Fleury struggles in opening loss
Role players Chris Kelly, Jarkko Ruutu and Chris Neil combined for three goals and six points and Pittsburgh managed just 21 shots on goal as the Ottawa Senators defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-4 on Wednesday Night at Mellon Arena in game 1 of the quarterfinals.
Evgeni Malkin opened the scoring with a power play goal at 3:03 of the first but Pittsburgh failed to build any kind of momentum, recording just 4 shots on goal in the first period.
Ottawa jumped out to a 2-1 first period lead on goals from Peter Regin and Chris Neil. Chris Kelly made it 3-1 with a power play goal at the 1:20 mark in the second.
Failing to generate 5-on-5 opportunities, Evgeni Malkin netted his second power play goal, beating Brian Elliott with a wrist shot from the right circles at the 10:22 mark to get Pittsburgh back into the game and cut Ottawa’s lead to 1.
The entire night goaltender Marc Andre Fleury failed to come up with timely saves and less than three minutes later, young defenseman Erik Karlsson scored a power play goal to give Ottawa a 4-2 second period lead.
Pittsburgh opened up the third period starting to show signs of pushing the play and 4th liner Craig Adams beat Brian Elliott with a backhand shot at 5:16 of the third to cut Ottawa’s lead back to one.
After playing all 82 regular-season games without scoring, Adams provided the kind of goal from an unlikely source that Pittsburgh needed to jump start their lackluster game.
However, once again, the Senators answered as former Penguins agitator Jarkko Ruutu accepted Neil’s giveback pass to beat Marc-Andre Fleury on a wrist shot at 9:40 of the third. It was another poor goal given up from Fleury who gave up 5 goals on 26 shots in what was an awful performance.
“I think there’s a couple, he’s going to be thinking about, is going to want back. He knows he has to be a lot better to give us a chance,” Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma said.
Pittsburgh would get back into the game once again but it was too little too late as Alex Goligoski blistered a one-timer past Elliott with 2:14 remaining in the game.
Elliott made 21 saves and closed the door on the Penguins in the final minute to secure the win and take home-ice away from Pittsburgh.
For Pittsburgh, their three biggest concerns going into game 1 came to fruition; 1. Struggles of Marc Andre Fleury; 2. Lack of production from their top-6 wingers; 3. Their blueline.
Prior to previous seasons, Fleury went into game 1 with some doubts as he had an inconsistent end to the season. The most troubling sign of Fleury’s play over the past 2-3 weeks has been giving up a weak goal that kills momentum.
His confidence looked shaken early on in game 1 and he was just never able to respond, which was most concerning.
Meanwhile, Pittsburgh struggled mightily at even strength and got no production from the likes of top-6 wingers Alexei Ponikarovksy, Ruslan Fedotenko, Bill Guerin, and Pascal Dupuis.
“We can’t hang our heads and just say something ‘We didn’t execute,'” Alexei Ponikarovsky said. “We just have to do a better job. We’ve got to work and win the rest of them.”
Ponikarovsky was among the players who were invisible for Pittsburgh in the game.
Ponikarovsky, Dupuis (who spent time on the 4th and 1st line) and Ruslan Fedetenko combined for just 2 shots on goal and a minus-1 rating.
The Penguins play of their third line (Matt Cooke-Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy) was also nothing to brag about. Cooke, Staal and Kennedy were a combined minus-6 in the game and outplayed by the Senators third line of Jarkko Ruutu – Chris Kelly and Chris Neil.
An erractic offensive zone pass by Staal led to a 2-on-1 rush for Neil and Ruutu that resulted in the Senators 5th goal.
Defensively for Pittsburgh their were too many breakdowns, and the Penguins failed to clear the front of the net with consistency.
Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby combined for 6 points but four points came on the power play as both players assisted on Goligoski’s late third period goal at even strength.
Top rookies Peter Regin and Erik Karlsson scored in their playoff debuts for the Senators and Karlsson, the Senators up and coming 19 year old defenseman was among the best players on the ice, paired with veteran defenseman Andy Sutton.
Among the biggest head scratchers in the game was how Pittsburgh didn’t test Brian Elliott. Elliott like Fleury, was shaky from the start and throughout the entire game.
Scouts pointed out prior to the game that he struggles with his glove hand and with his rebound control but Pittsburgh failed to generate traffic in front and get pucks to net.
If there’s anything that Pittsburgh can take out of game 1 is that Elliott appears very vulnerable in the series.
However, so does Marc Andre Fleury and his struggles appear to be with his confidence which shouldn’t be an issue for a player with his experience.
For Pittsburgh it’s back to the drawing board on Thursday.