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Game 4 Recap: Pens go down with barely a whimper. End season with 2-0 loss

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Well this sucked

Pittsburgh Penguins v Montreal Canadiens Photo by Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images

Lineups

The Penguins make two changes — the biggest being Tristan Jarry in net. Jared McCann cycles back in for Sam Lafferty who is back to scratch land. Otherwise defense (yikes) remains the same with some tweaks up top with Bryan Rust joining the Sidney Crosby line and Patric Hornqvist moving up to play with Evgeni Malkin.

The Canadiens are similar as Game 3, where they tweaked Phillip Danault into more of his natural checking role. 28-year old Alex Belzile makes his NHL debut in any form in this game to replace the injured Jake Evans on the fourth line.

First period

The Pens start off pretty good, Crosby wires a one-time slapshot off of Carey Price’s head, and then Patric Hornqvist hits iron on a sharp angle shot.

Malkin takes the game’s first penalty for high-sticking but the weak Montreal power play registers nary a shot.

Pretty bland period. The Pens did well in the 5v5 Corsi battle (20-13) but shots are only 8-5 Pittsburgh. The Pens generated a grand total of 0 high danger scoring chances and didn’t really play with a ton or urgency early on. As a result, as it has been all series, the Habs are hanging around in the game. 0-0 after 20.

Second period

Not much more excitement early in the second. Jonathan Drouin gets a partial breakaway but Letang defends him well enough to prevent a shot attempt. A bad Montreal line change opens up a rare opportunity for a Pens’ odd man rush and Jake Guentzel fails to get a shot himself following a sprawling slide by the MTL defender. Guentzel does salvage a pass to Crosby from behind the net for at least a chance but Price is able to shut it down.

The Pens get their first power play of the game but do absolutely nothing with it.

Brian Dumoulin then gets a penalty for holding, but luckily the futile MTL power play can’t score their first goal of the series at this point.

Shots in the second are a drab 6-5 MTL. Overall just 13-11 Pittsburgh for the whole game. zzzz. Sleepwalking their way through an elimination game, this isn’t looking very good.

Third period

An intermission doesn’t exactly send the Pens shot out of a cannon, they get no real shots early and maybe the best chance of the game to this point comes with Brendan Gallagher gets a clear breakaway but is stoned by a great save by Jarry.

The Pens show the faintest signs of life with a nice shift from Jason Zucker-Malkin-Hornqvist and McCann draws the team’s second power play of the game. Crosby hits the post as the team at least gets some zone time, but still no dice.

Lines have reverted a bit as the game gets towards crunch time. Conor Sheary back with Crosby+Guentzel and Rust returned with Malkin+Zucker.

Not much going on, then with 4:11 left in the game, Montreal strikes. Paul Byron pulls Jarry out of his crease and throws a pass right through it that four Penguins are around but watch as Arrturi Lehkonen pokes into the empty net. 1-0 Canadiens late.

And that will do it, the Pens go down with barely a whimper. Mike Sullivan even plays a Marleau-McCann-Rust line with 2 minutes left. Yeah, that’ll work. (It didn’t work).

Pittsburgh takes a timeout and draws up a 6v5 play. They leave Rust and Zucker on the bench and put Justin Schultz on the ice. Gross. Montreal scores with the empty net to put them out of their misery.

Season over.

