Whistling past the graveyard. It’s a dark turn of phrase meant to denote denial in the face of a difficult task. The Pittsburgh Penguins aren’t yet whistling dixie on their way past the headstones, but they exclusively highlighted the positive after their third straight loss and third straight loss to the New York Rangers.
According to Natural Stat Trick, the Penguins had more scoring chances (26-17) and more high-danger opportunities (13-7) than the Rangers.
I’m generally a believer in the scoring chance stat (not so much Corsi), but even after a full rewatch of the Penguins loss, the Rangers controlled the game. If the game is played 10 times, the Rangers will win 10.
However, head coach Mike Sullivan disagreed.
“I thought we played hard. I thought it was an even game. You know, it was a low-event game, especially the first two periods. The scoring chances on both sides were in single digits. I thought our team competed hard,” Sullivan said.
The Pittsburgh Penguins saving grace was two new defense pairings because John Marino was out, and Sidney Crosby left a crater at the top of the lineup by missing the game will illness.
The Rangers had their top players. The Penguins did not.
Perhaps the speed dynamic will change when Jason Zucker and Brock McGinn are in the lineup, too.
“I mean, I’m not concerned. I think tonight was a tight game. We battled hard. We gave ourselves a chance to come back. You know, there are little areas that we have to get better. But overall, there were not many scoring chances on both sides, and their goalie did a good job o key moments,” Kris Letang said. “No concern. We have to keep preparing to enter the playoff and feel confident with ourselves.”
That’s the ideal, yes.
Head coach Mike Sullivan bristled at when asked about containing the Ranger rush. He wasn’t in a mood to diagram plays for the media, which is fair.
That’s my job, eh?
The pair of Rangers goals had some common themes, but each had their own breakdown, too. The goals were the result of not creating pressure on the forecheck. Both goals involved failures to “track back.” The Penguins forwards lost their assignments in the process of chasing the play. And both goals ultimately included an uncovered player with the puck.
“We did have numbers back. We’ve got to sort the coverages out. There’s a lot of details that go into it. I’m not interested in explaining it…but we can be better in those instances,” Sullivan said.
For the record, Natural Stat Trick shows the Penguins had more shots around the net, too.
But it was another loss down the stretch to a top team. That’s two to Colorado. Three to New York. A split of two games with Carolina.
“I thought we played well in all those games. You know, like every one of those games could have gone either way. The one in Colorado… We couldn’t get that one to tonight. Like I said, it was tight. We could have could have come back in the third with the chances,” Letang said. “The guys are fighting, they’re working hard and (showed) a lot of character. They went to war tonight and to try to get those points. But like I said, there’s little things that we have to improve and I think they’re all correctable.”
Yet the Doom & Gloom crowd was handed a feast, like a Ruth’s Chris buffet without a price tag.
The Rangers crowed. Igor Shesterkin taunted the Penguins as they belatedly left the ice. The Penguins fired 40 shots on Colorado goalie Darcy Kuemper but were selective–too often looking for better shots (again)–against Shesterkin. The Penguins eventually hit 30 shots on Thursday night, but they trailed for nearly 40 full minutes, never getting back to even once New York scored.
“It’s good, I think we’ve played a couple of good games in a row and I think it’s motivation for us to get back in the win column,” Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry said. “I think we’ve been doing the right things. I just don’t think we’ve been getting the bounces and some of the points in the last couple of games. But I think the team’s been playing really well and I know that it’ll turn around.”
The unanimous positivity stands in contrast to the anger which touched off the “March of the Penguins” in 2016. A tough loss to the Washington Capitals lit an angry fire which burned for three months.
The Bright Side?
The Pittsburgh Penguins did get scoring chances on Igor Shesterkin and the New York Rangers. They did so without their top center, Sidney Crosby, who pivots their dominant line.
Evgeni Malkin was not as good between the top wingers, Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust. He didn’t have a shot on goal.
They passed up shots and opportunities. That’s a mindset which can change.
They made defensive mistakes. Those can be corrected.
Evan Rodrigues had nine shots on goal.
Mike Matheson was all over the ice. He looked like a top-flight defenseman.
The Dark Side
The Rangers were faster.
The Rangers netted their opportunities, and the Penguins were again left to take solace in getting chances.
Igor Shesterkin affects the Penguins play in a negative way. They’re not trying to make him work, or interested in playing ugly, they’re searching for that can’t miss opportunity. Those usually become missed opportunity.
You can judge if things are trending in the right direction but they are running out of time to correct those mistakes, or improve little areas. Their opponents aren’t saying the same thing.