LOS ANGELES — The Pittsburgh Penguins lacked shot volume and quality. They were physically punished and often confined to the outside of the offensive zone by the LA Kings.
They also scored a shorthanded goal and were opportunistic enough to beat LA 4-3 in OT at Crypto.com Arena.
“Good game, Chopper,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said as he walked out of the locker room, tapping goalie Magnus Hellberg (Chopper is Hellberg’s nickname. Years ago in Ottawa, Hellberg became Helicopter, then became ‘Copter, before finally Chopper).
For the record, PHN makes no guarantee or endorsement of buying crypto, Dogecoin, Bitcoin, or else. Crypto coins are like the Penguins’ season thus far. You just never know what’s going to happen next.
The Penguins are unpredictable, like Bryan Rust scoring two, yes, TWO, game-winning goals in overtime. For the record, he knew he was offside on the first one, but they doubled down, and Rust scored the real winner on the following play.
Get Dave Molinari’s Penguins game recap here.
To a man, including coach Mike Sullivan, the Penguins admitted they weren’t at their best. LA outshot them 37-20.
“We definitely needed it. We needed to get a little bit of wind in our sails. I think the last two games we played really well in San Jose and Anaheim. Today, we didn’t play our best,” said Lars Eller. “We were on our heels a little bit, but we had some games where it was the same in our favor, and somehow we still came out on the wrong side. And I guess it evened out a little bit today. We fought for it, and I think we got a little better as the game went on, but not our best.”
The Kings otherwise dominated the Penguins in the second period, who spent more time defending in LA than Johnny Cochran. Penguins goalie Magnus Hellberg was good, at times really good, especially considering he began the season as the team’s third goalie.
However, the Penguins fought to stay in between LA and the net. They did well enough.
“That’s one thing we talked about before the game, trying to keep them on the outside,” said Hellberg. “We know they are really good on the rush. So, I think the communication between me and the team was really good today. I think they played really well in front of me.”
Penguins forward Jeff Carter was re-inserted into the lineup after the team sent Vinnie Hinostroza back to the WBS Penguins to clear cap space to call up a backup goalie for Thursday’s game. Carter won two Cups with LA during his 10-year stint with the Kings before the Penguins acquired him before the 2021 NHL trade deadline.
Carter was part of the PP2 unit that abdicated all responsibility in the second period, allowing Carl Grundstrom to score a shorthanded goal while unabated to the net.
It wasn’t Carter but the entire PP2 (with Karlsson still on the ice instead of Letang) that seemingly went AWOL for 10 seconds. The team overcame that and a couple of other bad sequences.
The short analysis would be that the Kings are a bit better than the Penguins. The Kings have a half dozen guys who are 6-foot-4 or greater, and they play a tight, structured game. But the Penguins found a way to win. Take that for what it’s worth.
“Anytime you play a team like this who plays hard, they play in your face, they play straight ahead,” said Rust. “You’ve got to respond, or else you’re going to get run over. And I think we did a fairly good job of just making sure we got it done.”
Penguins Game Analysis
It could have been a battle between the Kings’ 1-3-1 neutral zone roadblock and the Penguins’ 1-2-2 forecheck, but the structure was not the Penguins’ friend Thursday.
The Penguins, perhaps frustrated by the Kings’ domination of the center of the ice, pressed on the forecheck. A few players made more than their share of mistakes, including Erik Karlsson, and the Kings had transition opportunities.
LA outshot the Penguins 14-5 in the second period.
However, the Penguins hung on in the defensive zone. They collapsed to defend just well enough to keep the Kings’ Grade A chances to a minimum, though LA had plenty of chances.
Hellberg acquitted himself well, too.
To whit, according to NaturalStatTrick.com, LA had 19 scoring chances in the first 40 minutes but only six high-danger chances. The Penguins had only 11 scoring chances through two periods but five high-danger whacks.
The Penguins did well to get to OT despite a bad matchup for them. LA is big, physical, structured, and talented. They will give Vegas and Colorado a run for their money in the West, and the Penguins swiped two points. It’s a literal and figurative win.
Pittsburgh Penguins Report Card:
The bad grades first. All stats are according to NaturalStatTrick.com.
No, it wasn’t a great game for the Penguins. The maddening thing for coaches will be the overaggressive forecheck. The Penguins again lost their marbles in the offensive zone and nuked their structure. The F3s were all over the map, Erik Karlsson was charging forward, and their sloppiness gave the Kings chances they didn’t earn.
They did well to pack the defensive zone when they weren’t chasing down the Kings’ rush and keeping the Kings’ scoring chances to manageable shots.
But enough of the undisciplined go-for-broke forecheck.
Erik Karlsson: D
The defenseman was fighting the game Thursday. He was on the wrong side of the puck, perhaps getting impatient and trying to make something happen. It cost the Penguins when LA took a 2-1 lead in the second period. Karlsson charged instead of retreating in the neutral zone, and Adrian Kempe had a clean rip at Hellberg from the circle.
Radim Zohorna: D
Defenseman Andreas Englund cleaned Zohorna’s clock just a few minutes into the first period when Zohorna tried an ill-advised cutback. NHL defensemen are too good to make a soft cutback without having a step ahead or making a hard move to the inside. Zohorna made more bad decisions with and away from the puck Thursday than he’s made all season combined. He, too, went the wrong way at center ice on the Kings’ second goal.
His wires were crossed from the get-go. Fortunately, he’s built enough good work over a few weeks, but he would be advised not to play a few more games like that.
Now the good grades
At 5v5, the third line had its lunch money stolen. They had just one shot on goal but were out-chanced 6-1 and outscored 1-0. It was the worst game this season for the line, and that includes the invisibility when Jansen Harkins began the season on the right wing.
Bryan Rust: A
Rust got his nose over the puck all night. He was a rugger in the corners, he was fast on the perimeter, and he scored twice in OT. He and Jake Guentzel each had five shots on goal.
Sidney Crosby: A-
We docked Crosby points for taking a tripping penalty in the third period and then missing his responsibility as the F3 after getting out of the penalty box. His third-man-in forecheck gave the Kings numbers on the transition, and they scored.
Otherwise, he made a sick pass to set up Jake Guentzel’s go-ahead goal early in the third period, and the Crosby line had nine shots on goal. The other three lines combined for three. Three?!
Magnus Hellberg: A
He fought the puck a little bit. That was also his first NHL start of the season, and we’re not judging him on a starting goalie scale. He made a lot of good saves. He made all of the saves you’d like to have and a few to save his team’s bacon.
Just in case you’re curious, after the cameras were off, I joked with the big goalie that we didn’t get a chance to see how well he performs in shootouts. He patted my shoulder, “I’m pretty good!”
He was pretty good in all phases Thursday. Getting competent goaltending from a third goalie is a luxury, and the Penguins have it.