For their second straight outdoor game, the Pittsburgh Penguins had a night to forget, getting thumped 5-1 by a superior Chicago Blackhawks team that seemingly had no problem in the elements and no problem torching the Pens.
It was a lackluster night all around, Chicago controlled the pace of play and most of the shots in what was a very snowy first period. With deteriorating conditions, the Pens just were unable to possess the puck or keep it out of their end for much of the period. Shots were 14-5 for CHI, and they scored the only goal of the period when Jonathan Toews made a sweet pass behind the net for a one-timer shot by Patrick Sharp that Marc-Andre Fleury never had a chance on. Faceoffs at one point were 11-1 Chicago. Not many good omens, and even though the snow stopped in the second period, the Pens didn't find a light at the end of the tunnel.
What they did find, was more Chicago goals in the second. Midway through the period Toews absolutely humbled Brooks Orpik one-on-one, and tucked the puck just under Fleury and got it just past the goal-line. The Penguins had significant power play in the second period but didn't capitalize, unlike Patrick Kane, who made a beautiful curl-and-drag and put a pass right on the stick of Kris Verseteg for an easy slam-dunk goal right at the crease. If there was any doubt of the result by then, a 3-0 lead would prove to answer that by the end of two.
James Neal scored the lone Pittsburgh goal in the third (h/t stick of Brent Seabrook) but the Pens were never really close and ended up ceding two more goals of their own poor defense to limp on home.
A few more thoughts on the game before we do the same:
- The Pens power play went 0 for 6 and never seemed to adjust to the outdoor conditions. They were attempting the same long, cross-rink passes that they usually do indoors. And, it works indoors under ideal circumstances- but on a night where there was so much snow that routine passes were being bogged to a stop- this was not ideal. A tiger can't completely change his stripes but it was a bit sad watching the PP unit run their head's into the wall time and again with plays that literally had no chance of success.
- Fleury, amazingly, caught some grief on social media for his performance. If anyone deserves a pass, it'd be him. He saw 31 shots in the first 40 minutes of play and stopped them all except for three on which he had almost no chance. Fleury may have given up five goals on the night, but he was probably Pittsburgh's best player....Which, yes, speaks to just how poor everyone else looked.
- Taylor Pyatt (-3 in 10:25 played) is slow under the best conditions and looked like a Lake Michigan barge out there. Woof.
- Neal, Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz combined for 19 out of the team's 32 shots on goal. Granted, those guys are getting the prime power play minutes and a ton of even-strength work too, but that's too much. And, while 19 shots for the big guns is really good, if you knew they only scored one goal, you'd probably know enough right there to know that wouldn't be enough to beat a top team like Chicago.
- 10 of the 18 Penguins had zero or one shot on goal. Not breaking any news, but this is a team badly in need of an upgrade of NHL caliber players on the 3rd and 4th lines. Your move, Ray Shero.
- Brandon Sutter seemingly dodged a serious injury when he barely missed any time after being struck in the face by a puck. Good to see him able to tough it out and thankfully avoid a broken bone somewhere.
- Matt Niskanen played 16:34 even-strength and ended up a +1 on the night. Olli Maatta played 18:01 and ended up even. That's pretty good for a game with 5 even strength goals against (and only 1 goal for). On the flip side of that coin, Rob Scuderi was a -3 in just 12:48 of ES time and Orpik was -3 in 14:29. The guys who usually have skating difficulties had it amplified by the snowy ice (and also credit the fast Chicago team).
- Choppy game to be nice for Simon Despres. For his first game back in a while he took two minor penalties that were probably avoidable, and got embarrassed with Orpik on a goal against. Maybe you can excuse it for the conditions of the outdoor game, but his mental decisions out there make one think that his latest stint in the NHL might be as brief as some of the previous ones.
And that will about do it. Sidney Crosby scored a shootout winner in Buffalo in the first Winter Classic in 2008, and since then the magic has dried up for Pittsburgh in ourdoot games. Two crappy weather days and two losses...But hey, at least no one suffered a serious injury so this one's a step up over last time.