I’ll say this for our Penguins. At least we’re consistent. Yesterday before a Sunday matinee throng of 18,429 at PPG Paints Arena, our string of sloppy, mistake-riddled (and at times… languid) efforts continued unabated in a showdown with Carolina for first place in the Metro.
The result? A disappointing 4-3 loss to the Hurricanes.
Judging by our somnambulant start, it appeared someone forgot to set the team’s collective alarm clock. Indeed, with the notable exception of goalie Tristan Jarry, in what’s become our typical turn-it-off, turn-it-on fashion our guys did not appear to wake up until about half through the game. By that time the visitors tested Jarry on a plethora of odd-man breaks while piling up a 25-12 edge in shots on goal and a 2-0 lead on tallies by Jesperi Kotkaniemi and old friend Jordan Staal. The latter, just nine seconds into the second period.
It looked like yet another in a disturbing string of snoozer (and loser) efforts by our guys. Then the Brian Boyle line got a little something going on with just over five minutes remaining in the second period to deliver a wake-up call. On the ensuing sequence Kris Letang flew off the bench to pick off a ‘Canes clearing attempt before slipping a cross-zone pass to Evgeni Malkin. Tanger one-timed Geno’s return feed into traffic. The puck deflected off Jordan Martinook’s skate before popping off Antti Raanta’s pad and onto the stick of Bryan Rustwho knocked it in from the doorstep.
Finally engaged, the Pens knotted the score at 2-2 with two minutes left in the period. Jake Guentzel found Sidney Crosby with a pass on an otherwise deserted patch of ice at the ‘Canes blue line. Sid steamed in and blew a rare slap shot past Raanta from the left faceoff dot for his 15th goal of the campaign.
The crowd was buzzing. Could the Pens complete the comeback and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat?
Well… no. In a bad case of déjà vu, Mr. Nine Seconds reared his ugly head again.
No sooner did Sid win the faceoff to start the third period than Brian Dumoulin’s errant outlet pass was picked off in the neutral zone. The ‘Canes quickly transitioned, catching us flatfooted in the process. Nino Neiderreiter slipped a crisp diagonal pass to Jesper Fast and the ex-Ranger beat Jarry high glove side.
The Pens nearly knotted the score a short time later on the power play, but Sid’s missile from the left circle rang off the cross bar. With the Letang in the box on a questionable slashing call, Sebastien Aho struck from the slot to give the ‘Canes a 4-2 lead.
We closed the gap to one with 1:12 remaining when Evan Rodrigues (remember him?) torched Raanta with a one-timer from the left circle, courtesy of a pretty setup from Malkin. Unfortunately for our guys, that was all she wrote. Raanta stopped Sid from point-blank range as the time ticked off the clock.
I’d like to say we deserved a better fate, but I do not like to lie.
In the “statistics can be deceiving” department, the Pens once again dominated from a numbers standpoint. Following our sluggish start, we ran up a 34-30 edge in shots on goal and held an advantage in scoring chances (27-22) and high danger chances (14-12). We had nine giveaways to the ‘Canes two.
Rust paced the attack with a two-point effort (1 + 1). Malkin and Letang garnered two assists apiece.
Corsi-wise, each of the Pens’ lines were at 50 or better. E-Rod’s unit led the way (66.67) followed by Crosby’s (65.22). Nice to see Rodrigues snap his goal drought at 18 games. If we could only get Kasperi Kapanen off the schneid (no points in his past 11 games).
Jarry stood on his head, especially early, stoning Aho, Andrei Svechnikov and Teuvo Teravainen on breakaway attempts. His final numbers (26 saves on 30 shots, .867 save percentage) do not reflect his performance. We could’ve easily lost this one 7-3.
Perhaps it’s time to file a missing person’s report on our long-lost structure…
Defenseman Chad Ruhwedel signed a two-year extension on Saturday with an AAV of $ 800,000. He’s been a solid performer this season, anchoring the third pairing and excelling on the penalty kill while establishing career highs in games played, hits and blocked shots.
The Pens (31-13-8, 70 points) need to find their game in a hurry. Following a Thursday night matchup with the Devils we face the Rangers on Saturday afternoon. Both games are at the Paint Can. Then we embark on a three-game road trip against Columbus, Tampa Bay and Carolina before returning home to face Florida.