Michelle Crechiolo gives her three impressions from the press box of the Penguins' 2-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes.
1. POWER PLAYS
Tonight came down to the man-advantage, as all three goals were scored on the power play. The Pens took three stick penalties in the first 15 minutes, and the Hurricanes made them pay by converting two of those opportunities. The Pens have to be more disciplined, now more than ever as they’re struggling to win hockey games. They can’t spend six of 20 minutes with their top guys on the bench. And they can’t tax their penalty killers, especially with the way the Pens have struggled shorthanded. I talked to Matt Cullen about that after the game, and trust me, they know they haven’t been performing the way they’ve needed to and it’s weighing on them. But the Pens also have to be better about staying out of the box.
- On their end, the Pens broke a 7-game drought on the power play with arguably the best movement – in terms of both pucks and bodies – we’ve seen from them all year on the man-advantage. It’s one thing for them to be passing it around the perimeter. It looks pretty, but it’s easy to defend. If the players themselves are moving as well, that’s incredibly difficult to cover. And that’s exactly what the Pens did. Head coach Mike Sullivan tried a new combination of Trevor Daley at the point, Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel on the walls, Patric Hornqvist at the net and Evgeni Malkin in the slot, and their mindset, as the captain said, was “trying to move and take the shots when they’re there.” They did that, and Malkin scored as a result.
2. NO PUCK LUCK
The Pens’ offensive struggles continued as they couldn’t score at even-strength. They now have just six goals in their last five games. But it wasn’t for lack of trying, as they fired 38 shots at Cam Ward and the effort and energy was there. “I think as a team, we generated a lot of scoring chances, as good as it’s been since I’ve been here,” Sullivan said. “I don’t think we got rewarded for our efforts, but I think I see signs of improvement in a lot of areas. I thought we limited Carolina’s chances at our end of the rink. I thought our power play was better. It was much more proactive puck movement and movement with a purpose and we scored. For me there’s a lot of positive things to look at, to take out of this game, and that’s what I told our players. My experience of going through these types of circumstances has been sometimes you feel like you’re sludging uphill, but when you continue to try to improve your game and play the right way, it starts to turn. You may not get the result right away, but it does turn. I think I feel better about our team tonight because I thought it was a pretty solid effort on a lot of fronts.”
3. MURRAY DEBUTS
Tonight we finally got a chance to see exciting young netminder Matt Murray, who's been the AHL's best goaltender, make his debut at the NHL level and I thought he did well in a tough situation. The Pens didn’t make it easy on him, giving Carolina three power plays in the first 15 minutes of his debut. But even though he looked slightly nervous early on – which is understandable – and surrendered two power-play goals, I thought he responded nicely. He completely settled down as the game went on and looked calm and collected, making a number of big saves to keep the Pens in the game.
“It’s his first game. Maybe he was a little bit nervous but he did a great job,” Malkin said. “He stopped the puck. It’s two power-play goals but one was against a tough defenseman and the other is a breakaway. But he did a great job. We need to support him.”