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Penguins/Blues Recap: Bad stretch allows game to slip away from the Pens

The Pens stumble for a short time in the second period, and it makes all the difference in a 4-2 loss to St. Louis

NHL: OCT 21 Penguins at Blues Photo by Rick Ulreich/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images


The Penguins make some lineup changes for the first time in the season. Radim Zohorna is up from the minors in hopes to breathe some life into the third line. Ryan Shea makes his NHL debut and P.O. Joseph takes a seat as a healthy scratch.

First period

Pittsburgh starts out pretty fair, but it’s the Blues who score first after a pinballing puck is corralled by Brandon Saad who pops it in the net before the Pens can catch up to it to get St. Louis on the board first.

Late in the period, Evgeni Malkin takes a penalty that he doesn’t agree with and bark at the refs as he goes to the box. As luck would have it, the Pens’ strategy of “leave Saad in front of the net and don’t mark him at all” doesn’t burn them thanks to Tristan Jarry making a big save. That allows Kris Letang to chop the puck ahead to Malkin as he steps out of the box and leads to an instant classic Angry Geno breakaway goal, just seconds before the end of the first period.

Shots end up 11-8 Pittsburgh through 20 minutes, with the score knotted at 1.

Second period

The second period again proves not to be the Pens’ time to shine. Kasperi Kapanen rudely welcomes Shea to the NHL by dancing around him and setting up Jake Neighbours for an easy tap-in. 2-1 Blues.

It didn’t take long for STL to make it 3-1. Jarry had to make a great save to keep it close, but it was all for naught since the Blues worked the the puck back to Colton Parayko who blasted in a hard shot from the right point.

Sensing the faltering momentum and game sputtering away, Mike Sullivan called timeout and animatedly yelled at his team. In the ensuing seconds to come, the Blues nearly scored again.

Pittsburgh did stabilize after that, earning their first power play of the game deep into the second period. Almost nothing comes from it.

Shots in the second are 12-9 Pittsburgh. Outside of a confounding two minute stretch, they’ve been fine. But those two minutes count too.

Third period

Pittsburgh gets a second power play, but can’t score. Some zone time, but few dangerous shots getting to net.

The Pens go all out on offense but can’t find a goal. Saad essentially ices the game with 4:48 on a 3-on-1 rush when he snaps a shot high from the left side on Jarry. 4-1 Blues.

Pittsburgh doesn’t go away though and even though it’s garbage time, the third line (finally) gets on the board this year. Drew O’Connor makes a great play coming out of winning a wall battle to get the puck low to Zohorna. The big man bumps a pass to Lars Eller in front. Eller can’t convert but Zohorna cleans up the rebound to make it 4-2 with 3:33 to go.

Time bleeds out and the Pens lose.

Some thoughts

  • In a lot of ways this game reminded of the Pens’ seven-game losing streak from last year in October/November. It wasn’t that the whole game was bad, but a very short time period was awful and it proved too much to overcome. That happened a lot back then, but the team figured it out and were a lot stronger shortly thereafter. They need to quickly get back to that point.
  • The power play scored two goals against Washington, and have exactly 0 goals in the other four games of the season. That’s more than a developing trend at this point. Those players have to figure something out. The coaches probably have to be considering if there’s a way to get Letang to the top group.
  • As mentioned above, the strategy to leave the net-front opponent on the power play completely unmarked and hope the defenders can block the shot/pass or the goalie can make a tough save looks completely ridiculous. Pettersson and Letang on the PK seemed to do that regularly, and it just can’t be a coaching strategy but has to be something corrected immediately. Jarry really saved the Pens for that.
  • Which, speaking of, it might be more palatable if the problem could be neat and tidy and the goaltending wasn’t good enough and that was the reason that the Pens lost tonight and three of five times to start the season. But that’s not close to being the case, and in fact the opposite is true. Jarry’s play has been strong, he’s robbing opponents multiple times on defensive breakdowns. The variable to change is the skaters in front to play better, which in many ways is a lot more difficult and perhaps troubling than pointing to an improvement in the net. It’s not the goalie letting them down right now.
  • Shea, 26, was a mid-round pick, never played above the AHL level until tonight. It was evident to see why. Not sure how long it will take the Penguins to see that Shea isn’t going to help them at the NHL level for any amount of time, but the sooner they get to that conclusion and move on, it’ll be for the better based on tonight’s level of play.
  • Rare off game for Crosby. Bobbled a few passes, was making low percentage decisions on no-angle puck banking off the goalie’s five-hole attempts. Whiffed on a shot attempt in the first period when he had a lot of open net. Doesn’t happen too often, which might make it stand out all the more.
  • Liked the wrinkle the Pens used to put Karlsson and Letang together for o-zone draws. Tonight was the first game they didn’t score first. When they have to chase and dig for goals they need to stay active like that to give their best players a chance to find those goals.
  • Even before scoring late, Zorhona was active in his NHL season-debut with five six attempts despite not logging a ton of ice time (10:56). The third line looked a lot more functional tonight for once this year and got something to show for it.

It wasn’t all bad for the Pens, but they didn’t get a result. Up next is some home cookin’ next week and they will need to start to make the most of the opportunities ahead of them to get their season on track in the early going.