After a successful road trip to Western Canada with wins in Edmonton and Calgary, a sluggish Penguins team looked like they started Christmas break a game early, losing 4-1 in Vancouver.
Pittsburgh recorded zero shots on goal in the first period.
“I don’t think we had a lot of jump early on,” coach Mike Sullivan said after the game. “Obviously, the penalties put us in a difficult spot. I disagreed with the first call, the double minor on Dom Simon.”
Sullivan was infuriated by a four minute penalty on Simon, and then Brandon Tanev got sent off for holding. Jack Johnson had a tripping call to make it eight total penalty minutes in a game span of just 1:26, putting the Pens in a deep hole.
Vancouver wouldn’t let them get out of that hole, scoring twice in the first frame to put their stamp on the game, with both goals coming in those power play situations. The first goal, by Jake Virtanen, was the result of a 5-on-3 advantage.
J.T. Miller made it a 2-0 game for the Canucks shortly after on the ensuing 5-on-4 power play by tipping in a puck from the slot.
The Penguins were better in the second period, no doubt inspired after some choice words and locker room speeches. Pittsburgh had a 20-6 edge in shots, but could only get one of them past goalie Jakob Markstrom. Jake Guentzel corralled a rebound and about literally tapped it into the open net to bring the score back to 2-1.
Jake Guentzel has points in all eight of his career games against the Canucks (9G-5A). He has goals in all but one game he’s played against them. pic.twitter.com/1weU0IakbZ— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) December 22, 2019
Unfortunately for the Pens, they couldn’t get any closer on this night. Elias Pettersson re-established the two goal lead just 44 seconds after Guentzel’s goal to provide a critical edge as the second period ended.
Vancouver tacked on one more in the third period when their first line got on the ice against the Pens’ third pair defense. Pettersson feathered a beautiful pass over for Brock Boeser who had the time and space to wire a shot over Matt Murray to set the final score at 4-1.
Coach Mike Sullivan was dismissive with a hint of agnostic towards Murray’s 10 save on 14 shot performance.
“I think it’s a tough game to really assess,” Sullivan said. “There weren’t a lot of shots, weren’t a lot of scoring opportunities, but the ones they got were high quality, and they converted. It’s not an easy one to evaluate. I don’t think we should overthink it.”
Unfortunately for Sullivan, this is the internet. Everything must be ranked, blame assigned. Murray only made 10 stops, allowing four goals. Goalie man bad!
In truth, Murray wasn’t sharp and did look like a goalie playing just his second game in the month of December. The team in front of him did him few favors with a shot-less first period and three minor penalties strung together, then only mounting a single goal of offense.
The game unfolded as many games have for the Pens, falling behind by a couple goals early after a sluggish start. Not even recording a shot on goal sets a new high bar (low bar?) for being nonthreatening. But then, right as rain, Pittsburgh will play much better and charge back. as they did in the second period.
While Guentzel’s goal was on the power play, the game was unable to really turn with the man-advantage for Pittsburgh. After Sullivan’s spirited disagreement with the refs in the first period (he yelled at them alot) the Pens got five straight power plays from late in the first until the early third period. It amounted to a total of 8:03 time on the PP last night, but only mustered a single goal.
In the big picture, the Penguins are winners of seven out of nine games in December. All without Sidney Crosby and many without other very key pieces of the roster as well. A game or two like this isn’t the end of the world, even if unsatisfying.