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Penguins Grades: Toxic Power Play, Inexplicable Mistakes Crushing Season



Pittsburgh Penguins Game analysis, LA Kings win 2-1

Like peanut butter and jelly, Sidney Crosby and backhand goals, and Jaromir Jagr and a mullet, the Pittsburgh Penguins and self-inflicted losses with a sabotaging power play have become synonymous.

Unlike the former examples, the latter is suffocating what was supposed to be a promising season. Nevermore was a greater microcosm of the Penguins’ season than the 2-1 loss to the LA Kings Sunday at PPG Paints Arena.

The Penguins led 1-0 with 6:11 remaining. Then LA scored on a deflected shot, and — wait for it — the Penguins allowed a shorthanded goal in the final minutes.

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What should have been at least a point, if not a regulation win, quickly became a regulation loss, their fourth in five games. A good effort was submarined by mistakes, carlessness by unexpected players, and not enough offense.

The 2023-24 Pittsburgh Penguins.

The last vestiges of hope or optimism are quickly disappearing as the March 8 trade deadline approaches, and the Penguins fail time and again to win meaningful games or string wins together.

This column will be without more Jagr talk. Sadly. In a postgame locker room following a tough loss, reporters wanted to ask about that, not the game.

Respectfully, and that’s why many of you come to PHN: We were the outlet trying to squeeze in to ask hockey questions. To that end, defenseman Erik Karlsson was at a loss for words.

“Maybe in the third, we got a little hesitant and tried to hang in there. We should have pushed a little more, and if they end up scoring, they end up scoring,” Karlsson said. “It’s just not fun. There is nothing else we can say about it. It’s unfortunate. We need every win we can get.”

The Penguins had this one in the palm of their hand. All they had to do was squeeze.

The Penguins and LA had every reason for a snoozer start. Each team sat on the bench for the nearly one-hour-long Jagr jersey retirement celebration before the game. The Penguins donned mullet wigs and No. 68 jerseys. Like practice the day before, Jagr even participated in warmups.

The energy was palpable.

While Sidney Crosby did not give the two-finger salute in tribute, the Penguins played a solid first period, and in a small miracle, the power play was effective.

No, really.

Against the top penalty kill in the league, the Penguins power play was aggressive with the puck. They completed zone entries with speed and assertiveness and shot the puck. Crosby blasted a shot past LA goalie Cam Talbot just five seconds into their second power play chance late in the first period.

Yes, the Penguins power play.

Then the power play did what it had done all season: it killed their chances when Adrian Kempe buried a two-on-one with 3:10 left.

“We don’t execute on the entry. And then we don’t make good decisions when we’re tracking,” was all coach Mike Sullivan could say.

Anything less than winning the next three games (in regulation) at home against the Islanders, Canadiens, and Flyers, and the season will be officially toast if it isn’t already.

Penguins Analysis

LA’s neutral zone layers largely kept the Penguins to the outside, except for the Crosby line.

The power play and goalie Tristan Jarry were the Penguins’ stories. The Penguins had three power play opportunities, and on the first two, Crosby and Erik Karlsson ran the show. Things clicked.

On the third opportunity, it seemed the puck was on Malkin’s stick. A ghastly turnover in the defensive zone was followed by a turnover on the rush at the blue line. Yet the second unit got a couple of shots.

Eight shots and one goal on three attempts. The Penguins’ renewed commitment was to quick shots- they didn’t allow the top-rated PK in the league to attack them. They moved around the zone well, but not the lazy globetrotter stuff from early in the season. The power play quickly changed positions and let the shots fly.

And then the last two power plays were back to the inexplicably bad performances that have dominated this season.

At even strength, the Kings had better chances and more puck possession. The Kings are a sound, structured team, and the black and yellow had some one-offs, like Malkin taking the puck to the net, but otherwise, only the Crosby line had extended possession in the offensive zone and was able to consistently be dangerous.

“We could have spent a little bit more time in the offensive zone,” said a flabbergasted Sullivan. “(And) force them to expend more energy defending us against.”

The other lines were confined to the soft areas.

It’s a problem, perhaps beyond fixing at this point.

Penguins Report Card

Team: B

They didn’t generate a lot of offensive chances, but they also played sound defense. Jarry was stellar, so when they did break down, the goalie had their back.

Power Play: A/F

The man advantage looked competent, if not actually dangerous, for three attempts. Nothing keeps a PK off balance like hard shots on the net, and the Penguins kept the Kings’ penaltykillers chasing both them and the puck. There’s a lesson to be learned–swap Malkin and Crosby so that Malkin can play low and mid-wall.

And then…it all went poof. One of the most responsible players on the Penguins’ roster, Eller, made a terrible giveaway, and it was over.

Tristan Jarry: A

Jarry made a handful of tough saves look easy. He stuffed Pierre-Luc Dubois on a third-period breakaway and controlled the puck very well.

Smith-Malkin-O’Connor: B-

They had some moments. Malkin had a little giddyup and a bit of vinegar in the first period. They had a pair of scoring chances on one sequence but were defending more than attacking.

Rakell-Crosby-Rust: B

They had more shot attempts, though fewer scoring chances. It was the balance of shot attempts (10) vs. against (12) and the amount of zone time. The Crosby line had the puck in the O-zone; no other line did.

Jesse Puljujarvi: D

There was a hard hit in the second period and a few wall plays. Otherwise, Puljujarvi isn’t making much impact. He earned only six minutes of ice time on Sunday.

He has the speed and talent to do more. Perhaps more adjustment time will help, but the Penguins could use more soon.

Fourth Line: Pretty Good

By late in the second period, the Penguins’ fourth line had amassed some pretty good stats. They had four shot attempts and allowed only one. They were able to get the puck out of the defensive zone.

Some Rough Performances 

Lars Eller. Made a few uncharacteristic mistakes and turnovers in the defensive zone. And that was his turnover at the blue line that sprung Kempe for the shorthanded winner.

John Ludvig. This should have been his type of game. Tight checking and tough. However, he was beaten by Dubois for the breakaway chance. His awkward, half-hearted shot block attempt deflected Kempe’s shot for the first goal. He hurried the puck away several times.

Ryan Graves. LA was able to get multiple chances within 10 feet of the net against Graves in the first period.