The Pittsburgh Penguins woefully underperformed against the inferior Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night but with 80 regular season games remaining, there is plenty of time to improve the grades below.
Riley Sheahan: B
The Penguins only goal scorer claims one of the top grades of the evening. Sheahan’s forechecking and defensive work was solid throughout, but especially on the sequence that led to his tally. Sheahan created the turnover at the blueline and waited for his winger, Daniel Sprong to join the rush. Patience was the key to the zone entry, and Sheahan’s grit was essential to the finish after he corralled a boisterous rebound off the pad of Carey Price.
Kris Letang: B
On Saturday night, Kris Letang became the Penguins’ all-time leading point scorer amongst defensemen, passing Paul Coffey with 441 points. His assist came after a strong shot from the point leading to Sheahan’s goal and managed the puck well for much of the game. Letang was strong on the powerplay and, as usual, was very active in the offensive zone.
His only lull was on Paul Byron’s second goal. Letang didn’t pick up his man in front of the net, leaving Byron wide open for an easy chip-in goal.
Maatta/Johnson pairing: D+
Slow and uncertain don’t normally blend well and it didn’t on Saturday night against the Canadiens. Jack Johnson was caught too far up ice and turned the puck over in the neutral zone before Brendan Gallagher’s opening goal. It left Olli Maatta alone to defend the 2-on-1, and Maatta didn’t play sequence effectively. Maatta wasn’t in the passing, nor shooting lane on the Canadiens’ first goal and was gassed by Paul Byron on their second.
They were acceptable in the offensive zone, but that is where it ends.
Dominik Simon: D-
Dominik Simon didn’t get off to a great start and it didn’t get better. Six and a half minutes into the game, Simon tried a cross-ice flip pass to a breaking Derick Brassard but the puck ended up in the 10th row and thus, a trip to the penalty box. Minutes later, Evgeni Malkin created an odd-man rush and Simon joined the 3-on-2. Malkin sent a perfect cross-ice pass to Simon, but the opportunity fell by the wayside. Simon couldn’t handle the pass and let a potential high-danger scoring chance crumble. He didn’t produce.
Matt Murray: D
All of the blame should not be piled on the Penguins’ netminder, but Murray has to be better. Murray’s goals against average now sits at 5.5 per game and he hasn’t faced a substantial amount of shots.
One thing is starting to glare about Murray and it is problematic. He looks slow. Exhibit A was Charles Hudon’s wraparound goal, but there were times that Murray played the puck behind the net and barely made it back in the blue paint before the Canadiens offense went to work.
Again, it’s not all on him, but Murray has to be better.
Montreal Team Grade: A
The Canadiens’ forecheck was the difference on Saturday night. Their forwards made life difficult for the Penguins in all three zones, but particularly when it came to defending the Penguins’ rush. The Penguins like the stretch pass to start their transition offense, and the Canadiens allowed no part of that.
Pittsburgh Team Grade: D
Turnovers were an issue for the Penguins, but even more specifically, it is where they were turning the puck over. Forwards refused to backcheck and left the defensemen out to dry on the rush. The Penguins looked uninspired and a tad hungover after a slobberknocker against the Washington Capitals on Thursday night.
The Penguins look to bounce back on Thursday night against Marc-Andre Fleury and the Vegas Golden Knights.