Some thoughts

  • Sullivan used the same pairs, but with more of a twist. On faceoffs (after Johnson bumbled a goal away last game) he usually had Brian Dumoulin or Marcus Pettersson on the ice if it was time for Schultz to play. They also waterfalled shifts so that Kris Letang could take some time to babysit JJ before turning it over to Schultz. Creative, and not unlike 2016 when Sullivan used insane TOI by Letang to hide Schultz as much as possible. Seems like a lot of work to protect the worst players but here we are.
  • Guentzel-Crosby-Rust is also a throwback to playoff days gone by, especially 2017. A bit surprising considering how tied to the hip they’ve left Malkin+Rust, but shaking up the top six to get Hornqvist up there (and try to fix that “third” line) makes sense to shake it up a bit.
  • But it wasn’t shaken up enough. Sullivan never tried Crosby and Malkin. He never really shortened his bench, putting freaking Patrick Marleau on the ice with 2 minutes left and down a goal. Incredibly tone deaf coaching performance. Just dreadful. Not enough bad words.
  • Marleau, by the way, was on ice for 2 Corsi Events for and 10 against. He was invisible at best, which wasn’t much, and terrible at worst.
  • No team with Jack Johnson has advanced past the first round of the playoffs. Just a thought. And I guess technically the Pens didn’t even officially make the first round of the playoffs this year, somehow finding a way to regress even further from last spring’s first round playoff sweep. The team has way more problems than Jack Johnson, but he remains the most flawed and weakest player on what has been exposed as a very flawed team.
  • Jarry wasn’t tested much, but played fine. Good stop on Gallagher with the glove. But it seemed pretty clear to anyone who has watched the Pens, it didn’t matter who the goalie was, they weren’t winning this one. Whether it was Matt Murray giving up a goal earlier at some point or Jarry giving up what he did, the Pens were destined to lose with how they played.
  • And it makes no sense. Zero urgency while up against elimination. No intensity. First intermission, no major changes, no improvement. Same after a second intermission. So even more troubling than the personnel the coach is using, his motivational tactics look like they’re going in one ear and out the other. Not good. Not good at all.
  • At the same time, this was in a bubble. After a 4 month layoff. With no fans. Living in the same hotel. Having to play a short series just to technically “get into” the playoffs. These were very weird circumstances. The Pens didn’t rise to them when they had every reason to do so. Sucks, but it’s worth mentioning just how really strange and unusual and imperfect this whole thing is. We’re playing NHL hockey in August in front of no one for crying out loud!

Things we were watching for

In the game preview, we highlighted three items to watch, let’s see how it shaped up.

#1: Happy birthday Sid, we love you

—It wasn’t a storybook ending here. Crosby looked good early, that flash where he put a shot off Price’s helmet seemed to be a good sign. It wasn’t. Crosby was visibly frustrated during the power plays and the game seemed to get away from him. Wouldn’t be surprised if news comes out that his core/groin area was bothering him. Still, no excuse, it was a bad game for everyone. The captain couldn’t find that extra gear he’s found so many times to help the team. It’s easy to imagine this game and opportunity will bother him for a while.

#2: Getting that first goal

—Getting any goal seemed impossible today, and it was. A 0-0 game until deep into the third period, and about anyone who knows hockey could identify by about the middle of the second period that whichever team scored the first goal was likely going to win the game. Montreal did. They were a perfect opponent whose defensemen played well, goalie played unreal, and the forwards just kept pressing until they found a way to convert a chance. And it only took one to win this game, which is bare minimum in the NHL.

#3: What changes will Sullivan make?

—Sullivan stubbornly remained loyal to several key members of the team (Marleau, Johnson, Schultz) who haven’t been pulling their weight. The goalie change was a massive move, and worked out fine. Schultz looked lost, often times just throwing a puck to empty space when he wasn’t tripping or fumbling it. Marleau did nothing. McCann got the chance to get back into the lineup and did nothing. The minor winger switches Sullivan tried did absolutely nothing. For a guy who only pushed the right buttons in 2016 and 2017, he didn’t come anywhere close to them again this year. Make of that what you will for his future (and certainly more on this to come).

Finally, a brief note of thanks for everyone sticking with us through the stoppage and this weird bubble playoff hockey. It’s now an offseason, but there’s plenty of fun here to come. In the immediate future we have a draft lottery and possibility for a huge swing in momentum on Monday. Plenty more season player recaps, coaching ideas, off-season roster changes, prospect evaluations...And before you know it the next season will be starting up again. We’ll be here and hope you are too!