Loss Is a Cat From Hell. Pens Lose.

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The Penguins came into this game boasting a franchise-record 13 straight wins at home. They came into this game with the highest point total in the Eastern Conference. They came in after having 5 days off. They returned a top-tier defenseman and an all-pro winger to their lineup from injury. And they went out and did their absolute and very best to make sure that none of those things were reflected in their level of play. The Panthers wanted this game more, and the Penguins just played an awful game. That’s a concoction for disaster. And that’s exactly what happened.

Cover Image courtesy of espncdn.com.

More after the jump.

Lineup

Robert Brotuzzo and Deryk Engelland were your scratches as the Penguins returned Paul Martin to the lineup, finally with their “top 6″ from the year’s beginning intact. Jayson Megna and Chuck Kobasew both returned to the lineup as well, and James Neal made it back to the ice alongside Malkin and Jokinen.

First Period

We found out early who Sid’s right winger would be as Kobasew took the opening faceoff with 87 and 14. Scuderi and Letang rounded out the Pens’ opening lineup against the Panthers’ killer B line of Bergenheim, Barkov, and Boyes with Campbell and Gilbert.

The game started off pretty fast, with both teams finding a lot of good chances. Neal and Bergenheim had the best ones for their respective teams, but nobody could break through early. The Pens’ best chances were all coming on odd man breaks, as the Panthers’ D was pinching often to start the game and was having a hard time recovering. The Penguins tried early to exploit that lack of defense with long passes through the neutral zone, resulting in three icing calls in the first five minutes.

The best chance of the game came 9 minutes in after a horrible clearing sequence for the Penguins turned into a 3 on 2 for the Panthers following a neutral zone turnover. Barkov found Bergenheim with a nice saucer pass, and Bergenhiem quickly put one off the post and behind Flower. Fleury realized that the puck had gone off of his back and flopped backwards to sweep it out of the crease with his empty blocker hand.

The teams continued to trade chances until the Penguins drew their first penalty with 4:52 remaining, after Malkin was high-sticked in the offensive zone and just stopped skating. Gilbert took a seat, and the Penguins’ top PP unit took to work. A slow start for the PP resulted in a quick clear, and on the ensuing entry, a Crosby drop pass found his way to Malkin. Malkin found a great chance from the right circle, but his missed shot sprung Drew Shore and Marcel Goc on a shorthanded 2-on-1. Letang and Fleury were both were they needed to be, but Shore blistered one glove side to take the lead for the Panthers. 1-0.

shore goal 1Can’t really get too terribly upset about this one. There is the frequent rage that always comes with allowing a shorthanded goal, but a shot went wide and sprung the Panthers on a two-on-one. Letang did exactly what he was supposed to in getting low and taking away the pass. Shore just got in too close and blew it by Fleury.

The Penguins held possession through most of the remainder of the period, but couldn’t get many looks at the net, and time dwindled away.

Second Period

The Panthers continued to come hard at the Penguins (phrasing) and the Penguins were struggling to exit the zone. The three B’s line continued to cause a bunch of shit, and Fleury actually was beaten by a shot that trickled by him. Jussi Jokinen was in fortunate defensive position to clear the puck away from the empty cage.

The Penguins responded a bit, with Jokinen – Malkin – Neal leading that charge. Neal whipped a puck through the slot that found Geno’s tape. Geno tried to bully his way in on Clemmensen, but couldn’t quite get it around the right pad. Really nice save from Clemmensen.

Then Ed Jovanovski and Tanner Glass started some shit. Glass came in hoping to lay a big hit on Jovo, and Crazy Eddie didn’t like it much. Instead of fighting, they just kind of cuddled. Matching minors for roughing, which meant some 4-on-4. And some pretty uneventful 4-on-4.

Then Glass couldn’t calm down, and he went back to the box. Glass was all kinds of pissed off in this one for some reason. The Penguins would not only kill the penalty, but get one of their best scoring chances of the game shorthanded from the stick of Kobasew. He couldn’t hammer it home, though.

The Penguins’ parade to the penalty box continued – Crosby went for hooking. Pens killed all but a few seconds of that one, and then Kunitz collided skates with Brian Campbell, who helicopter bladed into the boards squealing like a banshee. He was out for the ensuing power play though, further proving that Brian Campbell sucks and is also not good.

After all of those penalties had been killed, and you thought that just maybe the Penguins could muster some kind of momentum, Olli Maatta and Sidney Crosby got caught dicking around with the puck in their own zone. Some miscommunication as well as a strong forecheck from Jesse Winchester and Jonathan Huberdeau got Drew Shore a golden opportunity. And Drew Shore took that golden opportunity and gave the Penguins a golden shower. 2-0.

shore goal 2

Really not sure what Crosby’s thinking on that one. Gets caught in between. It’s all well and good to trust your defenseman there, but if the Penguins aren’t going to win that puck battle, the puck can’t come to Winchester with enough time and space to set up Shore.

