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Penguins Grades: More Half-Hearted Efforts; Calling Out the Worst



Pittsburgh Penguins game analysis, Kris Letang, ottawa senators

OTTAWA, Ontario —  For 59 minutes, the Pittsburgh Penguins played the same brand of blasé hockey that delivered them to the brink of being shut out for the fourth time in 12 days and their seventh loss in eight games until newly acquired Michael Bunting did what the Penguins hope to see more of when he scored from the crease.

Bunting’s goal with only 22 seconds remaining salvaged a point in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Ottawa Senators. But for most of the 60 minutes, the Penguins glided through the motions, never truly engaging or warming to the task. They did just enough to avoid complete embarrassment, perpetually caught somewhere between hope and grim reality.

At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred (Fargo reference).

The game elicited few raised heartbeats, though coach Mike Sullivan’s blood pressure seemed to make up for it. The coach stopped short of ripping his team, but he had no compliments except for goalie Tristan Jarry whom he called terrific, stopping 37 of 39.

“I didn’t think we did as good a job tonight getting to that front. We got to do a better job fighting for that area of the rink, making the sightlines difficult, create more broken plays where we got a chance to create off of that initial shot,” Sullivan said.

Fortunately for the Penguins, Ottawa long ago packed in their season.

It took more than 50 minutes for one team to make a mistake glaring enough that the other could take advantage. As it’s been this season, it was the Penguins that made the mistake.

Penguins winger Bryan Rust circled toward the point to pick up Ottawa defenseman Jake Sanderson, but Sanderson had bolted for the slot.

Sanderson had a clean rip and a goal.

Bunting’s goal should have been a mood enhancer. Instead, it seemed like a sour reminder of their underachieving. Sullivan punted the question if the goal was something to build on. No one seemed too thrilled by it.

Karlsson categorized the extra-attacker goal as something they’ve been good at all year.

“I mean, it’s been a while, right? So I think that situation (6v5), we’ve been fairly comfortable in that — it’s been one of our strengths,” said Erik Karlsson. “It was nice to be able to convert, and then you have a chance to take it over time to get two points.”

Otherwise, passes were in skates, behind intended targets, or simply well off the mark. The contagious disappointment also became cartoonish at various moments in the game as neither side mounted nearly enough effort to score. Both of these teams were supposed to battle for a wild-card spot, not a lottery pick. By the end of the first period, the Penguins had amassed 12 shots on goal, and the Sidney Crosby line registered 50% of them.

By the end of the second period, the Crosby line accounted for only a third of the shots but 50% of the high-danger scoring chances.

Of course, high-danger is a subjective term used in advanced analytics, not by anyone who watched the game. There was little danger anyone but the Crosby line would score despite Ottawa putting Joonas Korpisalo in net.

One would think they’d celebrate a little victory like Bunting’s goal. Believe me, I offered that sacrificial lamb in questions to multiple participants, including Sullivan, trying to get something beyond the forlorn platitudes and fortune cookie sayings.

Nah. They knew they again made a mediocre goalie look like Gump Worsley.

Before Tuesday, Korpisalo ranked 30th with an .887 save percentage.

Penguins Notes

The Penguins’ lame attempts to score more closely resembled the bare minimum, not the effort of a team truly trying to win. You can shoot from the perimeter if you get inside the defense or crowd the net.

Otherwise, even a bad goalie will make the saves. And one did.

It was not a well-played game on either end. The reason for the low score was a lack of … everything. Neither team connected on important passes. Sudden surges of energy came and went, succumbing to the inherent and underlying disappointment that has engulfed the team for two weeks.

The Penguins had 35 shots, including 34 in regulation, but remained light years from scoring until Bunting poked a loose puck into the net, and Erik Karlsson had a breakaway in overtime.

Penguins Report Card

Performances to like, or at least not hate

Bunting-Crosby-Rust. The line had more shot attempts, more shots, and as many scoring chances as the rest of the team combined. Bunting has a little spark. I like him and Rust together. It could be a consolation prize for Sidney Crosby.

Rust had seven shots on goal. Say what you will about the team, but that guy is still giving everything he’s got.

P.O Joseph. I liked him trading whacks at the net with Tim Stutzle. I liked him getting back on pucks. In full disclosure, I believe I like his game far more than Penguins coaches. Putting him on the third pairing was certainly a choice, and it shone the negative spotlight on another Penguins defenseman elevated back into the top four.

Tristan Jarry. He was exceptional. The final shot fooled him as he felt Stutzle was going to let it rip before a sneaky pass to Drake Batherson for the winner. Jarry stopped no less than a half-dozen wide-open looks in regulation, especially at the start of the third period when Ottawa went for the win. Jarry also faced a few glorious chances in OT.

He kept the Penguins from getting blown out in the third.

Performances to not like at all

Evgeni Malkin. He was AWOL. A non-existant game. He has one shot on goal, a tip from nine feet in the middle of the second period. If the Penguins have any hope of avoiding a nuclear meltdown necessitating a full teardown, Malkin needs to find his “want to.”

Ryan Graves. He’s lucky there’s not a public statistic on lost puck battles. He lost three easy ones, leading to Ottawa’s regulation goal. He had three chances to gain possession and make a play, but instead, Ottawa forecheckers didn’t have to work too hard to get possession. The tone was set early as forecheckers rattled the Penguins defensemen off the boards; by the middle of the first, Graves was looking over his shoulder to see if he would get hit. Second-pairing minutes put him under a bright spotlight, and the move back to that lineup spot did not pay dividends.

It’s time to consider taking his sweater. Mistakes happen. Halfhearted and timid efforts should not.

Erik Karlsson. Far from the worst but he had a few too many bad highlights. He was beaten by the Ottawa rush several times. In fairness, the forwards turned the puck over or didn’t get it deep and Ottawa was able to quickly transition, but Karlsson didn’t turn to keep up.

Why the Penguins haven’t untethered Karlsson is a good question. If the defenseman has the green light and isn’t taking it, that’s on him. If the coaches are holding him back, that’s a serious problem. I don’t know how to get the answer to that. I believe there are two versions.