Observations from the Penguins' 3-2 overtime loss to the Blackhawks.
Less than a week ago, the Penguins lost to a pretty wretched Maple Leafs team, 3-2, in a shootout. They launched a metric ton of shots on net, had several scoring chances and came away with a point in the standings.
Tonight, they lost to a pretty dynamic Blackhawks team, 3-2 in overtime. They launched a metric ton of shots on net, had several scoring chances and they came away with a point in the standings.
These were two games with the same exact score and result as far as the standings are concerned. But the feeling about each loss is completely different.
After the Toronto loss, the common theme from the Penguins was they failed to get that extra point. Tonight, the common theme from the Penguins is they got a valuable point.
Head coach Mike Sullivan discussed the difference between the two games:
"For me, this is a whole different feeling. Just the resilience to fight back from a two-goal deficit to get a point out of this, that's a huge point for our team for a lot of reasons. Not just in the standings but also just as far as us trying to continue to get some traction as far as how we need to play to have some success. I think the last handful of games here we've put some real consistent efforts in that should provide pretty good evidence on how specifically we have to play in order to give ourselves the best chance to win. I think the more we can provide evidence for ourselves, I think the more the players believe."
By increments, the Penguins are evolving under Sullivan. A month ago, a 2-0 deficit to any team, let alone the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks, would have been a death sentence for the Penguins. Tonight, a two-goal deficit was a mere speed bump for them. As Sullivan said, the fact that the Penguins got a point was important but also, how they got tonight's point was important.
-After a scoreless first period, the Blackhawks scored first at 8:47 of the second period. Blackhawks right winger Patrick Kane led a two-on-one rush up ice with center Artemi Panarin against Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy. As Lovejoy slid down to block a pass, Kane fed the puck to Panarin in the left circle. Panarin chopped in a one-timer which glanced off the inside of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury's blocker and deflected into the cage.
-Chicago added to the lead with 1:14 left in the period. Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook corralled a rolling puck off the right boards and whacked a one-timer at the cage. The puck hit a cluster of bodies and trickled into the net. Center Jonathan Toews muscled his way past defenseman Brian Dumoulin and had the puck deflect off his body and into the cage.
-The Penguins got on the scoreboard at 5:54 of the third. Left winger David Perron gained the offensive zone on the right wing and left a drop pass for center Sidney Crosby. Crosby carried the puck into the right circle and ripped a pinpoint wrister by goaltender Corey Crawford's blocker on the far side to make it a 2-1 game.
-The game was tied, 2-2, with 2:50 remaining in regulation. Crosby won a faceoff in the Blackhawks' left circle and fed the puck to defenseman Kris Letang on the left half wall. Letang settled the puck and chopped a slapper through traffic and past Crawford's glove hand on the far side.
With 1:13 left in a wild end-to-end overtime period, the Blackhawks' trio of Kane, Seabrook and Panarin kind of played "keepaway" on the perimeter of the Penguins' zone. In the high slot, Kane left a drop pass for Panarin. Panarin veered around Letang, entered the right circle and ripped a fireball of a wrister by Fleury's glove hand on the near side.
-As positive of a vibe the Penguins should have after this game, there were a few valid concerns. Mainly, they didn't bury an abundant amount of quality scoring chances they had, particularly in the second period. They were in control most of of the second period but they just couldn't finish.
-Approximately a minute into the second, Perron stole a bad pass from former Penguins right winger Marian Hossa. He walked in from the blue line on a breakway and missed the net. That just seemed to set the tone for the rest of the period.
-One thing which really hurt the Penguins was a questionable penalty. With the Penguins on he power play, Letang was given an interference minor against Toews as they raced for an errant puck in front of the Penguins' bench. Letang slammed Toews from the side and Toews crashed awkwardly into the boards. Officials gave Letang an interference minor and wiped out the Penguins lone power play chance of the game after 38 seconds.
-Letang was diplomatic in how he assessed the penalty:
"I think it was the angle that was bad because he whiffed on his first attempt to clear. I hit him because he had a chance to touch it so I don't think it was interference. I don't think it was a penalty at all."
-While they did ultimately tie the game in the second period, the Penguins continued to miss chances.
-The overtime was just insane. It was hockey on cocaine. It was end to end with odd-man rushes galore. Both goaltenders stole a bucketful of goals before Panarin put his perfect shot past Fleury.
-Fleury was pretty good once again. The goals he allowed were hardly soft. He was nearly perfect in overtime. He just looked solid.
-The Penguins' top line of Crosby, Perron and left winger Chris Kunitz really drove this game for the Penguins offensively. They had the bulk of the team's quality scoring chances.
-Perron continues to be snake bit. He gets scoring chances but he just can't finish. It's frustrating to watch.
-Letang continues to look really smooth since returning to the lineup. He looks like the Letang who was the leading candidate for the Norris Trophy last season prior to a concussion ending his campaign prematurely.
The Penguins' penalty killers were effective once again as they snuffed out two power plays for the Blackhawks.
-He didn't get a point tonight, but center Evgeni Malkin was dangerous defensively. He forced more than a few turnovers by the Blackhawks.
-The Penguins were one of a handful of teams who pursued Panarin when he made the jump from the KHL last summer. When you see him do the things he did tonight, the mind wonders what he could do with the Penguins offensive firepower.
-Crawford was very good tonight. If he was just slightly above average, the Penguins would have won this game in regulation.
-Letang was happy with how his team played:
“I think our effort tonight was outstanding. We created a lot of chances. A lot more quality scoring chances than they had. They had a couple of lucky chances that went in the goal. I think we played an awesome game but a team like that that's got a lot of experience, they win Stanley Cup [titles] for a reason. So, you have to be almost perfect.”
