The Pittsburgh Penguins blew a two-goal lead to an inferior team and lost to the Chicago Blackhawks Tuesday at PPG Paints Arena, 4-2. The Penguins’ locker room, perhaps like many fans and media, recognized the all-to-similar storyline that haunted them last season.
Blowing a two-goal lead was far too common, as the Penguins were one of the three worst teams in that category, keeping pace with the San Jose Sharks and Calgary Flames. They’re not off to a great start this season, either.
Getting stuffed by Petr Mrazek also has a familiar ring. Mrazek has proven himself to be a perfectly capable, competent goaltender since breaking into the NHL during the 2012-13 season. Except when he plays the Pittsburgh Penguins, anyway.
Stick him at one end of a slab of artificial ice against them, and Mrazek, who is with his fifth club in the league, is transformed into the equal of Martin Brodeur or Ken Dryden or Patrick Roy. He’s made 38 saves in his last two appearances at PPG Paints Arena.
*Dave Molinari and Dan Kingerski co-authored this story.
The loss played the same old notes that steered the Penguins wrong last season, but it also had a different feel because of the number of different players and the optimism created because of the changes. There are 10 new players on the 22-player roster.
The Penguins did not lack scoring chances. Jake Guentzel loudly hit the post in the third period, and Mrazek snared a few others. However, as coach Mike Sullivan noted, “there were also Grade A chances on the other side.”
The Penguins defenseman fronted Blackhawks phenom Connor Bedard several times. Letang did not bite on the dekes or attempted evasions. And for good measure, Letang usually finished off the play with a physical little reminder to Bedard that he’s now in the NHL.
Letang smirked that PHN noticed the little extra “love” at the end of the plays. And perhaps, like Penguins fans, Letang seemed caught between turning the page to the new season while acknowledging that the team’s mindset still needs improvement when they earn a lead.
“All ready at his young age, he’s so shifty. He’s got great moves. I had to play him hard,” Letang said. “You can’t even look at the puck one second because he’s so fast the couple of times I faced him.”
The Penguins’ prized off-season addition drew rousing cheers in the pregame ceremony. He was prominent in the game, too. Karlsson was a minus-2, with two shots and five attempted shots in over 26 minutes of ice time.
“(Tristan Jarry) played great for us. He kept us in the game when we weren’t at our best. We definitely have some things to work on now,” Karlsson said. “We look forward to doing that. The journey has just begun. Unfortunately, we couldn’t win today, when I felt like this was a winnable game for us.”
The last time he was in the building — which also happened to be the most recent time the Penguins played a game of consequence here — Mrazek led the Blackhawks to a stunning 5-2 victory that all but officially eliminated the Penguins from contention for the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.
Why he is so effective against the Penguins isn’t clear, but there’s no question that he elevates his game when facing them.
“Whatever it is. Some guys like playing against (particular) other teams,” said Bryan Rust, who scored the Penguins’ first goal. “Some guys don’t. That’s kind of the mystery of the hockey gods.”
Coach Mike Sullivan
Sullivan also seemed to acknowledge that the same issues that plagued his team last season were again present, like the rash that won’t go away. Sullivan didn’t take away the benefits of his team’s chances, though he was clearly disappointed by the number of chances-against.
“I’d like to believe we’re a better team than what we showed tonight,” Sullivan said. “It was a loose game. It was a high-event game on both sides. That’s not the type of game that’s conducive to winning. It doesn’t stack the deck in our favor.”
Sullivan’s five-minute post-game presser was informative. It was long on information and short on cliches.