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Penguins Report Card: ‘We Deserved Better,’ End of Era Looms After Game 7 Loss

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Pittsburgh Penguins handshake line, New York Rangers

NEW YORK — Sidney Crosby, Rickard Rakell, and Tristan Jarry skated from the Pittsburgh Penguins tunnel to play in Game 7. More than a hockey game was at stake. Legacies and futures hung in the balance. Three straight playoff series losses, blowing a 3-1 series lead, and expiring contracts loomed.

It had every ingredient for a Hollywood ending but was instead a Greek tragedy. The Pittsburgh Penguins lost Game 7 to the New York Rangers 4-3 in OT.

Let talk of “the end” begin. Let the discussion begin about moving on from core players who have anchored the team since George W. Bush’s second term. Fling open the floodgates of speculation and debate.

It has to end, doesn’t it?

The Penguins blew three straight leads. They had the series within their grasp in three straight games.

That’s four straight opening playoff series losses dating back to 2019. The Penguins have just six playoff wins in four years. Teams with that lack of success don’t get to call their shot.

“It’s a possibility. I think we knew that coming into the playoffs. But I think you try not to really think about that,” Crosby said. “You hope that we make a good run, and it’s something in the back of your mind. It’s something that we knew was a possibility…”

Of course, NHL officials will be scrutinized after a terribly blown call late in regulation which gifted the Rangers the tying goal. The Penguins controlled the third period until the NHL helmet rule bit them.

“It stinks…but that’s the rule,” head coach Mike Sullivan said.

In full disclosure, if officials called the blatant penalty, the play would have been over. The Penguins would have had a power play with under six minutes remaining. Instead, the Rangers had the advantage.

That’s a bad beat.

“I think this one probably feels like we deserve better,” Crosby said.

Crosby, Jarry, and Rakell may not be 100% healthy, but they lifted the Penguins. Jarry’s ankle was heavily wrapped and iced after the game. See the video here (ankle closeup at the end). The series was in their hand for the third time in three games. They fired 43 shots on Igor Shesterkin in regulation. They yielded only 27.

The Penguins got two power-play goals. A shorthanded goal. A stellar performance from Jarry. A standout performance from Crosby. And yet, the silly season will begin instead of packing for Carolina.

Despite their third lead in three games, they lost. Again.

Less than six minutes left in Game 7. The Penguins had the lead. The series was again in their hand. Sure, it was a bad beat for Marcus Pettersson’s helmet to get knocked off and the Penguins’ structure to break down, leading to a wicked one-timer by Mika Zbinejad late in the third.

It was not a bad beat for the New York power play to toy with the Penguins PK like a cat does with a ball of yarn.

The storm clouds let loose as Artemi Panarin blasted another New York power-play goal.

Turn and face the change.

(We’re doing a free report card at the end of the season)

Pittsburgh Penguins Chalkboard

The Rangers’ defensemen are good when they’re unchallenged. In the first and third periods, the Penguins played tight to the defensemen with small gaps. That created turnovers and transitions for the Penguins.

In the second period, the Penguins again ceded the top of the zone, allowing New York to keep possession with a low to high game. Crosby lamented not getting the extra goal–the second period would have been the ideal time.

New York defensemen are also good at shrinking the top of the zone and taking more real estate.

However, the Penguins were exceptional on Sunday night at a few things. Notably, they controlled the low zone, again. The Penguins won more wall battles, got to the net, and forced New York to turn and defend.

It looked like the Penguins’ game. It should have been. In the third period, they limited New York to long-range shots. Perhaps they were a little conservative, but they created more traffic in the neutral zone and slot than the Holland Tunnels on Friday afternoon.

The Penguins’ layers were largely intact in the first and third periods. They were hanging on the second, but once they settled, the Penguins typically had two forecheckers and also two forwards in the neutral zone.

It worked to perfection until…

Pittsburgh Penguins Game 7 Report Card:

Tristan Jarry: A+

I’m reminded of former Columbus Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella praising defenseman Zach Werenski who played despite getting hit in the face with a puck, then playing with a swelled-shut eye in April 2017.

“Balls as big as the building,” Tortorella said. Look at our video of Jarry hobbling out of the press conference. Impressive. He played well, too.

“I thought he had a hell of a game,” Sullivan said of Jarry.

Evgeni Malkin:?

