Penguins Room: A Terrible Start & a Dead Leg
DETROIT — A few minutes after the Pittsburgh Penguins 7-4 loss to Detroit Tuesday night at Little Caesars Arena, Casey DeSmith was asked if there was an explanation for why the team in front of him had been so awful during the first 20 minutes.
And while his response — “No” — was brief, it certainly captured the essence of what had transpired then, as Detroit scored three unanswered goals.
When a question, about what happened during the opening period was put to Jason Zucker, his answer was slightly more expansive, but equally on-target.
“Nothing good,” he said. “This time of year, it’s not good enough. We weren’t good enough. There’s no explanation for it.”
There was, however, an almost instant turnaround when the second period began, as the Penguins manufactured three goals in the first nine minutes to wipe out Detroit’s lead.
“I thought we had a great second,” Zucker said. “We controlled the game. We were making them take penalties. We capitalized on a couple of power plays.”
But after goals by Zucker, Jake Guentzel and Jeff Carter had pulled the Penguins even, the momentum they generated during the middle period evaporated.
They managed one more comeback — Josh Archibald tied the game, 4-4, just 81 seconds after David Perron had scored the first of his three third-period goals — but never really threatened to take control of the game again.
“In the third, I don’t know if we thought it was just going to be an easy game of that or what, but we just didn’t play our game,” Zucker said. “We didn’t spend enough time in the (offensive) zone. We gave them too much time in our (defensive) zone, their o-zone, and they capitalized.”
Zucker actually left the game for a while late in the second, after he was hobbled by blocking a Dylan Larkin shot, but insisted that he wasn’t concerned that he had been badly injured on the play.
“I was fine,” he said. “Just a little bit of a dead leg.”
A victory Tuesday night would have allowed the Pittsburgh Penguins to climb to within one point of the New York Islanders, who hold the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference playoff field.
As it is, the Penguins still trail New York by three and allowed Florida, which heads the pack of clubs chasing them for the second (and final) wild-card berth, to remain within three points.
No question that being beaten by a team that is guaranteed to sit out the Stanley Cup playoffs is a squandered opportunity of high magnitude.
“Yeah,” Kris Letang said.
Still, he seemed to shrug off spotting the Red Wings a 3-0 lead in the opening period — “We had a bad start. It is what it is.” — and noted that the Penguins got themselves back into position to pick up at least one point, if not two.
“In the third, it was up for grabs,” Letang said. “We have to find a way to win.”
They didn’t, of course, but they also don’t have the luxury of dwelling on the letdowns and breakdowns that allowed Detroit to win the game.
“Right now,” Letang said, “we can’t focus on what happened in the past.”
Casey DeSmith made some saves that gave the Pittsburgh Penguins a chance to win the game, but he also allowed a couple of stoppable goals in the waning minutes of regulation.
Nonetheless, Mike Sullivan adamantly refused to attribute this defeat to goaltending.
“Listen,” he said. “We win as a team, we lose as a team. We didn’t get it done tonight.”
Sullivan added his voice to the chorus of those saying “I don’t know how to explain” why the Penguins played so poorly in the opening 20 minutes, but quickly segued to a positive assessment of how his team regrouped after the intermission.
“What I did like was the response,” he said. “I thought we responded the right way, climbed back into the game. It turns into a one-period game. Then we didn’t get it done in the third.”
Josh Archibald scored for the Penguins in the third, but that hardly was enough to offset three goals by David Perron and Dylan Larkin’s empty-netter.
“I don’t think we executed like we could (in the third),” Sullivan said. “We just weren’t good enough.”