Paul Byron helps Canadiens race past Penguins
Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang’s intention was to pay a compliment to an opponent.
In the process, he gave a pretty good assessment of his own team’s failings in a 5-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night at PPG Paints Arena.
“It’s tough to play against a team like this,” Letang said. “They work hard. They’re on the puck. They backcheck. They don’t allow you to have two-on-ones, three-on-twos. We were not ready to play that type of game. Bottom line.”
The Penguins’ backcheck was rarely on point Saturday night. They gave up plenty of odd-man rushes. And in the estimation of their coach, they didn’t work particularly hard, either.
“Right now, we’re not even close to where we need to be,” Mike Sullivan said. “That’s what I learned from this game tonight. We’ve got a long way to go if we’re going to be the team we want to become.
“It starts with a mindset. I know we have a talented group. I know we can score. But until we learn to play defense and become harder to play against, we’re not going to control outcomes.”
In general, the upstart Canadiens looked younger, faster and hungrier from the drop of the puck.
They jumped out to a 4-0 lead, and three of those goals featured red, white and blue jerseys flying right by the black and gold.
In the first period, after a long Jack Johnson pass intended for Matt Cullen in the neutral zone didn’t connect, Paul Byron blew past Olli Maatta and steered a shot past goalie Matt Murray on the forehand.
Early in the second period, Max Domi knifed between Letang and Brian Dumoulin to cause all kinds of problems on the forecheck. He retrieved a puck behind the net and centered to Byron for his second goal of the game.
Later in the second, Joel Armia got a step ahead of a backchecking Evgeni Malkin on a two-on-two short-handed break and stretched forward to knock a Byron pass past Murray.
“They’re just mental mistakes,” Letang said. “We’re not managing the puck the right way. We have to correct those things. We’re giving those teams chances. It’s not like they’re outplaying us. We don’t respect the opponent right now, I think.”
After working hard on all aspects of his game over the summer to improve on last season’s performance, Murray has allowed 11 goals in his first two starts. That’s the exact total he allowed in his first two appearances last year.
“Yeah, it’s tough when you’re giving up this many goals, for sure. It sucks,” Murray said. “But from my point of view, I take the scoreboard out of it and try to see it objectively and how I felt. I felt like I got better today.”
The closest the Penguins came to a comeback was when Riley Sheahan knocked in the rebound of a Letang point shot to make it 4-1 late in the second period.
It gave Letang 441 career points, moving him past Paul Coffey for the top spot on the team’s all-time defenseman scoring list.
It wasn’t nearly enough to put a scare into the Canadiens, though.
“It’s Game 2,” Sullivan said. “I’m not going to sit here and overreact. But having said that, as we say to our players all the time, we’re trying to focus on the process. It’s about how you win and how you lose. More so than the result tonight, what’s concerning to me is the process.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.