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‘We Didn’t Play the Game Very Smart’; PHN Extra Report Card vs. VGK



The Pittsburgh Penguins defensemen attempted to gain an advantage on the wall and extend offensive possession. Neither the Vegas Golden Knights forwards or the Penguins forwards complied with the defensemen’s attempts as Vegas was off to the races with multiple breakaways and 2-on-1s. Penguins goalie Casey DeSmith had poor statistics, but those were deceiving as he was inexplicably left alone more often than Macaulay Culkin in blockbuster Christmas movies. VGK red-rocked the Penguins 7-3 at the T-Mobile Arena.

Throughout the five-game, 12-day road trip the Penguins began to resemble the sloppy mess of last year. Different maladies struck every night but the common themes were inconsistent play and effort. Both were spotlighted against Vegas when the Penguins were dreadful in the first period, a powerhouse in the second, and quiet in the third.

“It was a combination of things. We just didn’t play the game very smart. The decisions we made and when we pinched, we didn’t have support with the reload,” lamented Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan who rattled off a laundry list of problems with the game.

The Paul Stastny line with winger Alex Tuch and Max Pacioretty owned the Evgeni Malkin line with Phil Kessel and Patric Hornqvist. How bad was it? It was so bad the cat turned it over and wouldn’t touch it. Malkin and Kessel had 17 percent Corsi ratings.

17 percent?! And replay the game in your head–how many breakaways and odd-man breaks did Alex Tuch receive?

The Penguins might be wise to solve their middle line crises sooner rather than later. While they are two points out of the division lead, they’re also in the last wild-card position.

When Sullivan talked about not supporting the defenseman, it was Marchessault who had the breakaways. And there was Malkin who raced back alone to catch Oscar Lindberg and Ryan Carpenter on a 2-on-1. Lindberg scored.

Vegas played behind the Penguins for most of the night. When the Penguins defensemen jumped forward, Vegas slipped uncovered forwards behind them. When the Penguins prematurely tried to transition to offense, Vegas had forwards behind the defense. And when Vegas was rolling on the rush, too often they found space in the center of the ice.

Call it what it was–a debacle. Another slop-fest from a team which too often sacrifices its responsibilities for potential scoring chances. The Penguins trailed after two periods in four of the five west-coast games.

It was quite simple: when the Penguins played with the puck and worked low against Vegas, they were successful. When they salivated at the rush or got greedy on the walls, Vegas took advantage like an evil blackjack dealer took a young broadcaster’s meal money (true story. For my first time in a Vegas casino, the dealer hit seven straight 20s or 21s. I didn’t eat for nearly 36 hours unless you count the tiny bag airline peanuts).

I learned my lesson. One wonders how many times the Penguins will lose their meal money before they become a disciplined team.

Penguins Report Card

Kessel-Malkin: F

I praised them yesterday, so they bit me today. That’s the way it goes. As long as the Penguins have Derick Brassard as their third line center, Kessel is trapped on the top two lines and the Penguins are stuck with him there.

The line with Patric Hornqvist was terrible defensively. Putrid, actually. They didn’t support the defensemen and they didn’t help each other in a significant enough measure.

Marchessault was left uncovered by Malkin on the fifth Vegas goal, though Patric Hornqvist took the blame (Hornqvist was at center ice. It wasn’t on him). Malkin and Kessel were also owned in scoring chances. Malkin had just three at even strength compared to 15 against at 5v5.

Marcus Pettersson-Jack Johnson: D-

Johnson was caught trying to create offense. He was cornered on his backhand and yielded turnovers in the defensive zone–which isn’t entirely his fault as he’s been pressed into right-side duty–as Vegas pressured him.

Johnson and Pettersson were credited with three combined turnovers, but that seems conservative. Vegas specifically targeted Johnson. They trailed him into the zone on dump-ins. The swarmed him if he attempted to play the puck.

Sadly, Johnson was a minus-4. Fans who know better than to use the +/- stat will suddenly be quoting it for days. To set the record straight, Johnson was not at fault for the first two including the game-winner for which he was on the ice–he had fine positioning.

The Vegas sixth goal is the best representation of the issue. With time, Johnson simply wristed it around the boards were it was easily kept in an shot on net (then deflected). That’s too simplistic and not the Penguins procedure.

I have a hard time giving a guy named Dragon an F.

Brian Dumoulin: D

Even Dumoulin had a bad night. A penalty and a pair of ugly plays in the first period put the Penguins in a bind. He whiffed on a couple more plays, too. Probably Dumoulin’s worst of the season.

Guentzel-Crosby-Simon: A+

They scored a slick goal and they maintained offensive pressure. As Vegas played in the Penguins zone, the Penguins top line reversed that trend for moments at a time. Crosby finished with a whopping 81 percent Corsi and his scoring chance count was 13-1.

Simon added a kick to the top line. His slick passing skills and low play are immediately evident with Crosby.

Derick Brassard: C

Brassard and Simon were quite good as the Penguins were bad in the first period. They generated chances, including six high-danger chances. They were in the positive territory despite being negative in softer scoring chances. I think the Penguins would take it.

However, after Simon left the line–and we’ve written about the boost Simon gives to Brassard–the Penguins third line faded.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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