Invisible. Malkin let Crosby do the hard work. The Penguins needed Game 6 Malkin but got the deferential Malkin. The Malkin line allowed zero shot attempts. Zero. That’s incredible, but the line wasn’t much of a factor offensively.

Rickard Rakell: A

I really liked Rakell’s peskiness on Sunday. He seemed to be in the Rangers lanes. He intercepted or disrupted countless breakouts and passes. Rakell didn’t get a goal–his line didn’t get a lot of high-danger chances, but they also squashed the Rangers. The advanced stats were lopsided.

Mike Matheson: B

Matheson took some heat on social media because one Rangers’ goal hit his skate and went in–the third such goal of the series. I’m undecided how much responsibility Matheson should carry for that. It’s largely bad luck.

Otherwise, I thought he played very well and bailed out Letang on several occasions. The Rangers swarmed Letang looking for turnovers, but Matheson was a good counterbalance. He skated the puck into the offensive zone and didn’t yield chances behind him.

He played with urgency.

Evan Rodrigues: A

How many great chances did the fourth line create? How many o-zone possessions did they create? It seemed like a lot.

Rodrigues led all players with six shots in regulation.

Rodrigues’ shorthanded goal–a one-handed backhand was pretty fantastic. He had a strong playoff series.

“E-Rod” probably earned himself a few extra dollars with his performance in the series. Bad penalty notwithstanding.

Bryan Rust: D

Rust looked angry, frustrated, and off his game. He missed a few pucks at the wrong times and didn’t produce like he generally does.

I have no idea (and we have don’t access to all of the players during COVID media rules), but it looked like he was raw about something. The potential of his last game? He just didn’t look right, and this is a guy who fills the net in elimination games.

PK: F

They ceded the top of the zone, creating space everywhere else as they chased the Rangers’ power play. It was inexplicable that more adjustments weren’t made. They chased all series.

Overall: A-

They again dominated the puck and possession. They had far more chances and shots. The Pittsburgh Penguins looked strong. They were a good bounce away from breaking open that game.

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John doe
John doe
6 months ago

Complain about the helmet all you want pittsburgh got plenty of very questionable calls to go their way all series and still couldn’t close it out. One play didn’t decide the series.

Last edited 6 months ago by John doe
PenFan
PenFan
6 months ago
Reply to  John doe

Rangers totally don’t deserve to win. Embarrassing display of head hunting when they realized they didn’t have the talent to win. Good luck with that…

Tom
Tom
6 months ago
Reply to  PenFan

Gallant is a bush league coach, a throwback to Fred Shero.

Paul
Paul
6 months ago
Reply to  John doe

One Cup, 82 years. #Pathetic

Kevin
Kevin
6 months ago

I would have picked my helmet up and played

Tom
Tom
6 months ago
Reply to  Kevin

Peterson ain’t too bright, that’s for sure.

Kevin
Kevin
6 months ago

That was b.s. in a game 7 make a guy go get a helmet from bench in our d zone whistle should have blown he got his helmet pulled off

Kevin
Kevin
6 months ago

Should have been Ranger penalty

Kevin
Kevin
6 months ago

But all in all we gave that series away 14 goals at home come on up 3-1 lead games 5 6 and 7 and lost Rangers only had 27 shots but then we put them on power play in ot

William Maloni
William Maloni
6 months ago
Reply to  Kevin

Look at Dan’s PK rating for the Pens. That’s what has to be cleaned up next year, with possibly four or five new players..all FAs because we have nobody in WB.

Steve Liddy
Steve Liddy
6 months ago

He doesn’t have to leave the ice. He could have put the helmet back on. Either blame the player for not just getting the helmet, which was 5 feet away, rather than throwing his hands up and looking for a penalty, or blame the coach for not making sure his players knew the rule.

Lisa Nath
Lisa Nath
6 months ago

So sad for second year … to loose 3 games in a row when leading in each is tough 🙁. Given that the islanders hurt Jarry I would say they are the ones who took out the pens a second year in a row … with jarry pens win easy

Clyde
Clyde
6 months ago

All in all something has to change cause this crew is not getting it done. Its always something from the goalie melting down to the pk not performing. I just dont think they are tough enough to win a cup again.

