Sometime in late March while the Penguins are in the midst of the hunt for the Atlantic Division title or likely at worst a playoff spot someone somewhere will wax philosophical about how the games in October are worth as much as the games in April and they’ll be right. The Penguins dropped their third attempt to win their first game ever at the Consol Energy Center Wednesday night to the still undefeated Toronto Maple Leafs. A slow start put the Pens down quickly and breakdowns in their own zone cost them all night.
Two of the four goals scored by the Leafs came directly as a result of giveaways exiting the defensive zone from defensemen’s sticks. Callup Andrew Hutchinson looked as if he had never been acquainted with the idea of defense all night and apart from Paul Martin the Pens D-corps struggled to get out of their own zone and start the breakout from the moment the puck dropped. The biggest sign of this was the Penguins inability to even gain the Maple Leaf zone long enough to register a shot (which went in) until Chris Kunitz tipped in an Evgeni Malkin shot on the Powerplay at the 11:27 mark. The other reason the Penguins didn’t register a shot until half of the first frame was gone? Shot selection. The Penguins were taking shots that the Leafs were easily blocking. In a span of roughly one minute from 12:47 to 13:52 in the first the Leafs blocked four shots.
For the second time in as many home games a defensive zone faceoff loss resulted directly in an opposition goal. Former Penguin Mike Zigomanis beat Sidney Crosby and fed the biscuit to Luke Schenn who passed to Francois Beauchemin for a slapper that found twine. The Penguins are hurting in the faceoff circle. Only Max Talbot, Mark Letestu and Crosby have taken more than 10 draws so far and noone is over 56% except Sid. Max is only winning 35.9% of his. It’s a trend to watch as the Pens have lost each of their games by 1 goal.
Now the world is rejoicing that the Penguins Powerplay notched a marker. Look I am happy it went in but honestly it was a lucky tip in. The traffic in front is good but I still witness the same problem that has been plaguing the Pens PP since the start of the regular season. Sid and Geno are in love with the idea of finding each other for the pretty play. They are passing circle to circle through two and sometimes three defenders’ sticks and the pass is rarely making it. When it does it is bouncing or on edge from not making it cleanly and the shooter is having to settle it or feed it to his stick from his foot giving the defending penalty kill time to close and force a pass away or a bad shot. I know Head Coach Dan Bylsma has said he wants more shots and less pass-pass-pass on the PP but either the players are not getting the message or they are ignoring it. At one point during the game I advocated splitting Sid and Geno up on the man advantage for a game or two to send the message. It’s not like they are hooking up anyway.
After defending Marc-Andre Fleury for two days after Brent Johnson secured the first Penguins win of the season in New Jersey this past Monday he failed to impress me completely for he first time in his three starts. Flower looked nervous and out of position for the entire first and much of the second period. In that second frame he gave up the 2nd (tying), 3rd (go ahead), and 4th (insurance) goals. The big problem is at the time of the fourth goal, Toronto had only registered 10 shots. That’s .600 Sv% for those of you without an abacus. Regardless of the poor defensive play in front Fleury should have realized he was on an island early and buckled it down. He didn’t. With both Zybnek Michalek and Brooks Orpik out of the lineup MAF knew coming into this one he was going to have to be special. He wasn’t. That is not the makeup of a championship netminder. Now I am not advocating his replacement. However his play is not getting better. It’s getting worse. Fleury’s numbers for the year after the loss Wednesday night? 0-3-0 with a 3.41 GAA and a .853 Sv% on 68 Shots Against. He’s let in 10 goals in 3 games.
To the Penguins credit they played a solid 3rd period. It took Toronto over half of the 3rd to register their first shot of the frame and as they locked it down to hold onto the one goal lead after Captain Crosby brought it to within one with his first of the year the Pens finally got to their style of hockey. The problem is that the Pens’ style of play needs them to put that kind of effort out in the first period and they aren’t getting it done. Not in any of their contests so far this year.
The high point of the night for Penguins fans was when 7th Defenseman Deryk Engelland dropped the gloves in the first period with Toronto and NHL-wide heavyweight Colton Orr. We were all pleasantly surprised when Orr was caught by a right hand from Engelland and fell to the ice. Orr noticeably hit his head and did not return. I loved hearing Down Goes Orr.
- Sidney Crosby did notch his first of the year in the third period. Ben Lovejoy and Matt Cooke assisted.
- Talbot registered his first goal as well near the end of the first period from Cooke and Tyler Kennedy
- Fleury ended up facing only 14 shots total.
- Geno had a Penalty Shot opportunity in the late 2nd period and is still 0-fer his career.
- Bill Guerin was in attendance at the game following a surprise visit to practice. He’s not in game shape so please stop that rumor.
- Paul Martin and Alex Goligoski now share the Pens point lead with 4.
- The Pens only have 6 players on their roster who are positive +/- (Goose, Cooke, TK, Kris Letang Max, and Benny Lava).
- Mike Comrie was a healthy scratch for the game after only registering 1 shot in his prior 8 period of work.
- Jordan Staal and Aaron Asham both worked out at Southpointe Thursday morning. Staal did so in full gear.
About the Author: Pittsburgh Penguins/NHL Hockey Blogger, Father, Husband, IT Geek, former player, and NHL 11 EASHL addict. Oz has been cited for his work on XM Radio's NHL Home Ice, Penguins HD Radio, and Y!'s Puck Daddy Blog. Email: email@example.com Twitter.com/ozman51 Xbox: ozman51