The Pittsburgh Penguins did everything right, except push the puck across the goal line. Several players were able to get the puck past Vegas Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury who was otherwise spectacular, but a few posts and well placed Vegas defensemen who swatted pucks away from the net kept the Penguins at zero in their 3-0 loss to Vegas Saturday night at PPG Paints Arena.
Head coach Mike Sullivan acknowledged the superior effort but was also visibly agitated during his postgame press conference. He appeared to storm to the locker room after the second period, too. The coach wasn’t a happy camper, but the locker room was more accepting of the bad luck.
“Yeah. (Fleury) robbed a lot of guys,” Zach Aston-Reese said before describing Juuso Riikola’s near goal in the third period. “When (Fleury) is battling like that, he’s going to get some luck and he had a few off the post. It was one of those nights when we couldn’t put it in.”
Aston-Reese had at least one shot clang off the iron, too. He whistled a shot past Fleury midway through the third period which hit the crossbar. Riikola’s big chance was batted away by Vegas defenseman John Merrill, and Patric Hornqvist poked a fluttering puck over Fleury’s shoulder, but defenseman Brayden McNabb also swatted it away before it crossed the goal line.
The Pittsburgh Penguins fourth line with Riikola almost scored late in the second period, but Fleury appeared to pull off his mask. Fleury was asked about it, too.
The goalie was coy in the postgame if that was necessary or a move designed to avoid the seemingly pending goal. At first, Fleury denied removing his mask, but after being pressed, he responded with vintage Fleury coy humor after a mischevious act.
“I was caught in a wind tunnel,” he said after the second query.
Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan certainly had an opinion but also cut the referees some slack.
“In fairness to the officials, there was a mass of humanity,” Sullivan said.
Tactically, the Penguins were able to use controlled zone entries to control the puck and pressure Vegas. The Penguins especially used the center drive and cross-ice pass behind the center drive through the neutral zone to create space and speed. The Penguins also used a trailer behind the center drive to get good looks from the slot.
But nothing was going to get past Fleury. It was his night.
The Penguins power play had a few opportunities, too.
“I love the movement, there’s a lot to like about it. That’s three games in a row we haven’t scored, we don’t score, but they’re doing everything right,” Sullivan said. “We’re shooting the puck, we’re getting the puck to the net, we’re creating next play opportunities, they’re executing on the entries. So, there’s a lot to like.”
Indeed, it’s hard to criticize a depleted Penguins roster which had the better of the play against one of the best teams in the NHL. If the Penguins had a little more offensive talent in the lineup, they could have lit up Vegas. Such is the downside of a grinders lineup.
The Pittsburgh Penguins also played without Jared McCann and Brian Dumoulin, who was a late scratch. Riikola was forced to fill in at forward again.
Penguins Report Card:
Marc-Andre Fleury: A+
He’s still so much fun to watch. What else do you need?
Tristan Jarry: A+
Jarry showed very well against Vegas. He was spectacular. If not for a miscue on the penalty kill, Jarry also would have tossed a shutout. He got stick taps from all of the penalty killers midway through the second period when Vegas peppered him with shots.
It’s actually a shame his performance was so overshadowed. Jarry moved well. He stayed between the pipes and limited rebounds. He looked like a fine NHL starting goalie.
Penguins Defense: C+
Collectively, there were a lot of mistakes. Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin was a late scratch and that upset the continuity. John Marino was eventually placed on Kris Letang’s left as the coaches paired Erik Gudbranson with Jack Johnson.
Marino was left to face the best of Vegas and it wasn’t always smooth sailing. The Penguins opted for two pairings with similar defensemen which threw off their balance. Marino was chasing a bit in the defensive zone and Johnson and Gudbranson needed the forwards’ help to get out of the zone.
Yet the Penguins limited Vegas to nine shots in the first 30 minutes, so it wasn’t all bad. In fact, it was overall good. If the team plays that game 10 times, they’ll win 8. Maybe 9.
Sam Lafferty: B+
The Penguins dropped Lafferty into the deep water again Saturday. He performed well and his line with Patric Hornqvist and Dominik Kahun had a few quality chances. Lafferty was in the middle for four scoring chances-for, and six chances-against. Not a bad ratio against a talented Vegas team.
He worked hard. His backcheck was noticeable. His offense was present.
Dominik Kahun: A-
The Pittsburgh Penguins winger was finally noteworthy. In the first seven games, Kahun was invisible or worse. Saturday night, he was noticeably faster and more aggressive. He was strong on the puck and took it directly to the scoring zones. He didn’t finish any of the chances, but this was the player we expected to see when he was acquired this summer.
Tristan Jarry: A+
Yep, since he was so overlooked after the game, he deserves a second A and a little more attention.