ST. LOUIS — The Pittsburgh Penguins’ season is only five games old, so perhaps it’s a bit early to be identifying trends.
A few things, though, are tough to overlook.
Like how the Penguins have been outscored, 6-0, during the second periods of their past three games, including a 2-0 deficit in the middle period of what became a 4-2 loss to St. Louis at Enterprise Center Saturday night.
That defeat was the Penguins’ second in a row and dropped their record to 2-3.
Penguins defenseman Ryan Shea made his NHL debut, replacing P.O Joseph on Chad Ruhwedel’s left on the third pairing. He got an unpleasant welcome to hockey at this level on the second St. Louis goal.
Radim Zohorna, in his first appearance since being recalled from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, moved into Jansen Harkins’ old spot on right wing on the third line, with Lars Eller and Drew O’Connor.
Coincidentally or otherwise, that line was more visible and effective than it had been for most of the previous four games. Members of that unit accounted for eight of the Penguins’ 33 shots and eventually manufactured their second goal.
“I thought (Zohorna) played really well,” Mike Sullivan said. “I thought that line played hard.”
Gibsonia native Brandon Saad gave St. Louis a 1-0 lead at 9:33 of the opening period when he rapped in a loose puck from the slot for his first goal of the season to cap a flurry of shots by the Blues. It almost marked the first time St. Louis has scored in the initial period this season.
The Penguins pulled even in the waning seconds of the period to cap what might go down as one of the most unusual sequences of the season.
At 17:48, referee Kevin Pollock called Evgeni Malkin for tripping in the neutral zone, a penalty he did not seem inclined to call in real time, and assessed only after Malkin got possession of the puck and sprung a couple of teammates on what would have been a 2-on-0 break against Blues goalie Jordan Binnington.
The Penguins killed Malkin’s penalty and, as it expired, he pulled in a long, backhand pass from Kris Letang, then broke in alone on Binnington before throwing a shot past him low on the stick side with 3.7 seconds to go before the intermission.
But if that goal, Malkin’s fourth of the season, gave the Penguins any momentum, it disappeared before play resumed.
Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry preserved the tie with a good stop on Saad backhander a half-minute into the second period, but former Penguins winger Kasperi Kapanen burned Shea to set up the Blues’ go-ahead goal at 5:37.
Kapanen turned Shea inside out in the right circle, then slid the puck into the crease, where Jake Neighbours tapped it in.
St. Louis defenseman Colton Parayko made it 3-1 at 7:12, hammering a slap shot past Jarry from just inside the blue line. That prompted Sullivan to use his timeout so he could, uh, express his displeasure with his team.
The Penguins’ power play finally got a chance when Blues forward Alexey Toropchenko was sent off for interference at 15:18, but did not generate a shot on Binnington until late in the man-advantage.
The Penguins killed a tripping minor called on Letang 28 seconds into the third period and got another power play of their own when Parayko was penalized for high-sticking. While they looked much better with the extra man than they had on their first try, they again were unable to score.
Saad then sealed the St. Louis victory with his second of the night, as he beat Jarry from above the left dot at 15:13 to cap a two-on-one break. Kapanen picked up an assist, his second in the game.
Zohorna put an exclamation point on a solid performance by knocking in a shot from the right side of the crease at 16:27, the first goal this season by a member of the Penguins’ bottom two lines. Eller and O’Connor got assists.
The Pittsburgh Penguins will have a scheduled day off Sunday and resume practicing Monday at 11 a.m at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.