The Pittsburgh Penguins continue to struggle against the best teams in the Metro Division.
For the third time in a week, the Penguins lost to a team that finished in the top-three of the Metro Division last season and are presumed to finish there again. The Penguins were dangerously close to a goal for most of the game, but that crack never came, and the New York Rangers beat the Penguins 1-0 at PPG Paints Arena.
For the second consecutive year, they will not be in a playoff spot on Thanksgiving. That’s a pretty bad omen.
What’s also a bad omen is continuing to lose to Metro Division teams. Worse, often playing well enough to win but being a shot short, a bounce away, or lacking that ugly goal by someone, anyone, when it’s desperately needed.
Tristan Jarry was brilliant, stopping 35 of 36, and the hard-luck loser to Jonathan Quick, who was good and sometimes lucky. Quick stopped all 32 shots, though a few uncounted shots and deflections by Sidney Crosby hit the post.
The number of shots that eluded Quick were several. The number of wide-open nets in which the Penguins just couldn’t deposit the puck was several more. The rush chances hopped over the final target’s stick, and the hockey gods seemed to have a good laugh at the Penguins’ expense.
A little better net-front presence might have helped. A bit more, or a lot more, from the bottom six would have helped. But the top six had some glorious chances, especially the Sidney Crosby line, but bad luck and near misses followed.
Oddly, shots were 30-16 for the Rangers after two periods, but the shot attempts were nearly even, 43-42 (Rangers). The scoring chances were 20-18 for the Rangers, and the high-danger chances were equally similar, 8-6. All stats are according to NaturalStatTrick.com.
The Penguins blitzed the Rangers in the third period to no avail.
The Xs and Os section is complimentary to many Penguins, but the report card won’t be kind to a few more.
Pittsburgh Penguins Analysis
The Penguins’ power play stinks. And Republicans and Democrats disagree. Network TV is unwatchable. French food is overpriced.
We’re going to do a deeper dive into the power play based on Erik Karlsson’s analysis in a subsequent story. He laid it out, and here’s a snippet.
“I think we need to do a little bit better job in recovering pucks,” Karlsson said. “And (we need to) be in spots when we have to release pressure … in situations when other teams are pushing in the zone–we haven’t done a good enough job in (breaking their pressure) and breaking them down and sustaining any zone time.”
At 5v5, to shamelessly borrow coach Mike Sullivan’s cliche, there was indeed a lot to like.
The Penguins found two things that worked well for them. New York yielded some rush chances when the Penguins were aggressive in the defensive zone, but carrying that further, the Penguins were able to get the edge on the New York defensemen.
Getting the edge on the rush forced the defensemen to turn and defend, thus opening space in the slot. And creating chances at the net as the Rangers defensemen were pulled away from the center of the ice.
Yet, the Penguins failed to stuff the turkey. Quick was able to deflect shots, or the Penguins missed, or the puck went wide, or…
The Penguins’ top line was especially good at getting around the Rangers’ defense both on the rush and with controlled zone entries. Following injuries to Bryan Rust and Rickard Rakell, coach Mike Sullivan put Drew O’Connor on the top line, and the beauty was in the eye of the beholder.
O’Connor was oh-so-close to several goals but was only credited with one shot on goal through two periods.
Alex Nylander took Rakell’s spot on the second line with Evgeni Malkin. That line was not consistently good–they played into the Rangers’ transition game with a handful of bad passes. Nylander had one goof, and Malkin had about three bad passes that launched the Rangers’ laser-focused transition game.
There are many times Sullivan says the Penguins carried the play, and you and I might disagree. It was hard to argue on Wednesday. The Penguins could have, nay, should have scored four or five.
O’Connor could have finished a few tip-ins off the rush. He was in the right church all night but couldn’t find the pews.
In the third period, the Penguins slipped a forward out of the defensive zone to stretch the ice. Guentzel fed Crosby on a two-on-one, but Quick made his best save of the game. Nylander slipped free to generate a rush on the following shift.
And Tristan Jarry was really good again. He turned away all scoring chances in the final 55 minutes, and there were some good ones, including a few two-on-ones and a couple of breakaways.
Pittsburgh Penguins Report Card
There was a lot to like. The speed and the offensive zone pressure were good. The Penguins outshot New York 16-6 in the third period and had several great chances. Sidney Crosby hit a pair of posts.
“It was one of those nights when the puck just wouldn’t go in the net,” Jarry said. It’s tough when that happens. We have to keep putting pucks on the net. You have to keep going to the net. I think a couple will go in for us next time.”
The Penguins breakouts were pretty good. They had speed against the Rangers, forcing the Rangers into a defensive zone shell around the net.
The Rangers blocked 24 shots. They were hanging by a thread, and shot blocks were the key.
Power Play: F
0-for 5 in a shutout loss must drag on players like nails on a chalkboard. There were so many things they didn’t do despite having five opportunities. They continued to lack a net-front presence to win those crucial battles. Karlsson specifically pointed to a lack of puck retrieval. Sullivan said they put too much pressure on themselves and were robotic.
“With each additional power play, these guys, they care an awful lot. They’ve got a lot of pride,” Sullivan said. “And when it doesn’t go the right way. They put a lot of pressure on themselves to make it work. So, I think that was a little bit of the case. I think we were forcing it a little bit.”
Sullivan did one thing differently. The second power-play unit was on the ice much sooner than usual, usually with about one minute remaining.
However, it didn’t work very well, as Alex Nylander was on the point and struggled. He made a few turnovers in the high zone and on zone entries. I’m not sure he’ll be there again, even if he remains in the lineup.
Top Line, Guentzel-Crosby-O’Connor: A
They had so many chances. No, O’Connor is not a sniper and not a high-end talent. He’s a grinder with some talent, and that’s what he brought to the line. He did the dirty work for the line.
True, O’Connor didn’t convert on a few chances that could have changed the game, but he kept plays alive and created pressure near the net. Those things created extra space for Crosby and Jake Guentzel.
Guentzel was tied with Alexis Lafreniere with six shots, the most among all players. Guentzel also had three missed shots. He was very good and laid a perfect saucer pass on Crosby’s blade on a two-on-one in the third period. Quick made a great save.
Marcus Pettersson: A
He’s playing some great hockey. He had a few toe-drag, dangle shots in the third period. No joke. Pettersson asserted himself in the third.
Ryan Graves: D
Graves admitted his costly turnover that led to the Rangers’ only goal. He was rough in the first two periods. Sullivan shuffled the D pairs several times, and Graves was intermittently dropped to the third pairing.
He had several turnovers Wednesday. The Penguins system is giving him fits, and it looks like he’s really trying to fit in, perhaps too much. It’s becoming quicksand for the big defenseman.
Tristan Jarry: A+
He gave up a breakaway goal to a skilled player. And that was it. He saw the shots. He was on his game.
That’s two straight great starts for Jarry. He stopped 35 of 36 shots, including some high-danger chances. Oh, just admit it, he played really well and has been playing well. You don’t have to harp on the contract or defend past criticism.