The Pittsburgh Penguins couldn’t continue their winning streak, as they fell to the Detroit Red Wings Thursday night in overtime 5-4.
At first glance, it looked like the Penguins were dominating the Red Wings in the first period. But, in the end, they only had outshot the Wings 11-to-eight in the first. While the Penguins produced a lot of offensive zone time during the period, their chances were limited by the Red Wings, who were consistentlyclogging up the middle.
Pittsburgh was given an opportunity on the power play, but failed to capitalize. Surrendering shorthanded chances, Pittsburgh had a communication breakdown at the 7:21-mark. Young defensemen Robert Bortuzzo and Simon Despres allowed Detroit’ forward Johan Franzen to drive the net, and gave time and space to seasoned veteran Daniel Alfredsson, who walked in and sniped it past Pens’ goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
That marked the only scoring in the first period, and the Penguins went to the locker room at the end of the first down 1-0, but out-hit Detroit 12-to-nine.
The second period is where the game began to take a bizarre turn of events.
Pens’ defenseman Matt Niskanen was called for boarding – which was questionable – just seconds after a no-call on Detroit that nearly mirrored Niskanen’s sin-bin. And the Red Wings made them pay. The Pens’ gave up a rare goal to Detroit’ forward Gustav Nyquist, who banked a wrister off of the a sprawling Rob Scuderi at the 4:35-mark.
Pens’ forwards James Neal and Chris Kunitz sequentially took a pair of undisciplined penalties, giving total momentum to the Red Wings. Nonetheless, the Pens’ penalty killers were up to the task, and eventually drew a penalty to set up their lethal mad-advantage unit. However, the Penguins continued their undisciplined ways by garnering another penalty.
At this point, the Pens’ top players were not seeing much ice-time, but that would all change.
At the 15:17-mark of the second, Pittsburgh commenced a momentum change when Kunitz threw the puck at the net from the blue-line, and forward Lee Stempniak, amidst the dirty area, tipped it past Wings’ netminder Jimmy Howard. Just 45-seconds later, Evgeni Malkin’s line.
On a set face-off play taken by forward Jussi Jokinen, Malkin picked up the puck, cut back across the grain and fed James Neal, who was anticipating the pass. Neal failed to get a clean shot off and sent the puck bouncing around Howard like rubber ball in a cement room, to which Malkin swooped in and swatted a backhand shot off of Howard’s pads and into the net.
Malkin wasn’t done yet.
Detroit’ forward Tomas Tatar took a holding penalty, and then forward Landon Ferraro shot the puck over the glass, putting Malkin and the Penguins on a two man-advantage power play. The Pens’ worked the puck nicely with precision passing to set up Malkin on the point, who he buried it past a screened Howard with a heavy slap-shot. That tally sent the Pens down the tunnel with a one goal lead. They also, yet again, out-shot and out-hit the Red Wings 15-to-10 and nine-to-3, respectively.
In the third period, the bad breaks and odd plays/calls continued.
It started with Pittsburgh working on the power play via a hooking call. While on the powerplay, a Detroit player lost his stick, and his teammate pushed it up to him along the ice. Still unable to view his stick, unaware, it rested at his feet. Neal then pushed the stick out of his way, causing the referees’ to call him for interference, making it four-on-four.
Almost half way through the period, the Red Wings began a quick transition out of their zone, and two Pens’ defensemen – Rob Scuderi and Olli Maatta – collided with each other. Because Maatta was knocked down on the play, it sent Detroit in on a partial two-on-zero with Scuderi desperately diving to take away the cross-crease pass, however, Tatar potted it.
Then, at the 12:17-mark, Detroit took the lead once again when Todd Bertuzzi just threw the puck to the net and saw it ricochet off of Maatta and past Fleury. That marked the second goal of the night that had caromed off a Pens’ blueliner and into the net. The Pens, desperate for a goal, continued to battle in order to tie the game up and at the 14:17-mark, the hard work paid off for forward Craig Adams.
Forwards Brian Gibbons and Brandon Sutter got the puck deep into the Red Wings’ zone and won a couple of battles to gain puck possession. Sutter then quickly moved behind the net, and made a beautiful dish to a wide open Adams in front of the net, who buried his first goal in 65 games to tie it at four. A score from the fourth-line is rare – especially one from Adams.
More strange happenings transpired at the 16:14-mark when David Legwand took a five-minute major penalty for butt-ending Evgeni Malkin.
Malkin, who was working as a net front presence, got wrapped up with Legwand and inadvertently knocked his helmet off with his stick. Legwand, taking exception to that, as the play exited the zone, butt-ended Malkin in the abdomen region. However, the Penguins squandered a good portion of the five-minute power play, and the penalty carried into overtime.
Still on the power play, the Pens’ continued to move the puck with confidence and took quality shots, but Howard and the Red Wings’ penalty killers stood their ground, killing off the five-minute major. The Pens were still buzzing with momentum, and Malkin, with mass jump in his step, continued to create chances in overtime.
That was until the final seconds of overtime.
With everyone in the arena and watching at home thinking this may go to a shootout, it was not to be.
Evgeni Malkin, still doing everything he can to help his team, leaped into the air like a outfielder preventing snagging a home run ball back into play, and tried grab the clearing attempt. Missing the puck and getting taken out of the play, Maatta was faced with a three-on-one rush coming his way.
Doing everything he could to take away time and space, Scuderi was skating back hard to help out Maatta. And once he did, the man who began tonight’s scoring, Alfredsson, ended the game with a wrist shot that bounced off Scuderi and into the net with 0.4-seconds left in the game.
Pittsburgh outshot Detroit 43-30 in the game, but came up just short. An absolute heartbreaker.
The Penguins came out looking like the team we all expected, and it was a matter of time until they cracked the defensive strategy of a depleted Red Wings’ squad.
And they did.
Fleury was excellent tonight – as he has been all season – despite the score. Fleury continues to give Pittsburgh a chance by making the saves that he should, with handful of spectacular ones as well. However, power play, miscommunication in the defensive zone, poor positioning in the defensive zone, and the constant need to be on the penalty kill is not how a team of this caliber is supposed to be helping out their goalie.
Tonight was a prime example of what infuriates coaches. When players take what we call “selfish penalties,” – as James Neal, Chris Kunitz, and Jussi Jokinen did – it puts the teams in a tight spot. Because those three committed awful penalties, they forced the team’s shorthanded unit to see more action than they should, and, in turn, kept Sidney Crosby and Malkin off the ice. However, the talk about the penalties the Pens’ take has never been a discussion because of how good the penalty-kill is.
Well now, the power play units have gone to sleep, and it’s frustrating to see top-line skaters taking so many penalties. If Kunitz, Malkin, and Neal lowered their time in the box, even by a fraction, just imagine how much higher their point production would be by seeing more quality ice-time.
Out of the team’s top-4 point getters – Crosby, Malkin, Kunitz, Neal – Crosby has run away with the lead.
Yes, he has played in more games than Malkin and Neal, but he has also taken less penalties. There is a fine line between playing tough and playing dumb. Kunitz and Neal cross that line far too often and it’s beginning to bite the team in the behind.
Wake up guys, playoffs are right around the corner.
They’ll have a chance to redeem themselves on Saturday against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The game can be seen on the ROOT Network, and is set to start at 1 p.m.