The Penguins have only one change to the lineup from Sunday’s game, P.O. Joseph is back in the mix to replace the injured Dmitry Kulikov.
Here's a look at tonight's combinations ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/5gqkJUZP9h— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 14, 2023
The visiting Montreal Canadiens bring this formation.
Well, it starts out positive for the Penguins. Jake Guentzel scores on the first shift. Bryan Rust takes the puck to the net and a lot of Canadiens (including Mike Matheson) turn into spectators while Guentzel sneaks in and taps in a rebound. 1-0 Pens just 21 seconds in.
The good times keep rolling when Josh Anderson takes an early penalty to put Pittsburgh on the power play. Evgeni Malkin makes it count, smashing a shot to the far-side of Samuel Montembault and it’s a 2-0 Pittsburgh lead 4:49 into the night.
Then, the worm turns. Only 31 seconds after Malkin’s goal, Rem Pitlick leaves a drop pass for Mike Hoffman and he rifles a shot by Tristan Jarry. 2-1.
Less than two minutes later, Matheson atones for his mistake (the Matheson experience is alive and well!) with some nice skating and eventually Jesse Ylonen finds the mark on a helpless looking Jarry. 2-2.
The nightmare and meltdown continues, the Pens survive a Drew O’Connor offensive-zone penalty but just after O’Connor leaves the penalty box, Montreal strikes. No sign of a defensive structure leaves Alex Belzile to feed Denis Gurianov with a pass in front. Gurianov unleashes a nice backhander that tucks inside the post and Jarry might as well not even be in there at all. Same with Jeff Carter, a step slow to the action. 3-2 MTL.
Sidney Crosby steps in front of Belzile’s skating path and the youngster falls down mighty easily, they get matching minors for interference and embellishment, respectively.
Shortly after those penalties end, the Pens use Jeff Carter for a d-zone draw to try and get to intermission as they are, and it fails. Carter loses the draw clean and a bump pass from the point means a nice shooting lane for Joel Edmundson. In Jarry’s defense, this one takes a redirection in front and that’s a tough ask for anyone. 4-2 Canadiens.
It started off so well and then...Yikes. Montreal scores four times on only seven shots. The Pens get 15 shots and two goals, and yet are down by two after 20.
Casey DeSmith leads the Pens out for the second, that’s it for Jarry.
The Pens get another power play but it doesn’t work this time. Jason Zucker fires out afterwards, splits the defense and goes backhand but can’t pull it off.
It takes until 9:03 remaining, with Kris Letang pitching in. Letang skates the blue line from the left to the middle of the ice and snaps a shot on. Montembault doesn’t even flinch, with the traffic in front he never saw the puck until it was in the net. It’s a one goal game again at 4-3 MTL.
This was Kris Letang's second goal in as many games pic.twitter.com/jkjZU4aeB5— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 15, 2023
The Pens keep the pressure up, the first line has a good shift that sees a Montreal defender flip the puck out of play to grant another Pittsburgh power play. Malkin negates that by taking down a Canadien behind the net to get sent off for tripping.
Marcus Pettersson channels his inner Kevin Stevens and bulls to the net, dekes in tight but the backhand shot hits the post. The Pens keep pressing and drew another power play with 2:01 left in the second. It only takes six seconds for Malkin to blast in a long-range one-timer from the right side. Apparently Guentzel gets a tip on it. Either way, 4-4 game with 1:55 until the break.
Jake Guentzel's second tally of the game was a deft deflection to tie things up, 4-4 pic.twitter.com/xD2pwKb2ro— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 15, 2023
Well, gotta like that response. Shots in the second period are 18-4 PIT as they pepper the net and climb out of the hole that they 100% dug for themselves during the first period. But it’s still just a tie game, despite overall shots being 32-11.
Not a great start, a long three-line pass stays just onside for
Maurice Richard, err Henri Richard, uhh (checks notes) make that ANTHONY Richard who zooms past Joseph and snaps a puck over the glove hand of DeSmith. Wow where’d that come from? 5-4 Canadiens back in front by there’s still 16:55 left to go.