Third Period

The Panthers jumped right down the Penguins’ throats early and were rewarded with a third goal. The first minute and a half of the period was spent almost exclusively in the Penguins zone, and Fleury was up to the task for the majority of the chances, making two big saves before the dam finally broke. The puck eventually made its way to Winchester on the blue line, whose shot missed wide but ended up on Kulikov’s tape. Martin and Fleury both missed with their pokechecks, and Kulikov slid in an easy backhander. 3-0.

kulikov goalKind of a freak bounce. Kulikov is a defenseman, and he made a handsy little move while Martin got danced. Why is a defenseman taking a puck off the end boards and stuffing it home? Sustained zone time and good cycling. None of the Penguins were in particularly awful position, but if a team hems you in, bad things happen. And this was the absolute worst way the period could have started for the Penguins, and the best for the Panthers.

Crosby and Weaver went off for roughing two minutes later after a battle in front in which both players looked to be attempting to rip each others’ heads off.

The Penguins finally gained some zone time in the period during the 4-on-4 as Geno barreled in along the right wing wall and worked the puck back to 58. The puck found its way to Niskanen at the other point, and a great pass found Malkin all alone in the lower right corner. Clemmensen made a nice save, but the rebound ended up back with Malkin and then back up top to Kris Letang. He once again looked over to Niskanen, who unloaded a clapper this time which found its way under Clemmensen’s left pad. 3-1.

niskanen goalPretty nice play by Malkin behind the cage to find Letang. High end pass reception from Letang, followed by a perfect pass right into the wheelhouse for Nisky to let that big ol’ clapbomb go. Niskanen really, really likes that fadeaway clapper.

After that goal, the Pens kept coming (phrasing). Crosby had a decent chance on a baseball swing after a shot he tipped was blocked down right in front of him. On the next shift, Letang powered past two Panthers at the blue line and found Craig Adams in the opposite corner. Adams fed Megna in the slot, but his shot was blocked nicely by a sliding Weaver.

The game slowed up a bit in the middle of the period, with a good bit of icing and dump-and-chase.

It picked up again after a turnover by 87 at his own blueline gave “BYOOG-stad” and Huberdeau a 2-on-1.5 against Scuderi and a falling Letang. Bjugstad made a nice deke to get behind Fleury but couldn’t finish the play and instead threw the puck into the paint. Huberdeau took a swipe at it before being barreled into the net by Letang, and the puck went in with him. The refs didn’t call the goal on the ice, but after a very long look, they credited the goal to Huberdeau. So many Penguins at fault on this one: Crosby made the turnover; Scuderi went down too early to block the pass and then couldn’t tie up Huberdeau in front; Fleury got absolutely burned by Bjugstad; Letang lost an edge over-committing to Bjugstad and then ended up shoving Hub erdeau and the puck into the net. Just an ugly, ugly play. 4-1.

huberdeau goalPretty horrendous turnover. Pretty ugly goal. As you may have heard before, just an ugly, ugly play.

If that goal didn’t take the wind out of the Pens’ sails, then Matthias’ sure did. A neutral zone turnover by Pyatt off the draw allowed Winchester to make a cross-ice pass along the blueline to Shawn Matthias, who just blew past Niskanen and rifled one short side on Fleury. 5-1.

matthias goal

The last 5 minutes were just about what you would expect in a 5-1 game. The Panthers were more than willing to sit back and defend, and the Penguins were looking for chances but couldn’t find any. Time drained away until Upshall took a delay of game penalty with under two minutes, but the power play fanned on their few chances and the game finally, mercifully ended.

Highlights

Notes

1) Really, really rough game from Sidney Crosby. Took a bad penalty, had some pretty significant turnovers, the lot of it. We’re not going to be apologists for the Penguins’ performance tonight. If you’re too afraid to look at the tape and admit that Crosby was at fault for turning the puck over leading directly to a goal, and being out of position to give up another, then it’s time to face the music. Whether this team had 4 days off or 4 years off, there is no excuse for playing that poorly for 60 minutes. And it wasn’t just Crosby – we’re just singling him out because #leadership. Even he’s man enough to admit it:

“I don’t think we gave ourselves a chance at all with the way we competed. The way we executed was bad, so we got what we deserve there.”

/endrant

2) If you say things like “the Penguins were due for a loss like this,” you should follow that statement by saying something like “I think I am going to punch myself in the genitals until I am barren.”

3) Pretty nice performance turned in by Scott Clemmensen, turning aside 35 Penguins’ shots. There were points where the Penguins had some decent opportunities to break through, and against a young team like the Panthers, the tables could have turned quickly. The saves Clemmensen made when it was 1-0 and 2-0 made it possible for the Panthers to go on and win this one running away.

4) Matt Niskanen with his 7th goal of the season. He probably doesn’t know how to celebrate goals that aren’t game winners. Even in a stinker of a game like this, kind of remarkable to look at the season Niskanen has had thus far. A very interesting conversation will be coming in regards to him sometime soon.

The Penguins will try to start a new home winning streak on Wednesday against Montreal.

Go Pens.

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