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Penguins Grades: Time’s Up. Another Bad Pens Loss Likely Seals Fate



Pittsburgh Penguins, NHL Trade deadline

EDMONTON, Alberta — Time is up for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Because of a pair of embarrassing losses this weekend, you may not see winger Jake Guentzel and several others in a Penguins sweater again.

With everything at stake on a four-game road trip, the Penguins followed a hard-fought overtime win over the NHL-leading Vancouver Canucks with three straight regulation losses. They were outclassed by the Edmonton Oilers 6-1 at Rogers Arena on Sunday.

Read More: Oilers Offense Much Too Slick for Penguins, 6-1

The NHL trade deadline is only four days from Monday, and the Penguins have just one game between now and then. The test was given, and the Penguins failed.

Yes, the gutwrenching loss on Saturday against the Calgary Flames was one of several factors that torpedoed the Penguins on Sunday, making that playoff mountain they must climb even higher.

“I think we had a tough loss (Saturday), and I don’t know if we did a good enough job of just moving by it,” said Penguins captain Sidney Crosby. “I think that you’ve got to find a way, even when it’s one like that, to move by it. We probably didn’t do a good enough job.”

The Penguins were outshot 38-24, badly outplayed, and bluntly exposed. They couldn’t crack Seattle, couldn’t lock down Calgary, and quickly wilted under late-night travel and relentless rush attack against Edmonton.

NHL Trade Deadline

The guillotine of the NHL trade deadline awaits.

Penguins president of hockey operations/GM Kyle Dubas punted a few self-imposed deadlines throughout the season, revising each to give the team more time to find themselves, more time to turn it all around, and more time to show they were as good as they and he thought they could be.

The Penguins are 3-4-1 in their last eight games despite professing to know their situation and the crucial nature of the games. If this has been the truest, desperate version of the team, that’s probably the biggest reason to admit this team didn’t work.

“It’s not a good feeling, being in this position, being here (in the standings),” said goalie Alex Nedeljkovic. “…But, all we can do is control what we can control. And that’s showing up to work every day, showing up to the rink, giving a good effort, good, honest effort, and just trying to win games. That’s all we can do.”

Sunday, the Penguins never found their mojo. After a soul-crushing loss Saturday against Calgary, the Penguins put up a bit of a fight early against Edmonton, though it wasn’t a coordinated four-line effort. Nor was it disciplined.

However, hockey has a way of showing teams the inevitability of their fate. By early in the second period, the Penguins were clearly recognizing theirs.

The odd-man rushes mounted as Edmonton flew the zone with impunity. Edmonton charged to the net. And the Penguins had no answers as Edmonton filled the back of the net, converting Grade A chance after chance.

Hey, the Penguins held Connor McDavid to one assist on the first five goals scored. That’s something, right?

The Penguins were done by the middle of the second period, as Edmonton attacked … and attacked. They didn’t ease up after goals; they bore down on the increasingly helpless Penguins.

Ryan McLeod scored the fifth goal and had two points (1-1-2). He was one of five Oilers with two points by the end of the second period. Zach Hyman scored a pair of goals. The distance on his two goals combined probably didn’t equal 10 feet.

McDavid also had a goal and an assist. Warren Foegele, and Brett Kulak were the Oilers with two assists. Leon Draisaitl had three assists to lead them all.

In a sense, it was sad to watch the last vestiges of hope evaporate in the ice-cold Rogers Arena. It wasn’t just this game the Penguins lost. They’ve used up all of their runway to convince Dubas not to sell.

They had a chance. They lost the games that mattered most. In a big picture, that should tell a GM everything he needs to know.

Penguins Analysis

We won’t rub it in.

Edmonton attacks unlike any team in the league. When they see a loose puck on the wall with their player on the right side of the battle, they’re gone. A tap, a pass, or a bounce off the wall to center and Edmonton had numbers on the Penguins.

Time and time and time again. As the Penguins’ deficit grew, they had less opportunity to play it safe. They needed to win those wall battles, but every battle lost was a potential two-on-one or three-on-two.

“It just boils down to details and staying above people, staying above the puck,” Sullivan said. “When there’s a puck battle at the top half of the zone or top of the circles or the hash marks, if our defensemen are going to go down the wall to try to keep the puck alive, we need a forward to replace him and reload above on the inside and. You know, if we don’t win the puck battle, then it’s obviously an odd-man rush. That happened on a couple of occasions tonight where that just boils down to discipline and detail.”

What the Penguins Did Well/Needed to Do a LOT More: They didn’t do nearly enough well, or at least do those things consistently. When they cycled hard in the low zone, Edmonton wasn’t necessarily interested in defending them. It created space for the defensemen at the top of the zone, and it allowed the Penguins to get to the net.

The Penguins, on a few occasions, were able to zip a defenseman through seam for a good shot. However, except for the Sidney Crosby line, the Penguins almost refused to go to the net. There was a crystalizing sequence early in the first period. The Penguins’ third line won possession in the low zone and set up a wide-open Chad Ruhwedel at the top, but no one went to the net.

Ruhwedel paused, was still wide open, but Emil Bemstrom and Jonathan Gruden were miles away and not headed in the right direction. Ruhwedel meekly clapped it into Edmonton goalie Calvin Pickard’s crest from 45 feet.

That was indicative of so much wrong with the Penguins’ loss and the bigger picture of the lineup.

The Evgeni Malkin line had one shot on goal until Sullivan busted up the line with Reilly Smith and Valtteri Puustinen. In fairness, Smith clanged the crossbar on one rush.

Penguins Report Card

Team: F

The plane out of Calgary was delayed. The boys didn’t get into Edmonton until about 4 a.m. They had their beating hearts ripped out of their chest and sacrificed to the playoff gods like some sort of Mayan ritual and then had to play one of the best teams in the league–and one that is tailor-made to crush them because of the exceptional rush ability.

The Penguins needed to grind Edmonton. But under circumstances and wounded hearts, they buckled. Almost no phase of their game was good.

Crosby was a minus-3, and I generally thought he was very good.

Performances to like

Valterri Puustinen. The Edmonton broadcast had plenty of love for Puustinen’s game. He really is playing hard, playing in all three zones to the best of his ability, and doing little things well.

Drew O’Connor. He’s playing fast and all over pucks. He’s creating space and pucks for Crosby and Rakell. Call that a win. Now, let’s see him bury a few, too.

That’s probably it.