PITTSBURGH — The defensive chips off the glass to safety in the first period pointed to Penguins trouble. Their legs weren’t moving as well as the St. Louis Blues. Their couple defensive gaffes in the first period and inability to puncture St. Louis goalie Jordan Binnington were further proof. St. Louis earned the win as much as the Penguins…didn’t. St. Louis beat the Penguins, 5-1 at PPG Paints Arena.
A letdown was inevitable. This had all of the markings of a trap game: A 1 p.m. start, a Western Conference opponent, and a rivalry game tomorrow (Philadelphia), though Erik Gudbranson wasn’t sure about a letdown.
“Maybe. At this time of year, it’s not that hard to get up for games. We knew what we were getting ourselves into,” Gudbranson said. “We did a few good things today. There’s a few things we need to clean up for tomorrow.”
To the Penguins credit, they outplayed St. Louis in the second period and third periods, even as the charge was led by Sidney Crosby who forced the Penguins to the offensive side of the puck with powerful zone entries and relentless puck pressure.
The Penguins third line also had good zone time if not good scoring chances but St. Louis forward Pat Maroon single-handedly put the game away early in the second period. Maroon zipped past Brian Dumoulin on the left wing wall to score the Blues third goal. He got past Marcus Pettersson one minute later to set up the Blues fourth goal.
“They succeeded in the first 10 minutes, didn’t let us get out of our zone very clean. We didn’t really have any speed through the neutral zone,” said Gudbranson. “We finally found some; it wasn’t enough.”
The Penguins played significantly better beginning with the second period puck drop, but a four-goal deficit in March is an unscalable mountain.
Tactically, St. Louis pressured the Penguins defense but the Penguins “five-man” unit didn’t respond. The Penguins defensemen were left to use the glass and the Penguins forwards were not first on the puck at center ice, either. St. Louis was able to tilt the ice and their defensemen planted their heels on the red line.
The Penguins transition game which has been an aggressive 200-foot operation spent the first period trying to reprise their mid-season defensive zone absence. It worked as well as it did in the mid-season, too.