In the Penguins’ run of elite competition, they welcomed in the Atlantic Division’s first place team, and the Florida Panthers did not disappoint their billing as an elite and high-tempo offensive juggernaut.
After a free-flowing first period, the Panthers struck twice within two minutes starting at 12:38 in. Sam Reinhart skated in the zone and lost the puck, only to have Kasperi Kapanen clear it right back at him and fly by. The puck flipped up in the air and Reinhart batted it in past Tristan Jarry. It was close to being a high-stick, but stood as a good goal.
Multi-sport athlete, Sam Reinhart pic.twitter.com/Y7Q501Ph6s— Florida Panthers (@FlaPanthers) March 9, 2022
Quickly, the Panthers made it 2-0 when Aleksander Barkov got the puck away from John Marino behind the net. Once again, a lucky bounce with the pass going off the side of the net was still on target for Aaron Ekblad. Ekblad utilized the traffic in front to fire in a goal that Jarry never seemed to track.
After regrouping at intermission, the Penguins matched Florida with two quick strikes of their own. During a line change 3:07 in, Bryan Rust saw Zach Aston-Reese planted in front of the net. It looked like a pass attempt but the Panther knocked it in before Aston-Reese could. Either way, it got the Pens on the board
It would take only nine seconds later for the Pens to strike again. First they earned an offensive zone draw quickly after the goal. Then, Sidney Crosby won the faceoff against Barkov cleanly, where Jake Guentzel was lined up in the old “James Neal spot” to get a quick shot. That shot went short-side on Sergei Bobrovsky and just like that the game was tied at 2.
...And just nine seconds after Rust's tally, Jake Guentzel knotted things up with a snipe off the faceoff!— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 9, 2022
You know what this means: half off Jake's Shakes tomorrow at @MShakeFactory! pic.twitter.com/dmlSh1sNbl
It didn’t stay tied long, Marino took a penalty and Florida’s power play sharply moved the puck around. The Pens found out why Jonathan Huberdeau leads the NHL in assists with his nice pass for Anthony Duclair to snap past Jarry, who wasn’t able to get set due to the chaos in front of the net.
The Penguins couldn’t find the tying goal, and yielded one of the few odd man rushes in the game and the Panthers made it count. Carter Verhaeghe burst down the left side and snapped a shot low to the glove past Jarry to extend the lead to 4-2 with 8:49 left to play.
After another dreadful Pens’ power play, Jarry was lifted for an extra attacked. Jeff Carter fired a great cross-ice pass that Sidney Crosby was able to tap into the net to make it a 4-3 game with 2:09 remaining.
That would be as close as Pittsburgh would get, as further last dash empty net efforts didn’t pay off before the clock ran out.
- The way the Panthers and Penguins both like to play makes for a damn fun hockey game. This didn’t feel like recent games against the Lightning or Hurricanes, where every inch of the ice was contested and the battles in the corners and in front of the net were persistent and icings were rampant. This was a skating game. Quick passes. A speed game. Teams who send two forecheckers to bear down, traveling in packs for puck support. No one was looking to dump the puck when they could carry it. It wasn’t an “icing fest”, at least until the end. There’s just something very pure about this brand of hockey; there was a ton of action, movement, excitement.
- But with all the skating and speed, up until Verhaeghe’s goal, there weren’t that many odd-man rushes for either team. Both were generally still in good form and structure against one another, though Verhaeghe was able to make it count when he got his 2-on-1.
- Both teams also showed how they can score at the blink of an eye and follow it up with another. Each side had two ES goals a piece. The difference through 40 was Florida scored on a power play, the Pens failed on theirs.
- For talking a lot about going through a slump, Kapanen looked like he was trying to be more engaged. He was credited with four hits, two takeaways, even two blocked shots! He only had 15 all season, coming into this game. Hockey IQ-wise, it’s still not always been focused (i.e. clearing the puck right back into traffic in the sequence leading up to the first goal was a...choice), but uhh, he’s trying? Maybe not enough, Kapanen’s almost nightly removal from the Malkin line happened again in the third period, when Jeff Carter took his spot.
- Speaking of frustrating, the Pens’ power play was brutal on their first attempt early in the game, forcing Jarry to have to bail them out with a breakaway save. On the flip side of the coin, Florida looked clinical and finished their first power play with a goal. The Pens’ PK held on Florida’s second power play and the Pens early in the third period found their groove.
- It was definitely a battle of elite RHD’s firing the puck. Ekblad had a goal and seven total shot attempts. Not to be out-done, Kris Letang had 12 shot attempts and led the Pens with seven shots on goal.
- There’s some sick cosmic joke going on when Aston-Reese is standing in front of the net, unmarked. Rust sees him and sends in what should be an easy goal for an NHL player (yes, even one with 1 goal in a million games). Then the stick of a Panther comes in and steals Aston-Reese’s sure goal and puts it in his own net. Poor ZAR just can’t buy a goal at this point.
- Goals produced by line tonight (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th) — Florida (2, 1*, 1, 0)...Pittsburgh (3, 0, 0, 0)...* noting a PPG by Duclair...Big difference in the game, both first lines created goals (counting Ekblad’s goal as a FLA first line goal, since they were on the ice) but from there the Pens had nothing. The Panthers still had a lot. Secondary scoring remains a huge issue in Pittsburgh with most of the non-top line players displaying no offensive pulse and/or finishing ability once again.
Tough loss to take, but another game where some of the Pens’ issues (power play decisions), and weaknesses (forwards other than the first line) ended up costing them against a top team in the league. Next chance to get back on track comes on Friday night when Vegas comes to town.