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Penguins vs. Canadiens Recap: Sloppy second period costs Pittsburgh in SO loss

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Montreal Canadiens Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

After a very poor effort last Saturday against the Montreal Canadiens, the Pittsburgh Penguins had another bite at the apple for the second Saturday in a row.

They started better, Daniel Sprong is hustling around the ice and visibly working hard out there. Efforts like sticking with the puck here and playing hard will have to endear him to the coaching staff. A nice finish too on the backhand by Dominik Simon for his first goal of the season.

Then in probably the game’s most consequential moment, a serious injury struck an important player. Justin Schultz got his legs tangled up when he was checked behind the play, looked routine until the nasty replays showed him twisting and falling in an unnatural way. There’s reports it could involve a fracture. Needless to say, it will be a terrible loss for the Penguins to not have the services of a top-4 defenseman for the near-future, but that looks to be the case now.

Back to the game, Kris Letang (who is playing very, very well this season) scored his third goal of the year after another strong shift from the Evgeni Malkin + Phil Kessel duo to make it 2-0 Pens late in the 1st period.

Everything was looking great...And then the second period started. Just 11 seconds into the period Montreal scored on a broken play, Tomas Tatar whacked at the puck in Letang’s skates before it could be cleared and it jumped over the glove of Casey DeSmith. That changed the whole game and cut the lead to 2-1.

Then, the parade to the penalty box started in a period that saw Pittsburgh take 4 penalties. Luckily they killed off a very long 3v5 disadvantage with Jack Johnson doing a very commendable job (see something nice said about JJ!)

Unfortunately though, just look at the chart starting in the 2nd period.

It was ugly. Brendan Gallagher scored a few minutes later to tie the game at 2 when he collected a rebound that DeSmith kicked out.

Gotta wonder if the coaching staff will be mildly annoyed (or more) for Sprong’s defensive zone coverage and inability to shut down his point man’s shooting lane. Or if it’s just a consequence of a collapsing system, though it looked odd that Sprong didn’t commit to support the puck, and wasn’t in position to cover anyone defensively, so something went wrong somewhere.

Shortly after, Montreal scored their third straight goal to take a 3-2 lead. With Malkin in the box, the Habs power play struck. Jonathan Drouin shot but Brian Dumoulin blocked it. However the puck flew off the end wall and Tatar was able to stab at it from a bad angle and it somehow squeezed in. Odd one but it counts the same.

The Pens were able to tie it in the second period on a power play of their own with Crosby finding Kessel with a short pass and The Thrill made no mistakes as he skated down the middle of the ice and fired a shot home. 3-3.

And then the goals dried up. Montreal thought they scored int he 3rd period but the Pens challenged and got it taken off the board. After a scoreless overtime the game went to a shootout. Crosby and Malkin failed to score and Montreal did so they take the extra point.

  • The Penguins played a bit better than last Saturday night, but as we saw in the first 10 minutes of the 2nd period they mailed in an effort and just like that a 2-0 lead disappeared and became a 3-2 deficit. Teams are going to make you pay if the foot comes off the gas, and the Pens definitely were guilty of being a bit sluggish.
  • But down to 5 defensemen for most of the game, it was always going to be an uphill battle due to losing a good player early on in it.
  • And with no Schultz, it was Letang central. 32 minutes of ice-time, but it had to be done considering the defense has one player not playing very well (like Olli Maatta a healthy scratch the previous game) and a rookie in just his second career NHL game in Juuso Riikola. Both those Finns finished with under 20 minutes of ice time. The closest on the team to Letang was Brian Dumoulin with 27:05. Nothing to sneeze at, but there’s no question who the lead dog is.
  • Lines were way different than practice, this game marked the first time that center Derick Brassard was used as a winger in spurts. He was up on the Crosby line, but to little excitement. Their Corsi rates together weren’t great (44%ish each) but that still was middle of the pack on a night the Pens were hemmed in their own end a lot. Not many scoring chances and no goals, though.
  • The result of Brassard moving off the third line meant Riley Sheahan got promoted into that role, with Bryan Rust playing on the left for the first time this year and Patric Hornqvist. Sheahan made a nice move to beat a MTL defender but couldn’t score.
  • The real problem line was the 4th group with Simon and Sprong playing with Matt Cullen. If “Sid and the Kids” was a name a few years ago, would this be “Matt and the Millennials?” Either way, they might not be together much longer anyways, all had Corsi %’s in the 20s and were totally outmatched out there, other than the first period goal.
  • The second line (Malkin and Kessel with Carl Hagelin) is the only consistent group to stay together all season, and for good reason. It’s working well and Malkin+Kessel are buzzing in the offensive zone and working well finding each other for scoring chances and goals.
  • DeSmith played well, all things considered. The Pens certainly didn’t make things easy on their goalie, but that’s life in the big city.

The Pens return home for a game on Tuesday against visiting Vancouver.