-Fleury echoed that thought:
“It was good. We had like three or four posts. Missed a few [chances] on two-on-ones, little plays like that. But I thought we didn't give them too much for how good they are offensively. It was a good battle by us tonight I think.”
"We hit a couple of posts. It didn't go in for us but I think the most important thing is all we can do is control the process. We try to play the right way. We're going to try to make good decisions with the puck. We're going to try to force our opponents to have to go 200 feet. And when the opportunity is there to make plays and try to score, we're going to try to take advantage."
-Three on three overtime seems to have some mixed reactions from players. Letang:
"I've talked about it at the beginning of the year. If you don't get one [right] away, it's going the other way, they're going to score."
-Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith was lukewarm about three-on-three overtime:
"I guess it's entertaining for people. If that's what they wanted, I guess it's good. I don't know if it's any more gimicky than the shootout. As a player, I don't mind it but I only like it when we're winning."
-Sullivan offered some thoughts on how to he approaches three-on-three play:
“You have to change smart. I think your shot selection has to be smart because if you don't you can start the other team's breakout. Those are the things that we talk about with our guys is just trying to make sure we out-change them. If we are late in a shift, we can throw the puck back and keep it and get fresh legs on the ice. Try to constantly get fresh people on the ice. It doesn't always work out that way because it seems like for me, just my experience being in a few of these, is that it seems like once there's a scoring chance for one side, there tends to be a domino effect and it turns into a little bit of a track meet. That's why I think it's important that you got to do your best to try to out-change your opponent.”
-Letang admitted he was surprised his shot went in the net:
"A little bit. It's not a shot that typically goes in. Often it gets blocked or it gets saved. You create a rebound or something. To go directly in was a surprise."
-Crosby talked about his team missing chances:
"Crawford made some saves. Hit some posts. We generated a lot of really good chances. Sometimes you get a lot of shots but there's not a lot of [scoring] chances. I thought tonight we had a lot of Grade A chances throughout the game. Three-on-three [overtime], we probably deserved better."
-Letang joked about why his play has seen a surge as of late:
“Being healthy always works. Being in the lineup too. I think it's simplifying things. Being under control. Having a steady [defensive] partner. Not switching partners every two games. It's fun to create some chemistry with somebody."
-Sullivan spoke about Letang's impact:
"First and foremost, he's healthy and when he is, you can see the type of influence he has on the game. He's a very efficient skater. He can play a lot of minutes. He helps us get out of our end zone. And for me and the conversations I've had with Kris since I've taken the team over have just been don't try to do too much. And I think that's when he gets himself in trouble. When he takes what the game presents, I think he's very effective. He sees the ice so well. He has the ability to join the rush and get involved in the offense. So I think his decision as far as when he decides to get involved in the offense and when he just needs to just stay behind the attack and make sure that he's in a decent defensive posture have been pretty good. I think when he plays that way, he doesn't chase the game so much. He allows the game to come to him. But obviously you can see the type of influence and the type of impact when he plays that way."
-Sullivan likes the direction his team is heading and used that "believe" word once again:
"I believe in this group. I think we're moving in the right direction. I think we're making progress. I think we're starting to establish an identity for ourselves as far as how we have to play in order to have success and I think the players are buying in. And when we play that way, we've got some dynamic players and they're starting to heat up. I believe in this group. I'm excited to play tomorrow night. I know it will be a good game."
-Sullivan spoke about crafting the team's identity:
"I thought for the most part our guys were pretty good in our own end zone. I thought we were hard to play against tonight and that has to be part of our identity if we're going to get to where we want to go moving forward."
-Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville suggested his team was a little lucky to get the win:
"That second period, it could have easily been two- or three-nothing their way. I thought we had a really tough stretch there. We gave the puck away too many times. We got two breaks on our goals and they got themselves back in the game. … I thought the overtime was great for the sport. Both teams had A-plus-plus chances and the right guys were getting them. And the goaltending display was fun to watch."
-Crawford talked about Crosby's goal:
“It was a good shot. I didn't really pick it up that great. But it was a pretty quick release and a quick shot. I guess you just have to have to forget that one. Guys are going to make nice shots sometimes.”
-The Penguins had a 36-30 lead in shots.
-Letang led the game with seven shots.
-The only Penguins skaters who failed to record a shot on net were center Kevin Porter and Lovejoy.
-Left winger Teuvo Teravainen led the Blackhawks with five shots.
-Keith led the game with 29:02 of ice time.
-Letang led the Penguins with 26:26 of ice time.
-The Penguins controlled faceoffs, 28-22 (56 percent).
-Malkin was 9 for 17 (53 percent).
-Toews was 10 for 16 (63 percent).
-Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson led the game with four blocked shots.
-Lovejoy, defenseman Ian Cole and right winger Patric Hornqvist each led the Penguins with two blocked shots.
-Crosby has scored goals in four consecutive games.
-Crosby has 22 points (10 goals, 12 assists) in his past 20 games.
-The Penguins have outshot the opposition in 10 of Sullivan's 11 games as head coach.
-The Penguins have killed 18 consecutive opposing power play chances.
-Perron has failed to score a goal in 15 consecutive games.
-The Penguins are the only opposing NHL team Kane has never scored a goal against.
-Somewhat surprisingly, the Penguins had a brief video tribute to former Penguins defenseman Rob Scuderi who was playing his first game back in Pittsburgh after being traded Dec. 14. He offered a brief wave as fans offered a polite applause. Given how poorly he was regarded by the masses the last year or so, it was a pleasant surprise to see that display.
(Photo: Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)