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Penguins Grades: Mistakes, Chaos, Survival and Playoff Hope



Pittsburgh Penguins game, Lars Eller, Kris letang

Perhaps it was the pressure or intensity of having their backs to the wall, but the Pittsburgh Penguins played the type of game they’ve needed to play all season. And they also made just as many maddening, pull-your-hair-out-by-the-roots mistakes as they’ve made all season.

They scored a power-play goal, and they allowed a brutal shorthanded goal. Multiple times, their playoff lives flashed before their eyes, and multiple times, they rallied for goals. And … multiple times, they gave it back.

Bryan Rust scored a pair of goals. Sidney Crosby had one goal and three assists, and the Penguins survived themselves and the Flyers, 7-6 at PPG Paints Arena.

The wild swings are everything right and everything wrong with the Penguins.

Must Read: Penguins Win 7-6, Playoff Fate Back in Their Hands

“A lot of mistakes. A lot of good plays. It was a back and forth on a game, we got a (power play) goal,” said defenseman Kris Letang. “We allowed a shorty. It was kind of all over the place. That’s what happens during the course of 82 games. You get different types of games, and good teams usually find ways to win those games.”

The Penguins matched the Flyers’ hunger for the puck. Physical on the walls and aggressive on the power play. They also gave up an ugly shorthanded goal and failed to hold a two-goal lead with incredibly undisciplined plays.

It was a scrappy and energetic game that devolved into a wild and mistake-filled afternoon tilt between rivals. It wasn’t far from the Gong Show 2012 playoff series.

Must Read (Philly Hockey Now): Flyers Takeaways — Defense, Goaltending Optional.

You wouldn’t know the Flyers are rebuilding and might trade away a pair of top-four defensemen before the March 8 NHL trade deadline. Before the opening puck drop, they had a nine-point lead over the Penguins for third place in the Metro Division.

The Flyers quickly signaled they would not roll over or succumb to tired legs of playing the day before. The Penguins also signaled that in Game 55 of their season, they’re still getting their act together.

Flyers defenseman Travis Sanheim beat Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry from the top of the zone just 2:11 into the game. They didn’t pack up and head home down 4-2, nor 6-4.

The clack of sticks was a constant sound as every puck was contested. The ones that weren’t usually wound up in the back of one of the nets.

The Penguins were just a little better. Sidney Crosby’s line was not going to lose. I maintain Crosby had four assists instead of three, but the line was on the puck and around the net for the entirety of the game.

Crosby, Rakell, and Rust were the difference makers. Flyers’ goalie Cal Petersen was the Flyers’ difference for the worse.

And the Penguins control their playoff fate again.

Penguins Report Card

How drastically do you downgrade the five players on PP1? They scored a beauty, then looked like a pee-wee team trying to defend a one-on-three rush.

Team: C

They won and beat a good team. We’ll ignore the fact that the Flyers got one of the worst goaltending performances you’ll see this season. The Penguins didn’t get a great one, either.

The game featured the best the Penguins have to offer. They were aggressive in many phases, assertive near the net and off the wall. They battled through contested dump-ins. The Flyers attacked the point of the chip-in, blocking many, but the Penguins didn’t overcommit or lose their structure–allowing them to provide neutral zone puck support.

The Penguins controlled long stretches of the play. And yet they began the third period tied 4-4 largely because they are the most mistake-prone, self-destructive version that this franchise has put on the ice in decades. In the end, the good slightly outweighed the bad.

“Obviously, it’s a huge game for us against the team that we’re fighting for a playoff spot … I thought we played hard, and I thought we competed,” said coach Mike Sullivan. “Probably for me, the most encouraging thing in the whole game was towards the end of the second period when we gave up the goal-against on the power play. We’re going into the third period with a tie game … The most encouraging part was just the resilience of the group going out in the third period and just having the ability to put it behind them and just being forward thinking and just competing in that third period.”

Power Play: D?

One A. One F. But oh did that F cost them. They moved the zone beautifully on their first real chance (We’re disregarding the 22-second power play). They cycled the zone and got the puck on Rust’s stick at the top of the zone with downhill momentum and a clear path.

Then…they submitted truly the most unqualified-for-the-NHL defensive zone coverage I’ve ever seen.

Performances to Like:

Rakell-Crosby-Rust: A

Of course. This line provided the offense. They just do everything right.

Valtteri Puustinen:

Puustinen gets a big extra credit for his play on one of the go-ahead goals in the third period. While Drew O’Connor will get the headlines for the goal, it was Puustinen who made the play twice.

Penguins Top Pair: A

The advanced stats showed P.O Joseph with a hefty 77% Corsi and 64% scoring chance rate. He and Kris Letang didn’t have an easy game, but they provided the necessary defensive and possession contributions. That’s three straight good games.

Uneven Performances:

No player was bad without good. There was too much going on to deliver an F.

Evgeni Malkin: The advanced analytics for Malkin’s line were very good; they had seven scoring chances compared to one against. However, some turnovers and gaffes brought the grade to somewhere between a B and C.

Lars Eller: A shutdown center must be a shutdown center. That’s Eller’s contribution, but his pair of failed clearing attempts led to a Flyers’ power play goal, and there were a few other miscues that were uncharacteristic.

Tristan Jarry: A few long-range shots got past Jarry that probably should have been stopped. It’s tough to criticize Jarry while watching Cal Petersen dish more soft serve than Dairy Queen.