About an hour ago
It’s only a game.
It was undoubtedly the phrase that paid off in the Penguins’ locker room following Saturday’s 3-2 overtime loss to Montreal. It’s only a game.
The Penguins lost their first playoff game to the New York Islanders last year, also in OT. It was just a game. Then the penguins were swept away.
Saturday was, in fact, only one match. It is also the seventh in a series of consecutive playoff losses. But this is just a game.
The Penguins lost to the 24th seed, the only team that really doesn’t deserve to be in the playoffs, who dumped players at the trade deadline because they didn’t see themselves at range as a contender, and who would arguably prefer to have a 12.5% chance (by lottery) at the next consensus pick # 1 in the next draft than to win this series.
It was no accident. The Canadians were worthy winners. They beat the Penguins 12-7 in OT. Jeff Petry’s winning goal was no accident. Montreal goalie Carey Price made 39 saves, but has only been tested occasionally. The Penguins’ 18-stroke first period produced no goals and many easy saves. Traffic in front of Price was minimal throughout the night.
The Penguins did not play winning hockey in the playoffs. They played without a male check, the symbol of hockey in August – like the Summer Recreation League at Ice Castle. Incredibly easy to play.
Will they bounce back and win the series? Maybe, maybe not. In NHL history, teams that win the first game of a best-of-five win the series 88% of the time. (The best of five was used for the first round of the 1980-86 playoffs. That’s a small sample.)
It’s just a game, so the Penguins won’t change much for Game 2. But they should.
Conor Sheary shouldn’t be playing with Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel. He makes the line too small and she plays too wide. Attacking the down rush is the only option because low grinding doesn’t work. Guentzel was flat on the ice more than the puck. It’s like he’s transformed into Sheary.
Yeah, I know, “Sid and the kids. Catchy name. It was then. It’s now.
Patric Hornqvist is an option. Crosby hates his lack of speed in the neutral zone. But Hornqvist forces Crosby to work lower and share the physical burden. Crosby shouldn’t be the tallest, most physical player in his line.
Jason Zucker is an option. He worked well with Crosby when he acquired Minnesota. He’s only 5-foot-10, 174 pounds, but he plays more recklessly, more in the middle of the ice, and can’t be knocked down with a duster.
Jared McCann, Patrick Marleau and Hornqvist’s third line was useless, as evidenced by the fact that it plays less than the fourth line – which didn’t exactly have the fishing of a game either: all three less – 2.
Marleau should be struck out in favor of Sam Lafferty or Evan Rodrigues, and should never have been acquired. What does a team full of Stanley Cup winners need with a 40-year-old who was among multiple contenders and never won? What does he add? He’s here for a lifetime achievement award. He does not help.
We are often told that the Penguins are built on speed. So play the fastest guys.
The power play is a mess, as analyzed earlier in this space. It was 1 for 7 on Saturday and couldn’t score five on three. Try something else. Nothing else. But start by putting a right handed shot on the left half wall. Simplicity will follow.
Matt Murray did not lose Saturday’s game. But he didn’t win it either. Murray made some big saves. But he knocked down too many pucks he should have controlled. He was often too deep in the net.
Murray is not expected to be retired based on Saturday’s performance. Unless you think Tristan Jarry should have started in the first place. Maybe this change would affect a spark. Penguins need a spark.
Fans have their predetermined scapegoats: Jack Johnson took to the heat on Twitter for Saturday’s loss. He was minus-2 and didn’t cover himself in glory.
Some are above criticism. But maybe they shouldn’t be. Not anymore.
Crosby and Evgeni Malkin reunited for a point on Saturday. This is unacceptable.
In those seven straight playoff losses, Crosby had two goals and two assists. Malkin has one goal and three assists. This is unacceptable.
Mike Sullivan is a brilliant and accomplished coach. But, like Dan Bylsma before him, his stubbornness could get him in trouble. It is more important to win than to be right.
If the Penguins come out early in these playoffs – and particularly in Montreal – their fighting streak is very likely to be over. It is no one’s fault. Nothing lasts eternally.
But if I was one of the key tenets, I wouldn’t consider a single game on Saturday and maintain the status quo. The status quo is not good enough and hasn’t been for some time.
Listeners to my program may recall I said that as the playoffs approached, the Penguins were the best team on paper. Was I overreacting then, or am I overreacting now? We will find out soon enough. But it is the profession that I chose.
Mark Madden Columns | Penguins / NHL | Sports