Twice against the Philadelphia Flyers, once against Buffalo Sabres and one more time Tuesday night against the Carolina Hurricanes. The Pittsburgh Penguins have watched opponents tie the game in the final three minutes four times in the last 12 games. Three times that tying goal has come with an extra attacker. Muted frustration and disgust percolated inside the team. Handwringing, blame, and anger swept the outside.
Those four goals allowed represent four points lost in the standings. Worse, that’s an extra point yielded to Carolina, which is the Penguins closest pursuer. As a result of the Penguins latest gaffe against the extra attacker Tuesday, Carolina is just two points behind with two games in hand.
“They’re all different. This one was off the faceoff. It was a scramble. The puck is bouncing everywhere,” Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said before a long pause. “It’s not like we can identify one thing.”
Against Philadelphia on Feb. 23, it was a bad goal allowed by goalie Matt Murray. Days later in Buffalo, a shot from the point perfectly caromed off skates in the slot. Against Philadelphia again Sunday night, it was a massive defensive breakdown–as detailed by PHN.
And against Carolina, Murray could not glove a fluttering puck. After it bricked off his glove, Justin Williams was alone in front of the net to clean up the garbage.
No, there aren’t commonalities which the Penguins can target for additional work.
“It’s tough. It’s heartbreaking,” Murray said and later discussed the lack of similarity. “There’s not a trend I would say. Just each time there’s been a little mistake and I’ve got to make the save.”
Now, here’s the good news.
It’s likely a statistical aberration clumped together in bad luck, bad plays and heightened awareness. According to MoreHockeyStats.com, the Penguins are now tied for third in the NHL with five extra-attacker goals allowed.
They’re tied with five other teams including the Calgary Flames, New York Islanders and Toronto Maple Leafs. Also, the Washington Capitals (and Detroit Red Wings) lead the league with seven goals allowed.
More than half (16) of the NHL has allowed four or more extra-attacker goals. So, what does this mean? The Penguins have been saving up their heartache. Or perhaps its a conspiracy to inflate the profits of corporate partner Highmark’s cardiac division. But the Penguins recent run only puts them in the middle of the NHL, with everyone else.
After all, the Ottawa Senators have not yet yielded an extra-attacker goal. Having a lot of leads, or lack of them will affect the stats, too.
The Penguins will most likely make the playoffs. They still maintain a six-point lead on Montreal for the final playoff spot and they are five points ahead of Columbus for the final wild-card spot heretofore referred to as the sacrificial lamb for Tampa Bay.
Playoff success is built on 5v5 scoring. There will be no more three-on-three overtime losses after April 10; games will be decided at 5v5.
According to NaturalStatTrick.com, in the last 13 games including the Stadium Series game on Feb. 23, the Pittsburgh Penguins have been outshot only three times at 5v5. They’ve owned scoring chances (53.88 percent) and been outchanced only four times. Most importantly, the Penguins have scored 63 percent of the 5v5 goals.
Scoring 63 percent of the even strength goals would make a lot of teams happy. Sometimes, the OT losses carry more emotional weight despite carrying smaller standings impact.
But oh those late losses.
“We’d like to believe we can defend leads better. We have in the past, for a long time,” Sullivan said. “And we’ve been very good at it, so I know we’re capable.”
Despite the chaos or time of the season, the spate of goals in the final seconds is a slump with the possibility of becoming a trend. Of course, it cannot become a trend without a lead in the final minutes. In the meantime, the Penguins 5v5 performance will have to be a consolation prize.