A fluttering shot strikes Jan Rutta on the knee and the big defender goes down and stays down for a while. That drops the Pens to only four available defenders because Jeff Petry did not return from the locker-room for the third period.
Pittsburgh shortens the bench up front too but Montembault puts on a clinic. DeSmith is pulled for an extra attacker with 1:40 left in desperation time. It doesn’t work and Montreal tacks on a long-range empty netter. 6-4.
Shots in the game end up end up being 42-21. But the Canadiens get six goals in those 21 shots.
- Two things can be true at one time, and tonight those two things are that the Penguins were a mess in front of Jarry and also that the goalie had absolutely no ability to keep the puck out of the net. It was a bad mix. Moneypuck only had Jarry’s total expected goals faced at 0.48 (which to be fair to the netminder doesn’t pass the smell test even a little bit) but that goes to show just how confounding the first period was. Jarry just HAS to stop one or maybe two of the first three goals he allowed (with his final deflected GA being chalked up to bad luck/nice play by the opposition). It was another night without those answers.
- But make no mistake, there’s plenty of disappointment to go around and much of it has nothing to do with the goalie. Jeff Petry had one of his worst games of the season tonight against his old team. He was a mess and all over the place and then left with injury. Another recent coaching change that with time is looking bad is putting Petry with Brian Dumoulin. The two acted as if they had never played together at all on the Gurianov goal where both ended up covering no one and leaving the net-front wide open.
- For as bad as Petry was, Malkin was that good. He was hunting pucks all night and seemingly in control of it almost the entire time he was out there.
- Remember when everyone hated the power play? We’re pleased to report the Pens have stumbled upon a pretty easy yet effective solution — have Letang feed Crosby or Malkin on the right side and get them blasting pucks from there. It doesn’t have to be a fancy fix, that small but very important tweak has given the power play an identity and something to build off. It also helps define a role for Guentzel to get to the net and take the goalie’s eyes away and/or try to tip the puck when it’s flying by. As such, the power play instantly looks about 1000% better than it did just a few games ago and is getting some serious results.
- The tough part about living with Jeff Carter “for better or worse”, as the Penguins have cast their lot, is that there is no “better” part of the equation to speak of. It’s only for the worse. It’s no fun to punch down on him all the time, but it’s unavoidable in seemingly every game. Mike Sullivan likes to use Carter as a faceoff specialist, but that idea failed on a 4v4 in the first period, Sullivan went to it again late and it burned him again with the clean FO loss leading to a goal against. Pittsburgh only has 12 forwards and no cap space, so they’ve long since decided to have to roll with Carter, but at this point there’s no good reason it should be for any more than above bare minimum.
- Sullivan seemed to get to that thought independently tonight, after racking up a -3 in the first, Carter only played 1:43 total in the second period (just one shift at even strength, one on PP and one on PK). That kind of adjustment has to be more than a one-off. Carter picked up another minus on his first shift of the third period, and even though he wasn’t a major factor involved, absolutely nothing good is happening when he’s on the ice.
- This was Montreal’s first win of the month, they were 0-5-2 coming into tonight and just lost 8-4 last night. This was not a pesky or tough out, or it didn’t have to be. A lot of credit to Montembault for standing on his head. A lot of discredit to the Penguins for doing what they sometimes do and find a way to lose a game that they otherwise ought to have done better by any reasonable account.
In what might be a microcosm of the season, the Pens have a couple of very good players that usually do very good things. We all know who they are, they get on the scoreboard just about every night. They have a handful of warm bodies who can take up time and then they have a handful of outright liabilities that make winning an NHL game almost an impossibility with their lapses, mistakes and poor performances.
On this night, the bad out-weighed the good. 67 games into the season, that’s who they are. In the big picture, a 3-1-1 home-stand is a positive but is left feeling as empty as it can be given the circumstances of a roster that too often is unable to have a few players drag the rest of the team across the finish line against even the lowest of competition.