Inside Pittsburgh Sports


The Penguins went into Tampa Bay undermanned without Evgeni Malkin and their center depth depleted. Yet, the narrative going into the game (that the Penguins didn’t have a chance) you would have thought the Penguins should not have showed up and just forfeited.

The Penguins still had the likes of Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, Kris Letang, Marc Andre Fleury and Patric Hornqvist in the lineup.

Pittsburgh entered the game with a .607 winning percentage without Evgeni Malkin during his career and we’ve seen in the past, especially the Bylsma years where the Penguins come together when ravished by injuries play some of their best games of the season.

In the first period this one looked like it might be headed towards that way as the Penguins got out to an excellent start before the Lightning eventually raced past the Penguins for a 6-3 win.

The Penguins won the possession game, shots were near even (30-29, Pittsburgh) with high danger scoring chances 11-11 (even strength), though, Tampa Bay had an edge in the more quality high danger scoring chances.

Positives for the Penguins, the bottom-6 came to play. While Kevin Porter and Oskar Sundqvist will never be known as speed demons down the middle as the third and fourth line centers, the Penguins speed on the wings in the bottom-6 was a factor in providing the Penguins energy throughout.

“I thought they brought us a lot of energy,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “They had some good forechecks. They were on pucks. Think they forced Tampa to have to expend energy defensively. I really like their enthusiasm,” said Sullivan.

That’s where the difference has been with the AHL guys coming up over the last month. Their speed is forcing the opposition to expend energy defensively. When the stars start to cool off along with the power play, which is bound to happen, then the lack of secondary scoring will start to pop back up as a glaring problem but for now that has been on the backburner due to other areas of the team carrying the group, notably the stars and special teams.

The working hard, providing energy narrative that has been looked at as such a positive will eventually turn into “this bottom-6 group doesn’t score enough.”

A key goal from a bottom-6 player would have been nice, especially in the third period when the Penguins were trailing 4-3, but this game came down to a couple factors:

1. Among the big guns in the lineup, Sidney Crosby and Patric Hornqvist continued to stay hot. Crosby netted his 21st goal of the season and has goals in five straight games and was 17 of 29 (58%) in the faceoff circle.

Hornqvist was even better.

He opened the scoring in the first period with a goal scorers goal from the slot for his 11th of the season. Hornqvist then forced a turnover off the forecheck leading to Crosby’s second period goal as the Penguins cut the Lightning’s lead to 3-2.

Hornqvist is right up there with Crosby among the players whose game has transformed the most with the coaching change.

Crosby and Hornqvist had a CF% of 75% (12 CF/5 CA) when out against Victor Hedman.

For the Penguins their other big guns didn’t show up.

2. Phil Kessel had a key setup (primary assist) on Matt Cullen’s third period goal, 55 seconds in to get the Penguins within one goal but his overall game was a disaster and with Malkin out, what the Penguins needed from Kessel was the type of performance the Lightning got from Tyler Johnson. Kessel had one 5 v 5 shot in the game.

3. The Penguins No. 1 pairing of Olli Maatta – Kris Letang were in the negative. They got caught running around allowing several high danger scoring chances and Maatta in particular had a tough night in struggling with the Lightning’s speed from their top-6.

Maatta was on the ice for 1 shot attempt and 8 against head-to-head at even strength vs Tyler Johnson.

4. Marc Andre Fleury after stopping just 18 of 23 shots vs the Senators, was pulled after allowing four goals on 14 shots. The first two goals against had Kris Letang and Ben Lovejoy parked right in front of him and on the third and fourth goals he got beat by great shots/plays. Fleury’s save percentage has plummeted below .920 to now .919 on the season. The bigger issue might not have been Fleury’s performance but the high danger scoring chances the Lightning were getting on limited shots.

5. The biggest factor in the loss was special teams. Pittsburgh was 0-3 on the power play, allowed a power goal against and shorthanded goal against. Not much to dissect there.

With the game 2-1 early in the second, they give up a shorthanded breakaway goal, then failed to score on two other power play opportunities when the score was 3-2 in the second.

Interesting stat is the Penguins had yet to win a game under Mike Sullivan when they don’t score a power play goal (0-6-2).

When the Penguins have scored at least one power play goal To read this insider news, subscribe to get “Inside Access”!