The Florida Panthers are really good. Even as the Pittsburgh Penguins pushed in the second period, Florida lurked. Eventually, Florida buried a backbreaker in the third period, and the late Penguins comeback was from two goals behind. On Tuesday, Florida outplayed the Penguins in the critical moments and flexed their muscle in front of the net for a 4-3 win at PPG Paints Arena.
The Penguins dominated chances, shot attempts, and the puck in the second period, yet Florida scored their ninth power-play in 22 attempts to keep a one-goal lead.
Head coach Mike Sulivan wasn’t a happy camper. As he strode into the postgame presser, he had that angry look. There were no moral victories or things he was figuratively hanging his hat. No, Sullivan knew the Penguins didn’t play well in the first period, and areas that have been problems for weeks submarined his team.
“(Net-front coverage) was sporadic. I didn’t like it at all in the first period. You know, both goals that they scored, for example. So we’ve got to defend that area with numbers. We’ve got to defend that area harder,” Sullivan said. “You know, on the point shot goal (Aaron Ekblad), we’ve got an opportunity to get into people early and deny them the ice. And you know, those are the details. It just boils down to details and then a certain compete-level. And so certainly in the first period, I didn’t think we did a very good job.”
There are many “uncontrollables” in a hockey game. Compete level is always something a team can control, and the Penguins allowed the bigger Florida Panthers time and space with the puck, and they allowed Florida camping space in front of Tristan Jarry.
The Penguins trailed 2-0 before settling into the game near the end of the first period.
“I didn’t like our first period at all. You know, I thought the second and third periods, I thought we competed hard, and there was more detail to our game. And as a result, we made it a hockey game,” said Sullivan. “But as I said, for me, the takeaway is we’ve got to make sure we’re ready from the drop in the puck. And when you play one of the top teams in the league, you know you can’t survive two goals. It makes it hard to win.”
The Penguins are becoming a one-line team that relies on Sidney Crosby and special teams. That’s a recipe for tee times, not playoff success. Overall, their forecheck was behind and chasing Florida up the ice.
The Penguins’ loss was more than not being ready. It was many factors, some controllable, some not, but all worrisome if the Pittsburgh Penguins fancy themselves anything more than Round One fodder. We’ll explain in the chalkboard and player report cards…