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Snap Shots: Blues 5, Pens 1

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

Thoughts, musings, and observations from the Penguins' 5-1 loss against the Blues at PPG Paints Arena.

* Just like the Pens, the Blues are battling hard for a playoff spot. So the Pens knew their opponent was going to come out hard. 

"It's something that we talked about before the game," Pens head coach Mike Sullivan said. "We knew we were going to play a team that was going to play with a certain level of desperation. They had lost a couple in a row, they're fighting for the playoffs. They're a proud team and they're a good team. We knew we were going to have to bring a certain level of urgency right from the drop of the puck. That's just the nature of the game at this time of year. For whatever reason, the first 5-6 minutes, we didn't execute. We weren't as sharp as we needed to be."

As a result, the Pens surrendered the first goal just 4:56 into the game, and went into the first intermission down 2-0. After that, the Blues scored twice in the opening 2:31 of the second to take a 4-0 lead and the Pens just couldn't quite recover from such a big deficit so early in the game.

* Matt Murray has been playing terrific hockey for a long time now. He set a new personal high for consecutive starts when he got the nod in nine straight between Feb. 23 and Mar. 12, going 6-1-2 over that span. Since returning from a month-long injury absence in mid-December, Murray had won 20 of his past 28 starts entering today.

However, today just wasn't his day, as Murray got replaced by Casey DeSmith after surrendering those first four goals. While Murray said afterward that he needed to make those saves - "I definitely have to be better," he said - Sullivan said he wasn't pulled because of his performance.

"The goals that they scored were good goals," Sullivan said. "This is what I said to the players after the game: it's not that we gave up a lot of chances, but three of the goals were scored right from the slot. We have to do a better job as a team defending that area of the rink if we're going to win games consistently. That, for me, is the hard lesson that we learned today, is if we track back into our end zone and there's a question of control, we have to think defense-first. We have to come back and protect the scoring area. We've got to stop and make sure we defend inside out, we defend that area first." 

* The Pens did create plenty of chances on their own as the game went on, especially on the power play. Entering today, The Pens had gone 5-for-8 on the man-advantage over the last two games and recorded at least one tally in seven of the eight games they had played this month.

They weren't able to find the back of the net on the man-advantage this afternoon, but it wasn't for lack of trying. The Pens continued to move the puck well and generated some fantastic opportunities, but just couldn't get anything to fall. 

The Pens' power-play personnel have talked a lot lately about how the man-advantage is such a big part of their team's identity with all of their talent, and that it's their responsibility to come up with big, timely goals when the team needs them most. 

It's unfortunate they weren't able to do that today, especially when they were awarded back-to-back power plays early in the game. Down just 1-0 at that point, they could have swung momentum back onto their side, but missed the opportunity.

* Credit to Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington, who is one of the front-runners for the Calder Trophy as the league's best rookie. He was brilliant in the game, making over 40 saves - which included several key stops on the penalty kill and on breakaways to both Phil Kessel and Sidney Crosby.

It was a strong bounce-back effort for Binnington, who dropped his last start on Tuesday versus Arizona. He has yet to lose back-to-back games this season. 

* Before the game, the Pens honored Evgeni Malkin for recording his 1,000th NHL point in Tuesday's 5-3 win over Washington. Joining him on the ice for the ceremony were his father Vladimir, his mother Natalia, his wife Anna and their son, Nikita. 

Malkin scooped Nikita up to watch a tribute on the video board, with chants of "GENO! GENO!" ringing out when it was finished. Afterward, Sidney Crosby presented Malkin with the traditional gold-plated stick, Phil Kessel gave him a custom-forged stick holder and Kris Letang handed him his game-worn jersey from Tuesday night. 

To top it all off, Penguins owner and legend Mario Lemieux was also there to present Malkin with an engraved 1,000-point Tiffany crystal and a 1,000-point plaque.

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