Two bad games isn’t the end of the world for the Penguins

Mike Sullivan of the Pittsburgh Penguins. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Mike Sullivan of the Pittsburgh Penguins. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

A few days after allowing seven goals to the Boston Bruins, the Pittsburgh Penguins allowed eight goals to the New York Rangers in Tuesday’s 8-4 loss

If losing 7-5 to the Bruins and their buzzsaw top line was frustrating, losing 8-4 to the surging Rangers was excruciating.

In Tristan Jarry’s first game back from an unspecified injury, he was absolutely on the short end of a few bad bounces. Seriously, the Rangers’ first goal came courtesy of a pass deflecting off Mike Matheson’s stick and into the back of the net.

A rare bad pass from Sidney Crosby, combined with poor defensive effort from him and Kris Letang, led to Rangers forward Mika Zibanejad slapping a backhander past Jarry from the slot — untouched.

The Rangers’ offense is no joke, especially of late, but the Penguins’ much improved defense offered little resistance Tuesday night. Letang was often slow to get back after jumping into the play, Matheson was bullied off the puck too often, Marcus Pettersson was brutal… I think you get the point.

THREE Rangers’ goals were altered in their course by Penguins’ defensemen before finding the back of the net. That’s not the recipe for success.

There weren’t many positives among Penguins’ defensemen, at least on the defensive side.

15 goals were allowed in the nine previous games before puck drop against the Bruins Saturday. 15 goals were allowed to the Bruins and Rangers in 72 hours. Is this cause for concern?

Well, sure. However, things don’t look as terrible as they appear. The Rangers capitalized on:

  • Three beautiful power play goals (in three chances)
  • Three pucks bouncing off Pens’ defensemen on the way into the net
  • All of that while being outshot 45-25

Did the Penguins make some egregious errors? Yes. The second Rangers’ goal was a masterclass in how not to defend. Rangers’ first overall pick Alexis Lafreniere made a strong play to the net, getting a puck behind reliever Casey DeSmith, but Pettersson and Marino made a combined bonehead play to push the puck into the net behind DeSmith. Matheson was shouldered off the puck inside the Pens’ defensive zone, creating a goal for the Rangers as the Pens’ power play expired.

No, the Penguins did not defend well. But despite the two-game sample size of late, the Pens have defended well.

With the trade deadline looming, a move or two — maybe addressing the defense — will be made. I just hope it’s not an overreaction leading to a catastrophic move.

The Penguins lacked timing on Tuesday, and the Rangers are perhaps the hottest team in the league. Just hold the course.

Looking to the bright side

Generally, when outshooting a team by 20, there’s not much anticipation in the game’s outcome.

Tuesday was pretty much the same result, but not in the way you’d think. With four first period goals on 11 shots, the Rangers struck too quick and too often. The Pens were simply unable to catch up.

Even in the midst of a 15-9 losing streak, there are some things to look forward to.

First of all, the Penguins were without Evgeni Malkin, Kasperi Kapanen, Teddy Blueger while Brandon Tanev and Jarry missed a game each. Just to recap, that’s your 2C, 2W, 3C, 3W and 1G. You know, just small stuff. They’ll all be back.

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As for those who played both games, Jared McCann is good. Like, really good. He’s become an indispensable part of the Pens’ lineup at this point. Another power play courtesy of a McCann slap shot from the faceoff dot, going between the legs of three Rangers, was the lone extra man marker for the Pens.

He’s been on an absolute tear, with eight points in his last seven games. Including five goals during that span. Once Malkin and Kapanen return, McCann will look very, very nice with them.

Another encouraging note has been the surging play of Mark Jankowski and Sam Lafferty. Jankowski was awful for months, but he’s scored four points in the last two games. It still shouldn’t contribute to the pair staying in the lineup, but it’s been a continuation of strong secondary scoring.

The Penguins will have a solid offense once everyone is healthy, and that could even feature some new faces once Monday rolls around again. It’s going to be OK.

Mike Matheson is ____?

Mike Matheson is the second coming of Bobby Orr. Mike Matheson is the second coming of Jack Johnson. Mike Matheson is a maddening in-between every single night? … yes.

Matheson’s rollercoaster night experienced some breathtaking highs and some deflating lows. Can you guess on which end of the ice he thrived?

As mentioned above, Matheson directly contributed to the game’s first goal — a Rangers through pass careening off his skate and past Jarry. He also was absolutely bullied in the defensive zone, his smooth skating not enough to ward off a ferocious Rangers’ forecheck and eventual goal.

However, he also showed off just what he’s capable of on the offensive side of the ice.

Matheson picked up a puck in the neutral zone, skated into the Rangers’ zone and fired a bullet top shelf — with the help of a deflection off Rangers defenseman Jacob Trouba’s stick — past goalkeeper Igor Shesterkin.

In the third period, Matheson collected a Letang rebound at the red line, skated behind the net — protecting the puck on the backhand — and fired a precision pass to Jake Guentzel in the slot. Of course, Guentzel fired a wicked one-timer past Shesterkin.

Matheson is a modern day Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He’s capable of marvelous feats of skating, impressive shots and all-around stellar offensive production. He’s also capable of being completely out of position defensively, being pushed off the puck too easily and allowing his man to sneak past.

I, for one, love the contributions Matheson makes for the Penguins. Sure, he’s not perfect, but I’d much, much rather have a puck-moving defenseman who can alter the course of a game than a stalwart defensive defenseman who can’t actually play defense.

I don’t love Matheson’s deal, but that cannot be helped.

Jason Zucker isn’t bad, but he’s looked bad

It’s time to wonder if Zucker will ever actually develop chemistry with the Penguins.

Zucker is a nice guy, seems like a great teammate and is a very good hockey player. He just hasn’t fit with the Penguins, and that’s starting to become a problem.

In four games since returning from a lower-body injury, Zucker has just one point. In the seven games prior to that injury, he recorded just two points — a goal and an assist in the same game. Eight points in 21 games aren’t going to cut it for Zucker.

He’s been a disappointing acquisition so far, and it’s time to wonder if the Penguins should move him again. Obviously, the Pens would be selling low on him, but if he can help bring in an actual improvement somewhere in the lineup, you gotta listen.

If Zucker can net a strong third line center, you pull the trigger immediately. Every single day.

The Penguins will get another crack at the Rangers Thursday night, puck drop scheduled for 7:00 p.m. AT&T SportsNet will provide the local coverage, and ESPN+ will provide the national coverage.

Next. Read up on what grades the Penguins' forwards have earned this season. dark

What are your thoughts on the Penguins’ two game struggles? Are you worried about them heading forward?