Penguins Report Card: Bad Loss, Great Trip, Refs Stop Goalie Fight (+)
SUNRISE, Fla. — The Pittsburgh Penguins seemed to do what most people do in south Florida. They took a vacation. After a brilliant road trip, perhaps a season-saving cross-country one, the Penguins hit the beach against the Florida Panthers. The Panthers didn’t kick sand in the Penguins’ face as much as the Penguins never really found their work legs in a 4-1 loss to Florida at FLA Live Arena Saturday night.
Sasha Barkov should have been tossed for his stick-to-the-groin move on Kris Letang in the third period as the final 10 minutes devolved into scrums and flared tempers.
“That’s hockey. Guys are invested,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.
Florida’s win altered the playoff race, too. The Penguins could have put the Panthers seven points down with two Penguins games-in-hand. Instead, Florida trails them by only three points.
The loss tempered what was a season-saving road-trip, the major part of with a four-game winning streak.
The Penguins’ power play in the middle of the second period was the flash point from which they never recovered. The Penguins were trailing, 2-1, and Florida had three odd-man breaks and quickly claimed the better scoring chances despite the Penguins’ man-advantage.
And just for giggles, Casey DeSmith made a great stop on Barkov in the final seconds of the second period, but the rebound rested in the crease. As the Penguins tried to get to the puck, Marcus Pettersson accidentally high-sticked teammate Jeff Petry and Panthers center Eetu Luostarinen poked the puck into the open net.
That goal was the backbreaker, and the Penguins could not overcome a two-goal deficit or their own loose play. Florida goalie Sergei Bobrovsky was also pretty good.
“We need to play better. In the first period, I had a moment. I missed the open net,” Evgeni Malkin said. “They played a little bit harder, a bit better. We need to get home and start winning again. We have a great team. We traded a couple of guys, but I think this team can beat any team.”
The loss stood in stark contrast to a great road trip, and that probably shaped the less dramatic mood in the Penguins locker room, even as the disappointment over a subpar performance lingered.
Also, a little note that is a mere footnote today that could be a story soon — Sullivan flipped Drew O’Connor to the third line with Jeff Carter and Mikael Granlund later in the second period and put Danton Heinen on the fourth line. The difference was significant enough to watch.
We’ll grade as we go today: