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Recap: Penguins lose season-defining game in season-defining ways

All the Penguins’ worst traits were on display in a virtual “must win” game that they did not win against the lowly Chicago Blackhawks

NHL: APR 11 Blackhawks at Penguins Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images


It’s the same forward lines for the Penguins, Drew O’Connor remains out with injury which opens the door for Alex Nylander. On defense Dmitry Kulikov is back from his injury, for his first game since March 12th.

The visiting Chicago Blackhawks are using 11 forwards and seven defensemen as they limp down the stretch.

First period

The Pens start with good pace as to be expected for a team needing a win. Sidney Crosby is the most notable player early, he makes a diving defensive play to knock a puck away, then splits the defense for a mini-break but the bouncing puck means he only gets a backhander that Petr Mrazek is in position to stop.

Kulikov returns with a holding call way behind the play to send the Blackhawks to the game’s first power play. Pittsburgh’s PK takes care of business.

The Pens’ fourth line gets to work and Josh Archibald draws a hooking penalty to give the Pittsburgh power play their first shot of the evening. Crosby gets a chance from the side of the net but Mrazek stops him again.

Shots on goal were 13-8 CHI, but shot attempts were 25-14 PIT. The Blackhawks playing pesky and inspired to block 11 shots early and help keep it a score-less game through one period.

Second period

A strong early shift by the second line forces Jonathan Toews to take a slashing penalty. The Pens keep the Hawks hemmed in their zone for the full two minutes, Crosby gets a few attempts for backdoor pass attempts but Pittsburgh can’t beat Mrazek yet.

Alex Nylander’s next trip isn’t across the state but is over to the penalty box for hooking a Chicago player on the back-check. Archibald gets the best chance of the sequence, despite being down a player.

Soon after the penalty expires, Chicago scores on their first shot of the period. Connor Murphy shoots quickly from near the blueline and the puck wires through traffic and just inside the post past Tristan Jarry. 1-0 Blackhawks with the surprising lead.

Jake Guentzel sets up Crosby for a glorious shot on the rush, but he’s moving too fast to elevate the puck and steers it on target low enough for Mrazek to stop.

Jarry gets his leg out to stop a good Chicago stop late, the Pens keep gunnin’ but have no answers.

Shots in the second are 16-6 Pittsburgh, shot attempts overall are 56-27 Pens. But it’s Chicago who scores the period’s only goal and find themselves 20 minutes away from playing spoiler.

Third period

After Crosby and Bryan Rust were fouled but it went uncalled late in the second much to their chagrin, Rickard Rakell is taken down 40 seconds in and the refs get the whistles handy to give the Pens’ a power play. It does not go well. Danton Heinen nearly scores off a faceoff back at even strength but hits the knob of Mrazek’s stick.

Rust gets held and it’s chance No. 4 for the Pens’ power play on the night. Rakell can’t finish on the back post, a net scramble breaks lose but Mrazek keeps the puck in front of him. Finally, Malkin hits the back of the net with about the millonth shot-pass the Pens attempt. This time, Rakell’s effort finds Malkin’s stick and he guides it in. 1-1 game with 14:32 still to play.

Pittsburgh searches for another goal, but it’s Chicago who finds one. A Chicago point shot hits Buddy Robinson in front of the net. He recovers and finds the puck and fires it past Jarry. 2-1 CHI with 9:38 to go.

Andreas Anthanasiou uses his speed to generate a 2-on-1. He shoots and Jarry stops it but Anthanasiou gets the puck behind the net. His third crack at it knocks the puck in. 3-1 CHI with 9:12 to go.

Malkin is hooked and the Pens get one more power play with four minutes and change left. They pull Jarry for a 6v4 but it does not go well.

Tyler Johnson scores on an empty net to put the game well out of reach.

Danton Heinen scores on a rebound to score not an empty net goal, but certainly a very empty one. 4-2 with only 37 seconds to go.

Another empty netter finishes it off. 5-2 for the final.

Some thoughts

  • Unreliable power play, lack of finishing, goalie giving up a questionable one at the wrong moment - this game was a microcosm for the Pens’ season in many ways.
  • Pittsburgh controlled the puck and controlled play, but many of their shots were low. Goalies in the NHL usually stop the low ones they can see. That’s a big factor in “why can’t the Pens finish” when their shots targeting makes it easy on the opponent.
  • This very well could have been the final road game for Chicago captain Jonathan Toews, who has battled through significant health issues and has an uncertain playing future.
  • You can’t play a game any harder than Crosby did. He was clearly a man possessed and trying everything possible to help the team win. Just wasn’t his night but it wasn’t for a lack of trying.
  • The thing about tanking teams is none of the players are trying to lose. All of them -like a Buddy Robinson - are playing for their own future, their next contracts and looking to make the most of their opportunities to show they belong. We see it all the time in sports - Gretz pointed out how the Houston Texans missed out on the No 1 overall pick by winning their final game. The players and coaches don’t give a damn about next year’s high draft pick. Chicago had lots going against them (poor roster, b-2-b, travel, etc) but gave a tremendous effort. If you didn’t know the standings, you wouldn’t have known based on the ice where they were at. (Which also doesn’t say much about the performance and ability of their opponent, either).
  • That said, it’s an unmitigated disaster for the Penguins, gifted a tremendous opportunity to win their way into the playoffs only to fumble it away. Now they’ll need more help, even though at this point there are bigger issues standing in their way.

One more game to go on Thursday, and at this rate it probably will be the last game too. In this NHL, anything can happen, but after a night like this the Penguins have unfortunately proven time and again who and what they are this season.