Penguins Grades: ‘Lots of Drama,’ DeSmith Saves, Malkin Does Malkin Things (+)
The Pittsburgh Penguins were cruising. They had a 3-0 lead and complete control. And then the Penguins’ warts and the season-long issue of holding leads roared. The Washington Capitals pushed the Penguins to the brink of the abyss, tying the game 3-3 later in the third period, bringing heart palpitations to western Pennsylvania and a national TV audience.
Evgeni Malkin both took a terrible penalty to nullify a Penguins’ power play in the third period and ripped the game-winner on a dramatic breakaway with 80 seconds remaining. The Penguins won 4-3, and the raucous crowd at PPG Paints Arena went home happy, if not emotionally drained.
“It’s like, again, lots of drama in the third period. And my goal is just trying to do my best,” Malkin said.
With both Florida and the Islanders losing, the Penguins were assured of waking up Sunday in a playoff spot, but a three-point lead over Florida and one point behind the Islanders is a far better fate than the nervous sweats resulting from being just one point ahead.
The rough math of the Penguins’ playoff push is this: The Penguins lead Florida by three points with nine games remaining. Florida has the tiebreakers but a tough schedule. If the Penguins win five of their nine remaining games, Florida must win at least six with one tie, or five wins and three loser points.
As expected, the Penguins were sluggish at the start after a couple of weeks, primarily on the road. And as anyone who’s ever been stuck in the mud in Alabam knows, if you step on the gas, one tire spins and the other tire does nothing (My Cousin Vinny reference). It took seven or eight minutes before the Penguins found their legs.
Goalie Casey DeSmith, starting his second consecutive game while Tristan Jarry deals with a lower-body injury, bailed out the Penguins early in the first period and was fantastic. Just 20 seconds into the game, DeSmith made a sparkling save on Tom Wilson in front.
And then they looked like a pretty good version of themselves for the next 35 minutes until the prospect of defending a lead entered their consciousness.
Here’s Malkin’s answer about protecting the third period leads:
“Lots of games we lead two goals, three goals, and we start waiting. I don’t know. Two periods, we play in the offensive zone … maybe we think we need to win, and we start to think about points — we give them so much ice, we like skate back and stay on the blue line and wait,” Malkin said. “We need to play the same game, don’t change anything. Maybe, like, the last five minutes, but not the whole 20-minute third period. I hope it’s the last game we play like this.”
The team clarified that he both meant the team trying to get another goal to put the game away and being conscious of the standings.
After watching (another) Penguins’ third period performance, that quote fits well into our analysis. Here we go.