The Pittsburgh Penguins (36-16-9) were the best road team in the NHL, but missed chances and power play flubs gave way to grinding Nashville goals. Roman Josi had three assists to up his season total to 69 points, and Nashville beat the Penguins 4-1 at Bridgestone Arena on Tuesday night.
The Penguins power play was 0-for-5 with only five shots.
The first period was a slog and a harbinger of things to come. The game was the opposite of the high-tempo and skating clinic between the Penguins and Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday. Carolina frequently dropped four players to defend, and notorious Nashville ice played to the slow game.
Nashville had only one high-danger scoring chance, according to NaturalStatTrick.com, and they didn’t get that chance until about 19:58 of the first period. However, it counted.
Penguins goalie Casey DeSmith tried to play a puck that he initially covered. Officials blew the whistle as he played it forward. That’s important because Nashville executed a slick three-pass play from the offensive zone faceoff. Mattias Ekholm (4) was undetected on the weak side for an easy snapshot into a yawning cage.
Head coach Mike Sullivan juggled his lineup again. For the first time this season, he moved Bryan Rust off Sidney Crosby’s line and placed Bryan Rust with Evgeni Malkin while moving Evan Rodrigues (known as E-Rod to Jim Colony) to Crosby’s line.
Like Nashville did in the first period, the Penguins scored from slick passing following an offensive zone faceoff. Crosby won a faceoff back to defenseman Kris Letang as winger Jake Guentzel slipped away from defensemen. Letang zipped a cross-ice pass to Guentzel (29), who whipped a shot to the far post past Juuse Saros.
However, 100 seconds after Guentzel scored, Roman Josi blasted a shot from the point. Tanner Jeannot (19) got his stick free of Penguins defenseman Chad Ruhwedel and deflected it past DeSmith.
Less than two minutes later, the Penguins’ miscommunication became another Nashville goal. Defensemen Mike Matheson and Kris Letang played, “I got it, you take it,” at the offensive blue line. Eeli Tolvanen (8) snared the loose puck for a long breakaway chance and beat DeSmith.
“When Tanger and Mike Matheson came together, it’s just one of those fluky plays. That’s hockey. Sometimes those circumstances arise, and it ended up in the back of our net,” Sullivan said.
The Pittsburgh Penguins again limited Nashville to just one high-danger chance but yielded two goals.
Yakov Trenin (14) scored the empty netter to salt the game.
DeSmith was solid. The Penguins backup goalie made the saves he was supposed to and a couple of difficult ones. DeSmith stopped 21 of 24.
Saros lived up to his hype. He stopped 35 of 36 shots, including Kasperi Kapanen on a potentially game-changing breakaway in the middle of the third period.