Tom
Tom
6 months ago
Reply to  Clyde

Malkin’s gone, so is Domingue and DeSmith. Letang’s good for another year and Rust for 4? Maybe someone will pay them bigger bucks and that’s OK, too.

Dan
Dan
6 months ago

That’s nice and all but if you want to talk about blown calls, you can’t deny that the pen’s goal on a high stick was questionable at best, which would have balanced out this alleged blown call that lead to a nyr goal

Bob
Bob
6 months ago
Reply to  Dan

Don’t forget game 1 Chytil goal that should have counted.

Chase Cranson
Chase Cranson
6 months ago

Actually does anyone think the next round would look like a bad dream with the goalies not healthy etc.

Aaron Bradley
Aaron Bradley
6 months ago

Need a new crew on the blue line; at least half of them ought to be changed out.

Marc Badger
Marc Badger
6 months ago

What a ride with the Pens this year. Two years in a row where I was really curious about their potential, if they could break down the First round Wall. And well, their play overall and in game 7 will have me pondering this year for a bit longer.. Anyway, I guess let the offseason chaos begin. Thanks for the consistently enjoyable content and analysis, PHN! Nostalgic me has me longing for the core to stay intact. It just doesn’t seem likely – at all. Can the self proclaimed pretty rich guy play winger? If they can’t afford Rust, a… Read more »

Bob
Bob
6 months ago

Another stupid article by a misinformed writer, excuse me Hall of Fame Writer.
The rule did not require the Penguin defenseman to leave the ice. Given the liston of the play he could have simply reached down, instead of throwing his arms up, and picked up his lid and put it on. No need to buckle the strap.

Typical press looking to create the narrative they want to sell.

Last night Pittsburgh lost because the soon to be Vezina Trophy winner stoned them.

Joe Ranger
Joe Ranger
6 months ago

Rangers win, pit looses, Overall grade D-, Pit Chokes.Fist game was a gift.

Tim Curtis
Tim Curtis
6 months ago

Malkin was a liability and despite a few flashes of excellence, he shouldn’t remain on this team. He is horribly inconsistent and gets paid way too much for this. Rust didn’t look right, but I hope he stays with this team. He had a very nice season! Letang was solid, yet he too missed some assignments and a puck or two. Newcomer Rakell was impressive and unselfish. I hope he stays on this team.
Another disappointing series loss. I expect a few personnel changes that infuse youthful talent into an aging lineup!
GO PENGUINS!

Tom
Tom
6 months ago
Reply to  Tim Curtis

Amen. The pens need a street fighter, too, to protect Sid or he should retire to a Euro League.

Bob Simpkins
Bob Simpkins
6 months ago

Management should have traded some assets while they still have value for some prospects and 1st/2nd round picks. At minimum some 1st and 2nd round picks. Issue is, the pieces that still had some value are now free agents. You do not want to turn into the Blackhawks or god forbid the Red Wings, whom held onto their aging stars until there was no value or they retired. In the salary cap era, loyalty cannot be rewarded.

Tom
Tom
6 months ago

Sid needs to elave the league and play in Europe where head hunting is frowned upon. Teh NHL exploited him, he got well paid abut they want VIOLENCE to decide the matches.

Debbie Watts
Debbie Watts
6 months ago

Hate to say it but if Sid wants a chance at another cup, he’s going to have to request a trade because this team needs to rebuild and rebuild now and we all know that doesn’t happen in a year. I’m good with both Letang and Malkin leaving, one wants too much money to stay and the other one says he’s rich and is playing like it doesn’t matter so let them both walk – if no one picks them up, offer minimum and then we’ll see if they’re serious about playing. Not sure about Rust. Possibly 3 year to… Read more »

Tom Verenna
Tom Verenna
6 months ago

Honestly, I don’t think I can handle another season of Malkin & Letang’s inconsistency, turnovers and in Geno’s case head not in the game style of play. Frustrating to watch and the high points of their games were far too fewer over the course of the year. Bad passes, bad choices, bad results. The perfect definition of insanity. They’re just not where they were. I get it injuries,etc but you can’t be injured all the time. Is there more too it or is it just not there anymore?

Jack Mehoff
Jack Mehoff
6 months ago

The better team won.

Vrp
Vrp
6 months ago

Look on the bright side. You can now tank for Bedard as you did for Lemieux. And, you just lucked in on Crosby. You whine because you are not used to reality.