The Pittsburgh Penguins got hit by a double dose of bad news before the game against the Vegas Golden Knights even started tonight.
First, forward Jared McCann didn’t emerge for pre-game warmups. He has been battling a nagging lower body injury and played on Friday night, but endured quite a bit of abuse even though he scored a goal. McCann’s absence would put defenseman Juuso Riikola back into the lineup in the unfavorable position of forward.
Mainstay first pair defenseman Brian Dumoulin DID take the warmup and even appeared in the team’s tweet about the lineup.
Ready to roll. pic.twitter.com/vms1Mfeiyu— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) October 19, 2019
However, Dumoulin would apparently suffer a malady in that warmup and be a very late scratch. The Pens had intended to healthy scratch Jack Johnson but instead had to put him into the lineup due to Dumo being out.
Jack Johnson being in the lineup ended up being a negative circumstance (surprise, surprise) as he inexplicably skated around the net instead of stopping and staying in front of it on the penalty kill for the game’s only goal of real consequence early in the second period.
positioning pic.twitter.com/fNe5RhYdHk— Travis Yost (@travisyost) October 20, 2019
Paul Stastny took advantage of all the open room on that wide open side of the ice from Johnson abandoning his post, wiring in a goal past a left out to dry Tristan Jarry.
GOAL. Paul Stastny scores on the power play to open the scoring. Excellent set-up feed from Cody Glass. pic.twitter.com/fnn82vGUjy— Knights On Ice (@knightsonice) October 20, 2019
After that, it was basically the Marc-Andre Fleury show in Pittsburgh. That would be a good thing if it were 2003-17, but time has moved on and that’s a bad thing! Fleury was very sharp, denying a bunch of great opportunities, none better than make a sprawling, scramble type of save when Riikola hit his arm on a shot in the third period:
Marc-Andre Fleury makes another spectacular save. pic.twitter.com/HuLjL8qIjg— Knights On Ice (@knightsonice) October 20, 2019
In the first period, Sidney Crosby made a beaut of a backhand pass across the ice for Kris Letang, who picked his spot on Fleury and beat him....But his old BFF the post came through.
Kris Letang hits the pots. pic.twitter.com/cuRzSBuHM8— Knights On Ice (@knightsonice) October 19, 2019
Ever the showman and leveraging an advantage, Fleury also helped his helmet get away from his head in another scramble in the second period in a sequence where MAF also lost his glove.
CHAOS. Don't know how Pittsburgh couldn't get this past Fleury. Play blown dead as Fleury's helmet came off. pic.twitter.com/abf0s7EDkc— Knights On Ice (@knightsonice) October 20, 2019
But, credit where it’s due, Fleury was sharp and stopped all 29 shots the under-manned Penguins put on the net to earn a shutout.
Vegas tacked on two empty net goals, one by William Karlsson and one for Mark Stone to salt the win away and make the final score 3-0.
Three closing thoughts
- Just too many losses. Going into a third game in four days the Pens were already fighting an uphill battle. The losses of McCann and Dumoulin made an already weak team that much more out of sorts. Johnson started with Letang on the defacto first pair, though the team quickly rotated Letang around with several pairs and eventually elevated rookie John Marino to play on his off-side with Letang for the latter part of the game. With only 11 forwards (and only a handful of difference makers), the Pens were behind the 8-ball already, then the unexpected loss of Dumoulin put them even further behind.
- Life comes at you fast. One thing that really stood out to me was when Pittsburgh had their first power play they had to go with an improvised and fairly weak second group. It was Riikola and Marcus Pettersson at the points with Zach Aston-Reese, Dominik Kahun and Dominik Simon up front. Fleury only left Pittsburgh 2 years and a couple months ago, yet of all those players he was lining up against for this, he was only a Penguin teammate with Simon. And even that was only for five total games. Just goes to show that all at once it feels like MAF has already been gone pretty much a lifetime in terms of NHL roster shelf-life and turnover.
- Power play goes quiet. Pittsburgh’s power play went 0-4 tonight. Riikola had that one glorious shot, which could have been the first goal of the season scored by the not-first-group unit. But it wasn’t. Crosby, Letang, Jake Guentzel, Patric Hornqvist and Justin Schultz all played 6+ minutes on the man advantage, and all came up empty. That’s a big difference maker when the Pens can’t convert at all while on the power play.
And just like that the early season five-game winning streak is history. There’s really no shame in it - Fleury was great, Vegas is a solid opponent and the Pens’ injury woes really showed on a night like tonight at the end of a tough stretch and without Dumoulin, McCann, Evgeni Malkin, Bryan Rust, Nick Bjugstad and Alex Galchenyuk. That’s $27+ million in salary on the shelf, which is about 33% of the total salary cap missing. It showed tonight against a goalie in the zone.
The Pens will get a chance to catch their breath, they move on for games @Florida and @Tampa on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week for the next games.