Penguins penalty kill fails again in loss to Canucks
Sometimes you've got to laugh to keep from crying.
Perhaps that's what goalie Matt Murray was thinking after the Penguins dropped a 5-2 decision Wednesday night at PPG Paints Arena.
The Vancouver Canucks scored some funny goals, Murray said, especially one that was preceded by Phil Kessel turning a puck over because he skated backwards into a broken stick that was lying on the ice.
“Pretty much all the goals they got were kind of hilarious if you think about it,” Murray said. “That one with the broken stick and off of Phil, that's about as unlucky as you can get. For sure, we need to have a better start and maybe it doesn't get to that point, but you've got to look at some of those goals and just laugh.”
Regardless of the comedic value of the goals they allowed, the Penguins aren't in a good place right now.
They've lost four of their last six and are stuck in a mass of teams in the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff picture. They've got a tough back-to-back ahead this weekend, visiting Boston on Friday before hosting Tampa Bay on Saturday.
“The answers are in that dressing room,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “These guys are good players. We've just got to become a more determined hockey team, to be harder to play against five-on-five, and to make sure that when we do get the opportunities around the net, we've got to bear down.”
Most pressingly, the Penguins continue to have problems on the penalty kill. They've given up two power-play goals in five of their last six games.
Sullivan was critical of his penalty killers after a 2-1 loss to Chicago last Saturday. He was more charitable this time around, agreeing that the goals were somewhat fluky in nature.
“I don't think our penalty kill got any sort of puck luck tonight,” Sullivan said. “That didn't help them.”
Still, giving up two power-play goals is no way to win a hockey game, and the pair Vancouver got Wednesday provided a particularly painful kick to the gut.
The first came about seven minutes into the second period when Derrick Pouliot's shot from the left point that seemed destined to sail 5 feet wide of the net instead hit Brian Dumoulin's leg and bounced into the cage.
Pouliot was a former first-round draft pick who never panned out with the Penguins before being shipped unceremoniously to Vancouver in September. The goal came with two seconds left in the penalty.
“Regardless of how it went in, it's still a power-play goal and it still gave them momentum,” Dumoulin said. “That's something we've still got to work on.”
Less than three minutes later, rookie star Brock Boeser added another power-play goal on a rocket from the left faceoff circle that looked to take a deflection off defenseman Ian Cole.
It took a tight, one-goal edge and turned it into a comfortable 4-1 lead for the Canucks.
Vancouver took a 2-1 lead in the first when Boeser counter-attacked off a Riley Sheahan shot over the crossbar on a rebound bid from the slot and Loui Eriksson cashed in the rebound of a Thomas Vanek shot after Kessel's mishap with the broken stick.
“We gave them a couple of freebies there,” Dumoulin said. “Obviously, it's tough to win like that. It's always tough to come back. I think we gotta start trying to get that first goal instead of having to come back in a lot of these games.”
The Penguins played without Evgeni Malkin because of an upper-body injury, with Jake Guentzel taking his place as second-line center and on the first power-play unit.
Guentzel thrived in his new special teams role, scoring twice.
In the first period, he took a pass from Kessel as he entered the offensive zone with speed and converted a rebound of his own breakaway attempt. In the third, a Kessel centering pass banked in off Guentzel's skate.
Sullivan was less impressed with Guentzel's even-strength work, especially in comparison to Crosby's line, which had a significant possession advantage despite failing to score.
“We were hoping we would get a little more consistent threats from Jake's line,” Sullivan said. “That's not a criticism of Jake in particular. Overall, playing the center-ice position, I thought he was fine.”