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Penguins Grades: Bad Habits and Battles; Sidney Crosby Unstoppable



Pittsburgh Penguins bench, Sidney Crosby

The Pittsburgh Penguins probably didn’t deserve the two points. Although they were outplayed for significant parts of the game, they never left the battle.

Penguins captain Sidney Crosby not only earned his 1000th assist but also jolted his team with a second-period bodyslam of Detroit Red Wings defenseman Ben Chiarot. The Penguins squandered a third-period lead, but Crosby again pushed his team forward when Erik Karlsson blasted the overtime winner for a 6-5 OT win over Detroit at PPG Paints Arena.

The MVP chants for Crosby were well deserved. Crosby had three points, including his 1000th career assist on the game-winner.

The win put the Penguins into the second wild-card spot, one point ahead of both the Washington Capitals and Detroit. They again control their playoff fate.

Read More (Detroit Hockey Now): Red Wings Rally Falls Short in Crucial Game vs. Penguins. 

The Penguins’ first period was disjointed, and they never really found their stride. They were neither flat nor lethargic, but they weren’t sharp. Passes were in skates instead of on blades, and scoring chances fizzled with errant connections.

The first 40 minutes elapsed without great Penguins hockey, but to steal coach Mike Sullivan’s vernacular, they battled.

It became a gritty slog typified by Crosby, who willed his team forward at every opportunity.

“He’s awesome. He’s leading this team right now,” said Bryan Rust. “I think we’re all kind of getting in line behind him and trying to do everything together.”

The third period bordered on wild. OK, it was ridiculous, and the Penguins should be flogged for earning a two-goal lead with a shorthanded goal by Jeff Carter and then charitably giving it back as if Detroit was the March of Dimes.

The number of clean rips and dangerous chances they yielded was unacceptable. Detroit will lose sleep wondering how they didn’t score at least eight if not 10.

Crosby not only netted a couple of goals, but he also sent a bullhorn-loud message midway through the second period when he slammed Ben Chiarot, who probably took advantage of the playoffs-like officiating and was a little too clingy for the first 30 minutes.

Chiarot played tight defense on Crosby in the offensive zone, and Crosby picked him up by one leg and drove him to the ice. Both players sat down for two minutes, but the Penguins’ energy level spiked.

The Penguins soon led 4-2.

And Chiarot backed off.

However, the Penguins’ warts have not gone away. Not only did the Penguins give up a goal shortly after taking a 1-0 lead, but they also gave up goals in the final minute of both the first and second periods and worst of all, they coughed up a two-goal third-period lead.

What should have been in control was instead a 4-3 nailbiter after two.

What should have been an easy win, up 5-3 with seven minutes remaining, was an overtime nailbiter that yielded Detroit the loser point to keep them in the playoff fight.

“I don’t think tonight’s a great example (of good defense) just because a 5-3 lead this late in the season, you can’t give that up,” Reilly Smith said. “Yeah. Especially late in the third period. So, we have to do a better job just playing winning hockey and not giving them opportunities for quick offense and breakaways.”

Penguins Analysis

This was a playoff scrap.

Detroit opted for a lot of obstruction while the Penguins tried to establish offense on the rush. Given Detroit’s speed advantage, it seems that should have been the reverse, but the Penguins finished their chances.

Also, the Penguins have Crosby.

There are times when defenseman Kris Letang is the best player on the ice. In the first period, he scored a breakaway goal and was stout on the penalty kill. He also made a pair of bad turnovers, which led to a pair of Red Wings goals.

However, the other top defenseman, Karlsson, was the problem on the last two Detroit goals. First, Karlsson spotted Detroit the fourth tally with a bad turnover and then inexplicably left his post in front of the net for the tying goal.

The Penguins’ structure was more scramble than discipline. They were chasing Detroit for most of the game. Perhaps only Detroit’s lack of finish combined with the Penguins’ ability to bury their chances (isn’t that a reversal of fortune, eh?) was the difference.

“We didn’t play as smart in certain situations tonight. We talk a lot about managing the game and how important that is to winning,” Sullivan said. “Your calculation of risk has to change depending on the score of the game, the time of the game, situational play. And that’s an important aspect of winning. And I don’t think we checked that box tonight as well as we have.”

Penguins Report Card

Team: B-

A grinder’s B-. They fought through their own sluggishness to deliver a scrappy performance, rallying past their own foolishness.

“I don’t think we checked that box (on defensive play) as well tonight as we have. But we were able to find a way to get two points,” said Sullivan. “I give the players a lot of credit for hanging in there and just sticking with it. You know, that could have sunk a lot of teams, and it didn’t sink this group. And I’m proud of them for that.”

Sidney Crosby & Bryan Rust

They’re driving the wagon. If you need a case for the Hart Trophy, Thursday was Exhibit A. Without Crosby, the Penguins would have been run out of the building. Rust is similarly all over the puck and finishing his chances.

Kris Letang: C-

Those first-period mistakes loomed large. Turnovers, despite having time and space, were quickly in the Penguins net. He pushed to make up for the transgressions. It wasn’t a Letang meltdown but an uneven performance.

Erik Karlsson: C-

Game-winning goal. Terrible third-period defense.

Alex Nedeljkovic: B

The goalie battled with his team. He made a few big saves but was a bit rough around the edges. However, he rose to the challenge in the third period.

He’d probably like the third goal back (Jeff Petry’s long blast from the circle), but the other Detroit goals were breakaways or uncontested from feet away.

Nedeljkovic liked his battle, but he felt he could have had a few more. Sullivan said it better.

“He wasn’t his best early on … but he found it later on.”