Old is new as Nick Bonino slots back in as the young man (of the center group) with the Penguins for his second stint of duty with Pittsburgh. Defense remains the same and it’s Casey DeSmith in net to close out the road trip.
Welcome back to the Penguins lineup, @NickBonino! pic.twitter.com/7JcX3WQPXw— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 4, 2023
The home team gets some boosts - but not from trades. Both Aleksander Barkov and Sam Bennett return from injury to beef up the center position for Florida.
#FlaPanthers in warmups:— Jameson Olive (@JamesonCoop) March 4, 2023
Luostarinen - Barkov - Duclair
Verhaeghe - Bennett - Tkachuk
Lomberg - Lundell - Reinhart
Cousins - Staal - White
Forsling - Ekblad
Staal - Montour
Mahura - Gudas
DeSmith is tested early and has to use his noggin to stop a high shot. Bonino gets a quick 2-on-1 with Drew O’Connor but the youngster can’t center the puck for a chance.
The Pens get an early power play when Barkov takes Sidney Crosby down in front of the net. It’s another dreadfully bad power play.
That lowlight aside, a very boring period. The building in Florida is seemingly permanently half-full and quiet (especially early in games), so there’s no atmosphere. And the teams were given a 6:00pm start and that hour difference looks like it’s really affected energy levels in a quiet rink. Shots were 3-3 deep in the first, but then the Panthers awakened.
Florida took the final seven shots of the period, including the first one to end up in the net in the last minute of the first. Carter Verhaeghe raced down the left wing and snapped a low shot that DeSmith kicked out a nice juicy rebound that clicked off Marcus Pettersson and laid flat for Bennett to swipe into the net. 1-0 FLA.
Benny's back alright pic.twitter.com/jyoWFD518O— Florida Panthers (@FlaPanthers) March 4, 2023
To make matters worse, Danton Heinen took a tripping penalty to give the Panthers their first power play. The Pens are able to survive until the break.
The Pens kill off the rest of the Heinen penalty but are on their heels big time and Kris Letang lashes out of frustration and takes another penalty. Florida owns the puck in the zne, eventually Bryan Rust is smarting and can only put one hand on his stick, so he doesn’t have the power to clear the zone. It comes back to bite them, with Barkov feeding Aaron Ekblad for a one-time blast from the left side. 2-0 Florida.
Aaron Ekblad drives Barkov's cross-ice feed home on the power play, doubling Florida's lead to 2!#TimeToHunt pic.twitter.com/WmcwTHmetw— Hockey Daily 365 l NHL Highlights (@HockeyDaily365) March 5, 2023
Pittsburgh then swings to the power play, first Anthony Duclair trips Letang, then Eric Staal got his stick under Evgeni Malkin’s skate to trip him as well leading to a prolonged 5v3 advantage for the Pens. Finally, the power play contributes a goal. Malkin sends a pass int Jake Guentzel in front of the net, and Guentzel with his back turned to the goalie bumps it out for Letang to wire home. 2-1 game.
No player has more points vs. the Panthers this season than Kris Letang (7). pic.twitter.com/pmpNKxHfdh— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 5, 2023
Malkin takes a historic minor penalty (see notes below) but the Pens manage to kill it off. Then it’s Ekblad’s turn to sit, and Florida with four skaters does better than Pittsburgh with five. Not pretty.
Rust makes one of the worst turnovers you’ll see, passing the puck right to Ryan Lomberg as if he was on his team. Lomberg’s backhand rockets off the cross-bar and very fortunately for the Pens stays out of the net.
In the last minute of the second, Sergei Bobrovsky robs Sidney Crosby with a sprawling save.
You're on the case, Bobrovsky! pic.twitter.com/TiG5psAnnv— NHL (@NHL) March 5, 2023
The puck goes the other way, and as so often is the case in hockey — when one team fails to score on a golden chance, the other team is able to punch it in not long after. And Florida does. DeSmith sells out to stop a big blast from Barkov, but he loses his crease. The rebound sits right in the paint to Eetu Luostarinen to tap into the open net. 3-1 Florida with a tremendous swing in “what could have been”.
