RALEIGH, N.C. — The Pittsburgh Penguins were not very good Saturday in a divisional clash against the Carolina Hurricanes, and yet they scratched and clawed for a point in a 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina at PNC Arena.
The team can thank goalie Tristan Jarry for his masked-man performance. He stole a point for them before allowing a 36-foot wrist shot winner from Carolina d-man Brett Pesce. for the OT winner.
“(Jarry) was great. Without him, it’s probably four or five-nothing in the first period,” winger Bryan Rust said. “They had some glorious chances. He kept us in it and allowed us to make a push.”
The Penguins are 3-0-6 in OT this year, and have lost their last three OT games.
The game sheet will show a valiant Penguins comeback and an earned point. However, the game sheet will not account for about 10 Carolina odd-man rushes and another handful of uncovered point-blank chances.
The primary and absolute takeaway from Saturday was that Jarry was spectacular. Perhaps the recent run of starts by Alex Nedeljkovic lit Jarry’s competitive fire.
The Penguins managed to fire 40 shots on Carolina goalie Antti Raanta, who was recently recalled from the AHL. Raanta began the game with just an .862 save percentage but stopped 38 of 40. That was the most saves he’s ever made with Carolina.
In fairness, the Penguins had a lot of shots but not a lot of quality.
Most nights, 40 shots would be a sound effort and puck domination. On paper, the Penguins achieved that. According to NaturalStatTrick.com, the scoring chances and high-danger scoring chances were even.
On both accounts, the paper lies.
Coach Mike Sullivan was decidedly soft-spoken and short following the game.
“The only facet that troubled me was the amount of the odd-man rushes that that we gave them,” Sullivan said. “They happened in different ways.”
Flat Start, Again
Penguins defenseman Erik Karlsson felt the Penguins were in their heads about Carolina’s unique man-t0-man system before the game began.
“I think we were a little bit worried about what they were going to do in the beginning, and it kind of put us on our heels,” Karlsson said. “When it’s like that and pucks are flying everywhere, you’re not making the plays that you want. It takes you a little bit of time to dig your way out of it.”
The Penguins’ recent run of bad starts — nay, terrible starts — continued Saturday. The Penguins yielded three Grade A scoring chances in the first 80 seconds. One breakaway, an uncovered one-timer at point-blank range, and a two-on-one.
“I thought the response was terrific. I thought we competed hard,” Sullivan said. “We got outplayed in the first. I thought from then on, we competed hard. We put ourselves in a hole in the first.”
The Penguins’ good fortune was in net. Jarry was superb, even as he allowed two first-period goals.
The Penguins’ generosity continued throughout the game. Those 10 odd-man rushes is PHN’s unofficial count, but if we’re wrong, it’s not by much.
Six minutes into the first period, the Penguins defensive zone coverage broke down as Valtteri Puustinen and Karlsson lost a wall battle, and no one covered the back side. Penguins center Lars Eller deflected Pesce’s shot, which then fooled Jarry.
Puustinen’s defensive zone chops were put to the test again later in the first period when a rim-around oddly deflected off defenseman Chad Ruhwedel on the right wall, directly toward the net.
Jordan Martinook had a gimme whack, which Jarry saved, but Puustinen didn’t take the body or the stick, and Martinook got a second whack, which lit the lamp.
Sloppy, thy name was Penguins.
After the line was on the wrong side of some early mistakes, Puustinen played only six minutes. Linemate Radim Zohorna, who dressed for his first game since Dec. 30, played just four minutes.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom. The Penguins did enough to get a point.
Yet, they tightened up in the third period, scoring a pair of goals, including the second consecutive game in which they’ve scored with the extra attacker. Bryan Rust earned that one near the net.
The Penguins’ game simplified in the third period, and they no longer gifted Carolina glorious chances.
In addition to the odd-man breaks, the biggest, reddest blemish on the Penguins was, again, the horrendous power play. After a few signs of life over recent weeks, the man-advantage was again lethargic, slow, and lightyears from anything that could be considered effective. The Penguins were 0-for-4 with merely two shots on goal.
“Well, it’s not good enough right now. It has to be better,” Sullivan said.
Odd-man rushes. Eight in the first two periods is pretty much unacceptable.
The simplest breakdown of the 5v5 play is the Penguins tried to stretch Carolina’s man-to-man coverage. Carolina adopts a man-to-man for 200 feet.
First, the Penguins seem to get sucked in, every time. They want to play the man-to-man with Carolina and they’re just not responsible enough defensively to pull it off. The Penguins have too many guys who aren’t good enough defensively to handle the Hurricanes in the D-zone.
Second, in the desire to get the puck ahead of the man-to-man coverage, the Penguins were trying too many long passes — some straight to center, some two-zone cross-ice varieties — that Carolina gobbled up.
The Penguins were also bad with the puck. Terrible. The number of turnovers in the high zone and in the offensive zone were enormous, even for a game against Carolina, which creates a lot of those.
Speed was also an interesting factor. The Penguins never seemed to have their legs; it felt like they were trying to play slow and open plays, which also played in Carolina’s favor.
Penguins Report Card
Losing to good teams happens. A lot. The good news is the Penguins avoided losing in regulation and mitigated a bad performance.
The points got them to a C-. The original draft had an F.
The Penguins could have closed to within four points of second-place Carolina with one game in hand but instead fell seven back. The Penguins never put themselves in a good position until overtime. They were largely chasing from the opening shift when they gave up a breakaway to Sebastian Aho.
The Penguins had stretches of solid play, but those don’t erase the inability to stabilize.
Jake Guentzel pulled the Penguins to 2-1 with 15 minutes remaining, yet the Penguins gave up several high-danger chances and odd-man breaks in the following couple of minutes.
Jarry and some luck. That’s the story Saturday.
Power Play: F-
Carolina has an aggressive PK that does not yield the blue line and zone time. Carolina stacked the blue line every time.
Even on the 5v3, the Penguins puck carriers were achingly slow. Karlsson was coasting through center ice. By the time he reached the blue line, he was toast.
The team began the game converting just 14.3%. Four more wasted opportunities against Carolina further smothered a team gasping for playoff air.
That’s 13 straight power play failures. One, maybe even two goals, may well have changed the game. Instead, Carolina was emboldened.
Two shots in 5:44 of power play time.
The only regular Penguins line that was above water in shot attempts and scoring chances. If you didn’t look at the advanced stats, it would be easy to believe the line was the only Penguins offense.
The young guys are receding fast. A month ago, they seemed like promising young players ready to crack the Penguins’ lineup. Today, their mistakes and lack of production earn them pine time.
Surprising Sub-Par Performances:
Marcus Pettersson was not at his best. He had a hand in one or two of the odd-man rushes against. He’s been great this season, but wasn’t so much Saturday.
P.O Joseph needed to be stronger. If he wants to stick in the lineup, now is the time to be assertive. He was passive in the defensive zone.
Evgeni Malkin. He’s not been great over the last few games, and that trend continued Saturday. He had chances to skate with the puck or be quicker with it. Zero shot. ZERO SHOT ATTEMPTS and 2-for-8 on the faceoff dot.
Erik Karlsson. It feels like something is about to give. Either he clicks in a magnificent way, or frustrations are going to bubble.
The Penguins coach was oddly resigned in his postgame. His tone and answers were different.