Last-place teams giving Penguins fits – Tribune-Review
Updated 6 hours ago
Welcome to the 2018-19 Pittsburgh Penguins season, where the last shall be first and the first shall be last.
Jeff Carter had a goal and two assists, Anze Kopitar scored twice and Jonathan Quick made 38 saves, leading the Los Angeles Kings to a 5-2 victory over the Penguins late Saturday night.
The Penguins have played seven games this season against the four teams currently occupying last place in the league’s four divisions – Los Angeles, Chicago, Ottawa and Philadelphia. They’re 1-5-1 in those games, with the only win coming in overtime over Los Angeles at home last month.
They’ve also played seven games against the teams currently in first place – Washington, Tampa Bay, Winnipeg and Calgary. They’re 5-2-0 in those games.
It’s a trend that probably won’t be a problem in the postseason, when the Kings and Blackhawks of the world have gone home and every Penguins’ opponent will be a formidable one. For now, though, it’s not a good look.
There were plenty of reasons the Penguins lost to the Kings on Saturday night. The shorthanded goal they gave up to Kopitar in the second period was a killer. Quick was exceptional in net for the Kings while Casey DeSmith was ordinary at the other end of the ice. Defensive-zone coverage wasn’t perfect.
In the big picture, though, a lot of those mistakes probably could have been mitigated if the Penguins exhibited the same intensity and focus against a last-place team as they do when they face a team in first.
Here’s three other things we learned from Saturday night’s game.
1. Shorthanded pain
Before Saturday night, the Penguins had come away with a victory four of the last five times they gave up a shorthanded goal. That run of good fortune came to an end when a Kris Letang turnover at the blue line led to a rebound goal by Kopitar on a second-period two-on-one.
Instead of potentially tying the score, the Penguins found themselves down 3-1. They made a decent comeback bid in the third period, outshooting Los Angeles 21-5, but it was too little too late.
The Penguins have now allowed 10 shorthanded goals this season, tops in the NHL.
“It’s just carelessness,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “It’s a lack of diligence in the important parts of the rink. Even though we’re on the power play, we have to have some conscience defensively and it starts with our own puck possession. We might have to put a puck down below the goal line and fight for it. Those are decisions that are critically important, especially when you have four forwards on the ice.
“We have to start heeding the lessons. Otherwise, we’re learning the hard way right now.”
2. Goalie roles
Now that Matt Murray seems to have returned to peak form, it’s natural to expect DeSmith’s starts to be fewer and farther between than they were earlier in the season. It looks like that’s a change that might take some getting used to.
In January, Murray is 4-0-0 with a .944 save percentage. DeSmith is 0-2-0 with a .852 save percentage.
3. Guentzel’s goals
Jake Guentzel followed up a hat trick Friday night in Anaheim by scoring the Penguins’ only two goals Saturday. He got one shorthanded in the first period and one on the power play in the third.
Guentzel now leads the team with 23 goals this season, three more than second-place Sidney Crosby.
Guentzel could become the first player other than Crosby or Evgeni Malkin to lead the Penguins in goals in a full, 82-game season since Ryan Malone did it with 22 in 2003-04.
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.