For the second time in two games, the depleted Pittsburgh Penguins went to overtime against the Eastern Conference power New York Islanders. On Tuesday, the Penguins squandered a pair of two-goal leads. Thursday night, the Penguins were forced to kill penalties and rally without their top two defensemen and top centerman. The Penguins lost in overtime again, 4-3 in Brooklyn but it could have been yet another moral victory for the Penguins, who probably lead the league if there were such a category.
But the sentiment in the locker room has grown tired of moral victories.
This season, the team has repeatedly and continually dominated opponents at even strength. However, it’s been a cavalcade of reasons which have denied the Penguins (11-7-4) additional wins. Injuries have kept high-end talent and continuity from the Penguins lineup.
“I guess you could call it (a good point). Anytime you play that hard and played pretty well against a really good team, and battle back like that, you’d like the extra point,” Bryan Rust said with a bit of disgust. Rust has been on a tear since returning to the lineup a few weeks ago. Thursday night he scored his eighth goal in just 11 games.
Penguins goalie Matt Murray was the unlucky player who dished the far too common line after the second OT loss to New York.
“We played really well. I thought we deserved better,” Murray said. “If we don’t take seven penalties, if we don’t have to kill that many, we probably would have a better result.”
Head coach Mike Sullivan echoed the refrain but also acknowledged the giant holes in the Penguins lineup.
“I thought 5v5, we played really well. We made good decisions with the puck. I thought we were competing hard,” Sullivan said. “It was a collective effort. It was a team play on both sides of the puck. And that’s how we have to play given the circumstance we’re in right now.”
The gritted teeth and grinding tones tell more of the story than the proper words. Rust grimaced when asked about a moral victory. And indeed, the Penguins are staying afloat in the Eastern Conference despite seemingly insurmountable problems. There’s ample reason to be accepting of overtime points, but losing to a team like New York twice in three days leaves a what Bryan Rust called a “sour taste.”
And that’s to the Penguins credit. Show me a team happy with losing and I’ll show you a team that loses more than wins.
Let the Anger Flow
The Pittsburgh Penguins are building some good hate. The pangs of losing come with enough of an asterisk that frustration hasn’t impeded their play. They’re neither gripping their sticks too tight or throwing up their hands. The Penguins are scoring goals, including seven over the last two games against stingy New York.
Thursday night, everything went against the Penguins. From Guentzel’s phantom roughing call which elicited the harsh words that drew the extra two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct, to the referees erroneously telling Jared McCann that he was ejected for attempting a late-game fight with New York defenseman Scott Mayfield. McCann left the ice and was undressed in the locker room when he finally learned he had not been ejected. He raced back for overtime.
There wasn’t a good reason McCann would have been ejected other than being the scrappy little dog who wanted a piece of a much bigger dog (Scott Mayfield), while large New York forward Anders Lee rained rights upon Zach Aston-Reese.
In fairness, the Penguins don’t have the talent or the horses for a 3-on-3 skills competition in overtime. The three players on the ice when New York scored the winner were Marcus Pettersson, Bryan Rust, and Sam Lafferty. While those players are wonderful role players, that’s an NHL bubble player, a role player and a young defenseman not known for scoring points.
Brandon Tanev, Teddy Blueger, and John Marino immediately preceded that trio. A lot of compliments can be dished for those three but there isn’t an offensive player in that group, either.
It’s good the Penguins were angry and felt cheated. In a small sense, the officials by virtue of awarding New York seven power plays and making mistakes at the end of the game hurt the Penguins. In a larger context, the injury list is ridiculous and the Penguins will need to scrap every game to earn points because they’re missing Hall of Fame talent.
That’s the “circumstance we’re in right now.”
The Pittsburgh Penguins can and perhaps should be upset over the lost point but in reality, these are crucial points which are keeping the Penguins in the playoff race.