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Penguins Grades: Scoring Chances, but Big Mistakes & Sullivan’s Error



Pittsburgh Penguins game analysis

The Pittsburgh Penguins’ energy and effort were present. The details were sketchy. The resulting roller coaster ride of scoring chances, mistakes, and near misses resulted in a 7-4 New York Rangers win at PPG Paints Arena.

The Penguins were emotionally engaged, and the speed of their game was so dramatically greater that one would be forgiven if they had wondered if they were indeed watching the same club that appeared in Penguins sweaters over the last several games. Regardless of the descriptor of choice, the Penguins pushed the division-leading Rangers throughout the 60 minutes and for 200 feet.

Except that the Rangers are better and make far fewer mistakes.

“It’s a game of the mistakes. And unfortunately, we made a few more than they did,” said Penguins captain Sidney Crosby. “We had some good looks to get back into it or to get a lead when it was tied, but we didn’t (finish). They got two quick power play goals and changed the momentum a little bit. I thought we got it back in the third and just couldn’t convert.”

The Penguins have a terrible habit of shooting right through their holster into their foot. Or feet.

The Penguins pushed a little too hard, and the defensive responsibilities took a back seat in trying to score, even on the penalty kill. While the compete level was intense, the defensive coverage was not, and the Penguins’ unreliable defensemen had their lunch money taken a few times.

As the teams careened to the end of the second period, the Penguin’s energy remained. They scored a pretty power-play goal, and the fourth line, specifically Jeff Carter, again showed its offensive chops.

Yet it wasn’t enough, as a bad goal was followed by a bad penalty by Kris Letang and a penalty-killing mistake by Drew O’Connor and Lars Eller, who were behind the play but changed. The mistake allowed New York the space for a tic-tac-toe rush and power-play goal. It was the Rangers’ fifth goal and the dagger.

Those two Rangers goals were 65 seconds apart.

The Penguins didn’t yield the result, but nor could they climb from within yet another hole they dug.

“Obviously, the PK hurt us. They scored a couple of goals right in a row when we were tied. They probably got some momentum from that,” a dejected O’Connor said. “So I think maybe our details just weren’t good enough on that and a few other things throughout the game.”

Penguins Analysis

The number of odd-man rushes, especially in the first period, was abnormally high and probably made coach Mike Sullivan reach for the antacid. Yet the reason for the odd-man rushes should be noted.

The Penguins weren’t lazy or necessarily sloppy; they were trying too hard.

They pushed for headman passes and reached for offense. The resulting counterattacks put pressure on the Penguins’ defense as New York counters better than any team in the NHL. Every wayward pass or loose puck became a three-on-two, if not a two-on-one.

Putting pressure on Ryan Graves and Erik Karlsson to defend is not a good strategy. Perhaps keeping that pairing together was a worse strategy, as the results were too predictable.

The third period was more of the same. The Penguins pushed, and the Rangers scored.

Also, New York beautifully moves around the offensive zone with precision and ill intent. The Penguins were too happy to skate with New York on the rush and grind for pucks, which produced some success.

It was a bit of a shame, actually. The Penguins deserved a better result, but it was also their shortcomings that prevented it.

“I thought we worked hard, generated some good chances, but unfortunately gave up a few too many,” Crosby concluded. “But, you’ve got to turn the page and grab some points tomorrow (vs. the Detroit Red Wings). That’s got to be the mentality. You can’t get it all at once. So, each game, try to work and get points.”

What the Penguins did well:

They controlled pucks low, outmuscling New York defenders, and moved the puck between the dots for chances. The Penguins were a bounce or two away from scoring six, too.

The Penguins involved the defensemen in the play. John Ludvig suddenly looks like a new player. He and Marcus Pettersson surprised New York by activating. Ludvig scored his second goal in two games.

The Penguins played fast and with tenacity. Mistakes and poor defensive reads, especially by the pairing of Karlsson and Graves, hurt. Graves dropped to the ice far too early to defend too often and came up empty on a pair of Rangers goals.

Penguins Report Card

Team: B-

So much good undone. If the Penguins played with the same emotional engagement throughout the season, they would easily be a playoff team. They showed up for the Rangers, but their puzzle doesn’t fit together as well as New York. It was a roster construction problem on Saturday. The Penguins just have too many weak spots in vital positions.

Sullivan devised a solid game plan, and the Penguins showed that they could play with the Rangers. They also proved they can’t avoid fatal mistakes.

According to, the Penguins had 15 scoring chances in the third period.

Performances to like:

Evgeni Malkin: He was visible and impactful. He was neither on the ice for a goal-for or goal-against, but it wasn’t for lack of chances.

Lars Eller: He played like it was a Game 7. Sullivan started Eller’s line, and Eller had about a half-dozen good looks at New York goalie Jonathan Quick and a power play goal. Eller had a (power play) breakaway and several one-timers from the scoring zones. Sullivan started Eller to matchup against Mika Zbinejad, and Eller won it convincingly, allowing only two shots on goal (but one was a goal).

Jeff Carter: He played as well as a fourth-line winger could play. The fourth line produced Ludvig’s goal with puck possession and traffic near the crease. Carter poked the puck behind New York defensemen on three occasions to create a breakaway and a pair of two-on-ones. He skated and pushed the play like he was 27 again.

John Ludvig: Perhaps the recall of Jack St. Ivany lit a fire, but he’s played a pair of strong games that should keep him in the lineup. He’s activating far more often and making a difference when he does.

Rickard Rakell: He skated harder than he’s skated in recent weeks. He had four shots, and they were good shots from the scoring zones rather than the mushy perimeter.

Reasons to Pound the Table

Coach Mike Sullivan: Graves and Karlsson don’t work. Haven’t worked. Probably won’t ever work. Graves is not an instinctual player or has not shown an ability to improvise and adapt to quickly changing surroundings. He is not good at defending the rush, either. Playing with Karlsson requires all of those skills. It’s more on Sullivan than Graves, who should know better by now.

Tristan Jarry: The only really soft goal he allowed was the fourth tally–the power play goal by Artemi Panarin. Jarry dropped the puck, and Chris Kreider kicked it away from him. K’Andre Miller’s goal–the Rangers’ sixth–was stoppable as it wasn’t deflected, though it floated through a maze of raised sticks. Jarry made a high number of very good saves, but to beat a better team, the goalie has to win the goalie battle. Jonathan Quick won the goalie battle on Sunday.

I’m not going to criticize Kris Letang for taking what became the deciding penalty. That was a cheap call unless Letang went nuclear with his disagreement. Even then, refs Chris Rooney and TJ Luxmore should have thicker skin. There was too much at stake for the Penguins. Let the boys play or, in this case, blow off an ounce of steam at a questionable call.

The game was crying out for a hero. Carter rose to the challenge. Crosby and Rakell peppered Quick. Malkin did his part, too. Reilly Smith wasn’t much of a factor.

Ryan Graves: He is just not fitting with this team, and even Marcus Pettersson had a rough day.

Bryan Rust put it simply regarding the Penguins job on Sunday vs Detroit.

“Just win.”