There wasn’t much to write about after a listless first period between the Penguins and Panthers on Tuesday in Florida.
Did that ever change once the teams hit the ice for the second period.
The Penguins and Panthers combined for seven goals in the frame, with Pittsburgh clawing back from a 4-1 deficit to tie the game 4-4 entering the third.
The Penguins battled until the final buzzer sounded, moving the puck well on a pair of power plays in the third. But in the end, the Panthers outworked the Penguins and came away with a big 6-4 win on home ice and the two points.
The Penguins took too many penalties in this game, and the Panthers capitalized – finishing 4-for-8 on the power play. Both starters – Tomas Vokoun and Jose Theodore – got chased from their respective nets, with Marc-Andre Fleury and Scott Clemmensen coming in for relief.
"The game was kind of an onslaught at Tomas," coach Dan Bylsma said. "He saw a lot of shots. He saw the power plays repeatedly. ... it was more of a situation where our team needed the change than our goaltender needed the change."
Tomas Kopecky had a hat trick for the Panthers, while Brian Campbell and Marcel Goc also scored for Florida. James Neal, Dustin Jeffrey, Paul Martin and Chris Kunitz scored in that order for the Penguins.
The takeaway from this game is that while Pittsburgh did manage to come back from a big deficit, the Penguins weren't happy that they put themselves in that position in the first place. And looking at the game in its entirety, the Penguins were very displeased with the way they played.
"It’s disappointing," captain Sidney Crosby said after the game. "We just got outworked. It’s pretty clear. I think we did a good job of sticking with it and getting back in the game, but we didn’t deserve that one."
"We didn’t play very well," defenseman Matt Niskanen said. "We gave them way too many opportunities on the power play. I thought we did a good job of battling back and getting ourselves into the game that we didn’t really have any business being in, and we just gave it away in the third. Didn’t get to our game. We just weren’t very good at all."
The Penguins found themselves in penalty trouble Tuesday night in Florida, and the Panthers scored four power-play goals as a result.
The Panthers had EIGHT power-play chances after the second period, including two lengthy 5-on-3 advantages. And they made the Penguins, who have been among the league's strongest shorthanded teams the last few seasons, pay.
"We’re obviously going to have to take a hard look at it," top penalty killer Craig Adams said after the game. "Part of it is taking too many penalties and 5-on-3s and stuff like that. But even 5-on-4, we’re not nearly good enough. We’re going to have to figure it out."
Entering the game the Panthers had gone 0-for-17 with the man-advantage during their five-game winless streak, but that stat became meaningless as their power play woke up on Tuesday. Tomas Kopecky scored twice on the man-advantage – once on a 5-on-4 in the first period and once on a 5-on-3 in the second – by going to the dirty areas and generally annoying the heck out of Vokoun.
All-Star defenseman Brian Campbell had the time and space to wind up and put a big shot past Vokoun on the Panthers’ other 5-on-3 chance. When Marcel Goc sneaked a shot through Vokoun’s pads 31 seconds later to make it 4-1 Florida with 11:06 left in the second, Fleury came in to replace his goalie partner.
The Panthers didn’t get another power play after the second, but they didn’t need one. The Penguins were undisciplined enough through 40 minutes, and they must be better at staying out of the box and working to avoid the situations that can send them there. It's becoming a trend in their games, and it has to stop.
"We’re taking too many penalties and we’re taking too many unnecessary penalties," Bylsma said.
"I think we have to adjust a bit," Crosby added. "Most of the penalties were penalties. I think they were probably the result of the way we were playing. We were chasing, caught behind and have to take penalties sometimes. We have to do a better job of staying out of the box. I think that’s pretty clear. But I think besides that, we didn’t really deserve to win even without taking those penalties."
Another issue for the Penguins, said Bylsma, is their clears.
"In terms of the 5-on-4, I think the one area we need to be a lot better in is we haven’t gotten the clears," he said. "Turnovers on the clearing attempts leads to more zone time for the other team. It has been problematic for our PK."
Going down 4-1 on the road can seem like an impossible hole to climb out of. But the Penguins put on their rappelling gear and hoisted themselves out, as they battled back to make this one entertaining hockey game.
One minute, three seconds after Goc scored Florida’s fourth goal, Pittsburgh responded when Dustin Jeffrey wired a beautiful shot past Theodore. Then a few minutes later, right after a penalty to Chris Kunitz expired and with some magnificent work by the Penguins' PKers blocking shots and getting sticks in lanes, the Penguins scored on the transition when Paul Martin ripped a shot past Theodore to cut the lead to one.
The Penguins then scored their only power-play goal (going 1-for-2 on the night) with 40.1 seconds left in the period to tie the game 4-4. Sidney Crosby made an incredible play to read a clearing attempt and wedge his body into the boards to keep the puck in, allowing Kunitz to get a shot that trickled through Theodore.
It's worth noting that the Penguins got contributions from four different players on the scoresheet, and other guys chipped in as well away from the puck to keep this a game until the end with hits and blocked shots. Crosby's line with Neal and Kunitz went into beast mode in the waning minutes to cycle the puck around the offensive zone. Fleury was strong in relief, coming up with clutch saves – including a breakaway stop on Jonathan Huberdeau with 3:22 left in the period.
Author: Michelle Crechiolo