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Recap: Coaching decisions, flat performances sink Penguins in LA

The Penguins have a lot go wrong, almost nothing go right and fall 6-0 to the Los Angeles Kings

Pittsburgh Penguins v Los Angeles Kings Photo by Harry How/Getty Images


After a seemingly never-ending almost two hour tribute to Dustin Brown, the game finally begins. Kris Letang is back from a one-game absence to due to injury and the Penguins elect to bump Chad Ruhwedel and not Mark Friedman from the lineup. Casey DeSmith is also going to do something not done by a Penguins’ goalie since 2019 by starting both games in a back-to-back, which usually does not tend to work out well historically speaking.

First period

The Kings get off to a good start, they get the Pens’ fourth line caught on their heels a little bit and work the puck around. Alex Edler takes a shot from the point and Jaret Anderson-Dolan ends up kicking the puck as he’s seemingly leaping to get out of the way. Tough way for the game to start for Friedman and DeSmith, but what can ya do?

Pittsburgh gets the game’s first power play soon after when Evgeni Malkin gets popped in the face. Malkin feeds Sidney Crosby for a really nice chance, but the one-timed shot is saved by goalie Pheonix Copley.

After a choppy first with a lot of whistles, the Pens settle into the game for a bit, but Los Angeles finds a way to double their lead. DeSmith makes a nice stop from right in front on Rasmus Kupari but can’t control the rebound. Alex Iafallo gets to it and his chance sneaks in between DeSmith’s arm and body and trickles in. 2-0 LAK.

In the closing seconds of the period the Pens get a glorious chance to score, but unfortunately it’s for Teddy Blueger. Blueger completely whiffs on it.

Shots through one period are 12-10 Kings and LA is up by two on the scoreboard as well.

Second period

Early in the second, it’s more of the game, DeSmith can’t manage a rebound and Los Angeles is able to get to it. One quick pass later and Adrian Kempe wires a puck to the top shelf. DeSmith is pulled after giving up three goals in just 21:58 and smashes his stick as he exits to the room. Dustin Tokarski replaces him.

The change in netminders doesn’t change too much on the ice. Kempe and Anze Kopitar exchange cross-ice passes on the rush and both Blueger and P.O. Joseph pay a lot of mind to the center drive. That gives Kempe plenty of space to pick a spot and snipe in his second goal of the period and jump out to a 4-zip lead.

Pittsburgh’s back to the power play but it’s fairly uneventful, just like the rest of their night so far. Soon after, Ryan Poehling returns the favor and sends Los Angeles to the power play. Kempe completes a hat trick, and a natural one at that from in tight. Kopitar centers the puck but it hits Jeff Petry’s skate. The puck bounces out for Kempe, who has an easy one to lift to the top of the net. 5-0.

Joseph’s frustrations get the best of him and after a few cross-checks the refs have no choice but to call him. This time the Pens kill it off.

Finally the period ends on the Adrian Kempe domination tour. Shots are 11-6 Kings in the second, and Kempe pitches in three goals during the middle period to remove all doubt about the outcome tonight.

Third period

Malkin takes a slashing penalty to give LA a third power play on the night. Pittsburgh kills it off.

LA defender Mikey Anderson cleans out Crosby with a cross-check from behind. Crosby is down and not pleased, coming together and pushing Anderson a little and expressing only what looked like a moderate level of displeasure. The refs were not feeling that and after sorting things out for a while eventually dumped the captain for a game misconduct. I guess they wanted him to go to the box in a more timely manner and he wanted to discuss it a little further, but wasn’t given that luxury with the refs skating away and not wanting to hear about it.

Joseph treads back to the penalty box and then Marcus Pettersson joins him to give the Kings about a minute of 5v3 time. Kempe tacks on a fourth goal, because why not? 6-0 game.

The Pens get one more crack at the power play late to avoid the goose egg, but it’s not happening for them tonight.

Some thoughts

  • For the sixth time in the last seven games, the Penguins gave up the first goal of the game (only last night’s game vs lowly Anaheim have the Pens struck first lately). In many of those contests it’s come early in the first, as it did 2:28 into the game tonight. Makes life harder than it has to be to almost always be playing catch up and almost right from the very start.
  • The data says starting the same goalie two nights in a row is like hitting on 17 in Blackjack or running a halfback draw on 3rd and 34. Probably not the wisest choice to get a positive result, and the likely bad outcome happened tonight. DeSmith wasn’t extremely busy last night against the Ducks, but it’s a very tough task for any goalie to play at a high level two nights in a row. The first goal as a deflection from point blank, can’t fault the goalie on that. But he was leaky, his rebound control was non-existent. It was a poor outing for DeSmith — and one that really he never should have been put in the position to have to have been out there again tonight.
  • Pittsburgh went out and paid a premium for Dustin Tokarski on a one-way contract, why not use him in situation like this? His play when called upon in the NHL with the Pens 54 saves on 59 shots (.915 save%) prior to tonight and was been just fine. The reason the manager/team invests that kind of money to have depth is so you use it in this situation with the starter out and the schedule getting busy. Usually coach Mike Sullivan presses all of the right buttons, or even if his strategies don’t work, they’re at least mostly sound. This one was a rare time he made his team’s chances to win worse by nature of his choices.
  • Another fair coaching question: it’s understandable to want to reward Friedman for a great game against Anaheim, but the Joseph-Ruhwedel pair has been steady and is very familiar with lots of recent usage. Why willingly stop using something that has been working so well? Joseph-Friedman were on ice for two goals against in their first seven shifts together tonight. Perhaps it’s more defensible than the goalie decision, but still wasn’t a good one. No need to reinvent the wheel and probably don’t need to have Friedman jump over Ruhwedel if you can help it. That shouldn’t be a lesson that needs to be learned in Game No. 52 of the year.
  • Was tonight payback for the Pens beating LA 6-1 in Pittsburgh back on October 20th? Maybe. Sometimes it goes like that.
  • What a way for Crosby’s nine game point streak to end by getting the ol’ boot. Clearly the score being 5-0 at the time only added to his displeasure and sourness. Seemed a little excessive to excuse him for the night for simply criticizing the refs with a few choice words. He might as well have gotten his “money’s worth” and really exploded on them if they were gonna toss him, but oh well.
  • Per Bob Grove, tonight’s 6-0 score marks the worst shutout loss for the Pens in the Crosby era.
  • Hey, shoutout to the Kings for needing two hours to have ceremonies to retire Dustin Brown’s jersey, unveil a statue and delay the already late 10:30 eastern start to well after 11:00pm. Pittsburgh has the NHL’s highest local television ratings, why in the hell would they want to put a game on that doesn’t end until after 1:30am for one of these markets? Even if it is a weekend. Unbelievable stuff, but I guess since it’s the NHL it actually is fairly believable.

Tough loss for the Pens, but they’ve still got the opportunity to make the California portion of their trip a success if they can get a result in San Jose on Tuesday night. Hopefully the Sharks won’t be retiring Mike Ricci’s jersey or anything like that.