chances.