Connect with us


Penguins Grades: From Terrible to Strong, Pens Show Big Pushback



Pittsburgh Penguins game analysis, Drew O'Connor, Evgeni Malkin

The Pittsburgh Penguins were on the first few loose pucks of the game but then chased the puck and the game for the better part of the next 30 minutes. The Penguins were being outshot 15-2 when the Tampa Bay Lightning scored their first goal and eventually trailed 2-0 in the middle of the second period.

Yet the night ended on a historic high note as Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry not only stole the game but scored the first-ever goalie goal in Penguins history. The Penguins went from awful, terrible, dreadful, to strong in a 4-2 win over Tampa Bay at Amalie Arena.

Get the Penguins postgame recap.

Like the Penguins, Tampa Bay is prone to getting sucked into a wide-open game or looking for pretty offense. The Penguins were living dangerously as desperate backchecks negated a few odd-man rushes.

As Tampa Bay went for the kill, it was they who began to make the overaggressive mistakes.

Sidney Crosby scored a breakaway goal. Drew O’Connor converted a two-on-one, burying a sharp pass by Evgeni Malkin, and Jeff Carter finished a three-on-two.

Tristan Jarry was marvelous. Or spectacular. Or brilliant? Pick your adjective. Jarry must have felt like the paper targets at a carnival shooting game for the first 30 minutes, but he held firm and got the ultimate revenge for a goalie.

Jarry kept the Penguins in the game when they otherwise should have been embarrassed. Circle this game and put it on Jarry’s resume as a game he stole.

Defense Change

After enduring a bombardment in the first period, the Penguins bombarded Tampa Bay, outshooting them 19-7 in the second period.

“I just loved the pushback. I thought — give Tampa credit. They came out. They lost a couple in a row,” said coach Mike Sullivan. “They’re coming back home. They had a strong first period. I thought that coming out of the second period, we were a much better team for the second and third. In the second period, I thought we were a much better team. And so in the third period was a hard-fought game.”

Also to note, coaches made a switch of defensive pairings in the second period after an ugly turnover by Ryan Graves in the second period. Graves was flatfooted Thursday, his head swiveling several times as he tried to figure out the fast-paced action. The speed of the game was an issue, and coaches put John Ludvig on the pair with Kris Letang.

It worked–for all three players. Graves looked better with the steady Ryan Shea. Ludvig held his own with Letang, who was able to freelance a little more without covering for Graves, who has activated or left the reservation more than expected this season.

Pittsburgh Penguins Analysis

Sometimes, the Penguins analysis section is a dissection of structural battles, “strategery,” and adjustments. But on nights like Thursday, it’s far less complicated.

Tampa Bay won every loose puck in the first 25 minutes. It seemed they got every single one because they were playing with purpose and drive while the Penguins were scrambling. Tampa Bay controlled the puck and didn’t waste their possession with quick or wasteful shots or swim on the perimeter without dangerous intent.

Even after 40 minutes, look at the Lightning’s heat around the Penguins’ net.

And yet, the Penguins hung on–at times by fingernails–and took advantage of a few Tampa Bay mistakes. Carter’s go-ahead goal in the third period was a classic example of a team not staying above the puck. Tampa Bay had three players trapped up ice because they got greedy.

The Penguins fourth line held its position and was gifted a three-on-two. And yes, Carter, who had a couple of weak attempts earlier in the game, flashed that vintage snapshot that had scored 431 goals over the last 18 years.

Attempt to Change

The Penguins played a very good third period, with the building blocks established in the second period. They stayed on the right side of the puck and let the other team make the mistakes.

They got on those loose pucks, set up better zone entries, and pressured the Tampa defensemen.

Also, once O’Connor got the tying goal, the Penguins could protect the defensive zone with far more zeal. Tampa Bay pressed and had some scoring opportunities that quickly evaporated with a defenseman’s poke, a forward’s block, or a positional seal to isolate the puck, dictating the Lightning into forcing a play or a stoppable shot.

The tired legs of the first period became the energetic legs of the second and third periods.

The Penguins increasingly had their F3 creating an extra layer in the neutral zone and an extra stick to defend. Often, that is the Penguins’ biggest issue–when they’re chasing goals, they lose that layer. They found it against a very good team a great goalie, and kept pushing.

O’Connor tied the game in the final minute of the second period.

“They were pressing pretty good early, and it just seemed like we couldn’t get out of our zone,” Sidney Crosby said. “And when we weren’t fresh, so I thought it was a good response in the second. And just to get that late goal from (Drew O’Connor) and we’re tied going into the third, it’s always a big shift of momentum.”

It was a gutsy win, rescuing a sinking ship around against a talented team.

Just imagine the headlines if the Penguins fell to 9-10-1 with an abysmal effort. The villagers would have amassed at the gates with pitchforks.

Penguins Report Card

Team: A

They were terrible in the first period, but sometimes it’s tougher to be the prodigal son than the good son. Composing themselves, turning the game with a couple of good shifts, started by a great shift by Kris Letang and Jake Guentzel in the middle of the period, they found their game. That’s tough to do.

Tristan Jarry: Game Saver

Jarry stole one. The Penguins should have trailed by three or four after the first period. Jarry made acrobatic saves, smart saves, and some reflex saves, too. He kept the Penguins in the game until they found their rhythm.

The stats don’t matter, but he stopped 39 of 41 and scored a goal. Cmon, even the comment section haters have to tip the cap without, “but…”

Jake Guentzel: A

Guentzel was the forward who dragged the Penguins into the fight. He anticipated a cross-pass and defended it at the top of the defensive zone, springing Sidney Crosby on a breakaway goal.

Guentzel chased the puck with playoff-level determination in the second period. Creating a couple of turnovers, takeaways, and possession-changing backchecks. That was his best game of the season. One of his most complete games.

Kris Letang: A

He won’t get a Norris Trophy nomination this season because some young guns are dominating the points race, but Letang is having one of his finest seasons. He stepped to the fore with a couple of hard shifts in the defensive zone and wisely joined the play in the second period in a few-minute stretch that swung the game.

He attempted eight shots. The puck was on his stick in good areas, and he didn’t waste it.

Ryan Graves: Help

Graves is not getting better. He’s struggling to adapt to the Penguins’ system- he’s chasing the play far from the net and making slow decisions with the puck. He had one taken from him in the first period and coughed up another in the second period. That was enough for coaches to give him a lower-pressure role with Shea.

It would seem mean to give him a bad grade. It wasn’t a bad game, but a continuation of struggles.

Drew O’Connor: A

O’Connor might be getting his first crash course in playing with elite players, so his game is a little disjointed at times, but he is accelerating after pucks like I’ve not seen before. He’s hungry for loose pucks and making sure that he impacts the game, at least in that way.

It’s encouraging. I’m not sure if he’s a top-six winger, but energy and hustle are never bad things. He also seems to be figuring it out; he went to the net, and he finished. He led the Penguins with six shots, and several were pokes near the crease. O’Connor was a difference-maker.