If you didn’t stay up and watch the game last night, well, I hate to disappoint you but the 4 game winning streak came to an end. The forwards on the team did mount a comeback and Tristan Jarry did make some really big saves, but they came up just a little short.
Unlike earlier in the year, our Penguins did start out strong, showing no signs of intercontinental travel fatigue. Although he didn’t get an assist on the opening goal, Sidney Crosby contributed heavily to that goal. He skated the Ducks defense into the ice, so that when Evgeni Malkin and his crew came on to the ice, the Ducks were worn down. Malkin and his cohorts, Patric Hornqvist and Carl Hagelin continued to apply that heavy pressure. Hagelin and Hornqvist pried the puck off of the Ducks. Hornqvist then found Malkin with a quick short pass. Malkin circled out of the right wing corner up toward the slot with the Ducks too tired to follow before ripping a wrist shot past Josh Gibson.
Unfortunately, then came the second period and things changed. The defense collapsed and Jarry was assaulted. Richard Rakell found himself wide open in front of Jarry and easily redirected a Francois Beauchemin point shot past the rookie Goalie. Kris Letang did try to cover the Duck who was standing in the face-off circle while Brian Dumoulin was floating around in the opposite circle. He started chasing the puck as the Ducks passed it around the perimeter, leaving Jarry totally at the mercy of any Ducks who would want to slip into the slot or crease, and that is what Rakell did.
Perhaps, if the Penguins had a true 3rd line Center playing Center, the Center would have been able to collapse and insulate his defensemen, covering up the slot/crease area, but Jake Guentzel was on the ice. Although he came up as a Center, Guentzel made his mark in the League on the Wing. If he had more time to work at Center maybe the 2nd year forward could have covered for his veteran Defensemen. However, I personally would prefer to see a Defenseman on the roster that could protect his own net.
About a minute and a half later the Penguins defense broke down again. The Ducks dumped the puck in the corner, stick side of Jarry. The “Big Rig” Jamie Oleksiak won the race to the puck beating 2-Ducks’ forecheckers. Fending off one of the Ducks with one hand he moved the puck up the boards with one hand on his stick. His forwards failed to support and the Ducks dumped it back into the corner and started their cycle. Adam Henrique found another soft spot in the Penguins “D” at the bottom of the circle and Nick Ritchie found him. Henrique got a quick shot of that got rejected but he was able to collect his own rebound and circle behind the net. Guentzel, who had come down low for support, tried to follow. Unfortunately Jarry got his stick caught up on Guentzel. Rather than drop his stick to cut off Henrique from a wraparound attempt, Jarry tried to hold on to his stick. Needless to say, Jarry never made it back to the opposite post to stop Henrique.
The nightmare then started in earnest. While working on the power play, they failed to get the puck in deep. Cam Fowler got the puck out quickly up his left wing boards past Crosby to Jakob Silfverberg. Letang, the last man back, pinched along the boards. Silfverberg took the hit and got the puck to Chris Wagner who was wide open from above the Penguins blue-line in. Wagner swooped in, cutting across the bottom of the slot, getting Jarry to open up the 5-hole and then slipping it in.
Ondrej Kase finished off the nightmare second blocking an Olli Maatta shot, then racing with the puck back up ice on a breakaway before cashing in.
Unlike earlier this season, there was a ray of hope. This time the Penguins offense circled the wagons and mounted a comeback. This time the offense refused to go without a fight. Phil Kessel started the comeback, taking a feed from Crosby on the power play then whistled a laser beam past Josh Gibson. Then Guentzel, substituting for Malkin on the power play, with the big Russian in the “sin bin” tried to atone for his earlier mistakes. Kessel and Crosby did the hard work of entering the zone with some short give and go passes before Kessel found Guentzel in the left wing circle. Guentzel wasted little time firing a wrist shot into the net.
Jarry, the beleaguered Penguins’ goalie stopped 28 of 32 shots, including several big time saves, holding the fort, to give the forwards a chance to make their comeback. He stopped Josh Manson who got the pass from the corner in the circle to Jarry’s right with both Dumoulin and Letang trapped behind the net before walking in wide open but Jarry stoned him. Jarry also made a spectacular save in the 3rd period on Antoine Vermette who intercepted a Kessel pass and raced on a shorthanded breakaway. Jarry made an initial save but Vermette tried to basically kick the puck into the net. Jarry was able to squeeze the puck short of the goal line with his back leg-pad.
Although the Penguins got off to a rough start on this western road trip, the Forwards and Goalie didn’t look as bad as they had earlier in the season when they really struggled western conference teams. If the Penguins could shore up the defensive corps they just may be able to get to the big dance. Besides the guffaws made by Letang and Dumoulin mentioned above they were not the only ones putting Jarry on the spot. Although the Penguins announcers kept trying to say Matt Hunwick was having a good game, I didn’t see it. I saw him fan on shots that allowed Duck forwards to fly the other way. I also saw him out of position defensively and losing battles for loose pucks all night.
Odds and Sods
Daniel Sprong only played 8:31. Sprong, Dominik Simon and Ryan Reaves were the only forwards to not finish the game with a negative +/-.
Jean-Sebastien Dea was recalled from Wilkes Barre – Scranton (WBS) for the Penguins’ Western road trip.
Speaking of WBS, they continued their winning ways against Lehigh Valley 4 – 1. Zach Aston-Reese led the way with a goal and 2 assists. After a slow start, possibly due to dental issues, Aston-Reese has been putting up fairly big numbers, mainly playing Left Wing. Teddy Blueger notched his 12th goal of the season and Ryan Haggerty picked up 2 assists in the win.