Eetu Luostarinen taps the loose puck home to double Florida's lead with just 10 ticks left in the 2nd period!#TimeToHunt pic.twitter.com/XRE2DI1t1k— Hockey Daily 365 l NHL Highlights (@HockeyDaily365) March 5, 2023
A big 18-14 shot period (edge to Florida). This game was a whisker away from being tied, yet the home team takes a two-goal cushion into the final frame.
The Pens don’t put up much of a fight in the first half of the third period. Verhaeghe makes them pay with a goal, ripping a shot for a nice one. 4-1 FLA.
Carter Verhaeghe slows down and snipes one home to extend the Panthers lead to 3 in the third!#TimeToHunt pic.twitter.com/8AEnIHSref— Hockey Daily 365 l NHL Highlights (@HockeyDaily365) March 5, 2023
At this point, Pittsburgh could have just gone quietly into the good night, but Jason Zucker doesn’t roll like that with a bump on Bobrovsky. To be real, Bob comes way out and does his best Shesterkin impression at the first glance of what wasn’t too much contact (and Zucker was even turning and trying to slow himself). Three Panthers and Bob go nuts and pile on Zucker, but he’s the only one who takes a penalty. Injected some life into the game at least.
Jason Zucker runs over Sergei Bobrovsky which leads to some fireworks pic.twitter.com/E9IqfVCrO3— B/R Open Ice (@BR_OpenIce) March 5, 2023
The Pens kill it off, but more chaos ensues when the Panthers start going after Zucker again after a whistle. Josh Archibald and Lomberg apparently talk a little too much to each other and both get ejected with misconducts as the refs belatedly attempt to not lose control of this game completely.
Florida gets another power play and Barkov decides to chop Letang in the no-no zone with a stick. And this guy was a Lady Byng winner! Somehow the refs only give him a minor penalty.
That’s it for the fireworks, goals and Penguin winning streak.
- The Penguins’ power play continues to confound. Especially on the road where they not only can’t score goals, they’re not even coming anywhere CLOSE to scoring a goal on most occasions (and yeah, they scored on a 5v3, but not the point). Guess the good news is they’re back at home for five straight after this, but my goodness what a mess. Worst of all, there aren’t any real, actionable answers that would work. They’re just not very good sometimes, and they’re stuck in one of those times.
- What’s more maddening if you had to pick only one: the power play or surrendering goals in the last minute of a period? Now that’s truly a dilemma with no wrong answer.
- Might put my chip in for Carter Verhaeghe as the most under-rated player in the NHL. Two points in this game. Great wheels, elite finisher (32 goals this year!), puck just jumps off his stick. He’s quietly improved every year he’s been around. Not mentioned much as one of the very best offensive wingers in the league, but he’s up there.
- It was said that Jarry was out for this game due to illness, or “not feeling well” as Mike Sullivan put it pre-game. Jarry was able to sit on the end of the bench though and presumably would have been available during the game in an emergency scenario. Always raises an antenna these days when Jarry isn’t 100% but hopefully that will be a very short-term and isn’t due to the hip-related concerns.
- Goaltending wasn’t the problem in this one. The Florida TV broadcast had shots from the slot at 11-1 FLA after two periods. Sooner or later with the way this game was unfolding, some pucks were bound to go in for the Panthers, especially with a couple posts along the way.
- Barkov’s stick on Letang was tough. Letang also got run by Bennett. Add that to the 20+ stitches and he’s lucky to make it out of this road trip in one piece.
- Malkin’s second period infraction marked career penalty in minutes No. 1047 and 1048 for him. That ties Kevin Stevens for most all-time as a Penguin. (Only took Artie 522 games to get there).
- Otherwise, pretty “meh” game for Malkin and Crosby and the whole top-six really, outside of Zucker trying to pull them into a fight late. Sometimes it bes like that at the end of a long road trip. This was Pittsburgh’s sixth game in 10 nights in five different cities. Good time for a two-day break.
And time to go home and get that little break and get ready for next week. After a tune up on Tuesday against lowly Columbus, Pittsburgh has a huge game against the Islanders on Thursday.