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Penguins Grades: Team Battles Heartbreak and Distraction



PIttsburgh Penguins, Evgeni Malkin, Reilly Smith

The Pittsburgh Penguins were energetic and aggressive in the first period. They were utterly terrible in the second period. They got by later in the third period when they finally buckled down for a 5-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets at PPG Paints Arena.

With the NHL trade rumors swirling around Penguins winger Jake Guentzel and the looming NHL trade deadline, which could pull apart the rest of the current roster, the Penguins were alternately engaged and utterly disengaged. Ultimately, they found just enough to score a couple more goals in the third period … after allowing a shorthanded goal to tie the game 3-3.

Must Read: My Mourning Jackets, Penguins Hold Off Columbus 5-3

The Penguins were clearly battling the effects of three games in four days, devastating losses in Calgary and Edmonton, but more than that, the uncertainty and distraction of the NHL trade deadline. Reports emerged Tuesday evening that the Penguins hoped to trade Guentzel by Wednesday evening.

Sidney Crosby was uncharacteristically out of sorts Tuesday, and that should tell you how difficult this position is for the team.

“For the most part. I thought we did, okay. There’s a lot of noise around the team right now. Probably more so than it has been in all the years,” Sullivan said. “Part of our job is to make sure we focus on the task at hand. And that’s the game right in front of us … These guys are human. I think that’s one of the challenges that we have this time of year, but I thought, for the most part, we played okay. I thought we had a lapse in the second period. We didn’t play as inspired in the second period.”

Must read: Penguins Trade by Tomorrow, 3-Way Deal? Report.

Penguins Game Analysis

The Penguins stormed to a 2-0 lead with a suffocating forecheck and aggressive attack. They got up “in fives,” and Columbus chased the game. Puljujarvi and Malkin’s goals were prime examples.

The game wasn’t necessarily clean or crisp, but the Penguins had energy and were much better than Columbus. The counterattacks were also decisive, with good zone entries and puck possession.

And then…

The Penguins gave it back over 57 seconds in the second period by choking away puck possessions and looking disinterested.

Through the first 14 minutes of the second period, the Penguins had been credited with two shots. By the generosity of former Penguins defenseman Erik Gudbranson, whose clearing attempt hit Rickard Rakell and deflected into the net, the Penguins led 3-2.

Frenetic first period. Sad second.

The third period was nearly defined by the same nonsense that has dogged them: a shorthanded goal. The Penguins were going through the motions, and they were burned. Jeff Carter saved their bacon by scoring a power play goal a few seconds later, showing his veteran savvy by holding the puck on the rush and deflecting it off Columbus defenseman Andrew Peeke, who went to the ice to block a pass.

The Penguins arose later in the third period–just enough. Let’s not give too much credit for their play, but for many, they’re in a new position, their tender heart in a blender, and a few are headed for beautiful oblivion beyond the black and gold.

And the Penguins staff can begin working on Jake Guentzel’s tribute video.

Penguins Report Card

Team: C+

Inconsistency, thy name is Penguins. One great, one brutal, and one indifferent period averages out to a generally unacceptable grade, but let’s be honest. This team has never before faced the specter of selling. In past deadlines, the trade deadline might have been a nervous time for a few cats whose tails were curled, but the team knew good players were arriving. Not this time.

Credit PP2 for rallying after a shorthanded goal in the third period, but Columbus missed too many Grade A chances.

We graded on the curve. The Penguins rallied late when the game was on the line to get the plus.

Performances to like:

The Smith-Malkin-Puustinen line was the Penguins’ best by a wide margin.

Reilly Smith. He was around the puck and had numerous chances. Smith made himself available like a scoring winger and finally converted in the third period. He had a goal and two assists. Yet, despite a pretty good game, Smith was critical of himself.

“It definitely wasn’t perfect. I probably had more turnovers than good plays, but sometimes it’s nice just to find the back of the net and help my linemates score because it hasn’t been going that way,” Smith said.

Sourpuss aside, he played pretty well. He notched career points No. 500 and 501.

“It kind of means a lot, to be honest. I would have been happy with one growing up,” said Smith. “So, the time goes by fast, and you just try to enjoy every moment. It’s pretty special to get an assist on (Malkin’s) goal for 500 as well.”

Evgeni Malkin. Malkin was skating tall and aggressive in the first period. His effort in the third period put the game away. He won a loose puck on the forecheck and snapped a pass to Smith, tape to tape, in the slot for the fifth goal.

Jesse Puljujarvi. It wasn’t exactly a Da Vinci masterpiece, but he and Drew O’Connor had five scoring chances, including Puljujarvi’s goal, until O’Connor left the game in the second period. Puljujarvi is good on the wall and the forecheck. The goal had to feel pretty good.

Emil Bemstrom. He’s a quiet player, but he had four shots and a crucial assist on Carter’s power-play goal.