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Pens/Sharks Recap: All the Penguins’ frustrations boil to surface in embarrassing 6-4 loss to lowly Sharks

Evgeni Malkin scores twice, but the the messier aspects of the Penguins’ game right now boils to the surface and costs them in a 6-4 loss to San Jose

NHL: JAN 28 Sharks at Penguins Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images


Same grouping for the Penguins that they’ve been using this week, led onto the ice by goalie Casey DeSmith.

The visiting San Jose Sharks have been racked by a losing streak and also a flu or cold bug going through their team and have the following players available tonight.

First period

The Penguins’ history of slow starts continues as it’s the Sharks getting on the board just 1:25 into the game. Marc-Edouard Vlasic (which I believe is French for Brian Dumoulin as far as once good aging defensive defensemen) gets the puck in deep and Logan Couture centers a pass for recent waiver pickup Michael Eyssimont. Left alone in front, he shows he doesn’t want to go back on waivers and fires the puck in. 1-0 SJ.

San Jose gets unlucky to not make it a 2-0 game when a puck hits the cross-bar very cleanly but somehow rolls up along the top of it, instead of down under it (and over the goal line). Pens survive that big time.

Undaunted, the Penguins push back and draw a penalty. The power play lasts all of eight seconds before a goal is scored. Sidney Crosby wins the faceoff, and Rickard Rakell makes a low-key really nice play from off his skates to bump the puck over to Evgeni Malkin. From there, it’s a clincal finish for Malkin to chip the puck over goalie Kaapo Kahkonen from the right side of the net. 1-1 game.

San Jose tests their luck again when Evgeni Svechnikov slashes the stick out of Crosby’s hands to draw another Pittsburgh power play. The Pens’ top guns make them pay again quickly. Again Crosby wins the faceoff and this time Malkin makes a shot/pass down for Sid near the net. Crosby’s first attempt doesn’t go, but he calmly bats the puck out of mid-air into the net like it’s no big deal to give Pittsburgh a 2-1 lead.

The Sharks tie it just before the end of the period, the puck bounces around a bit and Alexander Barabanov is able to handle it and center it for Erik Karlsson who has snuck to the front of the net unguarded. It’s an easy tap in for the talented defender. 2-2 with 6.5 seconds left.

Shots in the first are 12-11 Pittsburgh, but the score is 2-2. As usual at the starts of games, the pace was wide open with scoring chances aplenty (13-12 SJ) and many from dangerous areas (8-7 SJ), which accounted for all four goals.

Second period

The Sharks get their first power play of the night when Malkin takes a hooking penalty in the offensive zone. The Pens kill it but afterwards can’t get settled. Malkin plays the puck back into the zone and a teammate can’t jump on it. Couture can and he zooms in and shoots. DeSmith kicks out a big rebound and Noah Gregor is able to follow up and punch it in. 3-2 SJ lead.

Marcus Pettersson gets into a fight, which is almost never a good sign that things are going well. He survives after eating a few shots.

Pittsburgh’s frustrations mount when Jake Guentzel takes a retaliation penalty in the offensive zone. It works out well, though. Brian Dumoulin has time so he takes it and makes, to his credit, the perfect play with a pass to hit Ryan Poehling in stride. Poehling shows pass on the 2-on-1 but it’s a feint and he elects to fire a five-hole shot that beats Kahkonen. 3-3 game, the Pens have life on the shorthanded goal.

The good feelings don’t last long. Barabanov smacks a shot from near the blue line, there’s some traffic and DeSmith is left to only break his stick in frustration after failing to keep the puck out of the net. 4-3 SJ back in front.

Shots in the second are 13-10 SJ, who score twice and get out in front.

Third period

Early on the Pens push, but Kahkonen makes a series of unreal saves on Guentzel, Rakell and Pettersson.

Pittsburgh finds a tying goal with 9:53 remaining. Kahkonen’s clearing attempt is picked off by Jeff Petry. Petry feeds Malkin, who shoots quickly and high, and it’s his second goal of the evening. 4-4.

The Pens get another chance on the power play when Svechnikov grabbed onto Rust, but they don’t score.

Jeff Carter makes a nice stretch pass for Brock McGinn, who drives in and then drops a pass for Teddy Blueger. Blueger is all alone in front, dekes to the backhand and..Kahkonen gets his leg out far enough to deny it. Blueger is left to slam his stick in frustration on the end board after the play, glorious chance but no finish to be found.

Shortly after, the Sharks score. P.O. Joseph gets dumped in the neutral zone and Barabanov makes an almost identical play as McGinn just did to drop a pass back. Couture is the recipient and snaps the puck on net. Rakell is back tracking and bowls into DeSmith as the puck trickles in. 5-4 SJ with 4:25 left.

The Pens go into desperation mode and throw the kitchen sink at Kahkonen. He stops Rakell, Guentzel and Pettersson again just like early in the third on great chances.

Pittsburgh uses the timeout with 1:47 left and pull the goalie for a 6v5. Doesn’t work, Couture hits the empty net for his second goal and fifth point of the night to salt the win away for San Jose at 6-4.

Some thoughts

  • The beauty of the skill level of the Pittsburgh power play is it can frustrate and look so stagnant for games on end, and then score two goals in 17 total seconds like they did in the first period tonight. The common theme that they sometimes stray from is getting Crosby or Malkin near the net. When that happens, the puck usually ends up in the net.
  • Crosby passed Stan Mikita for 15th place in NHL all-time scoring on the first goal and then added another. Somewhat quietly, it’s now a seven-game point streak for the captain (3G+7A).
  • The Pens fall to 100-10-5 all-time when Crosby and Malkin both score goals in the same game.
  • What’s more maddening: the Pens giving up the game’s first goal in the opening minute or two or the Pens giving up a goal in the dying seconds of a period? They were both on display in the first tonight. The slow starts are so common that you can almost bake in a 1-0 deficit from the start. Failing to protect leads and letting the other team off the hook has been almost as common and a big reason why there have been so many OT/SO games lately. Or in tonight’s case, not even making it to overtime.
  • Mike Sullivan might have been in the “damned if he did, damned if he didn’t” category for his goalie selection, but playing DeSmith for a third game in five nights leaves the door open for wondering if that was a good idea. Surely the Pens were hoping DeSmith could build upon his strong game in Washington last time out, but he wasn’t sharp again in this game. It’s not like Dustin Tokarski is an obvious better choice, so it’s kinda what can ya do.
  • Another coaching question, while we’re at it: how can you not find a place for Jason Zucker on the 6v5 attack group? Zucker isn’t one of the top five forwards on the team right now? Just for the mayhem in front of the net he would be worthy to stick out there.
  • In the third period, the Pens flipped the right wings on the top two lines, putting Rakell with Guentzel-Crosby and dropping Rust with Zucker-Malkin.
  • Eyssimont scored a goal, had eight SOG (11 total attempts) and threw five hits including the big one on Joseph that started the GWG sequence. He looked like he was playing to make an impression on the Pens to come and pick him up in a trade or something. Same with Barabanov (1G+2A) on the night. Those players looked hungry and were making good things happen. Then again, for Pittsburgh, it’s noteworthy seeing any kind of non-star players step up and do something.
  • Blueger not scoring and then Couture scoring about 30 seconds later on such a similar play just says it all at this point. Ultimately, the difference of the game was not converting there and then not getting a save on the other end of things.

No sugarcoating this one, terrible outcome for the Penguins. All their frustrations and problems that have been on display lately came out to bite them. They go into the break badly needing some freshening up in order to shake things up. The current mix is just too stale and fraught with issues.