Yohe: Penguins deserved a better fate against Kraken, but scoring woes remain

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The Pittsburgh Penguins were very clearly the better team Thursday against the Seattle Kraken. They deserved a better fate.

Their fate will soon be sealed, however, with more setbacks.

The Penguins’ three-game winning streak came to an end thanks to a Philipp Grubauer gem as the goaltender was easily the difference in Seattle’s 2-0 victory.

Carrying play from the game’s opening minutes, the Penguins tilted the ice all night, playing with a speed and passion that hasn’t been evident at many junctures this season.

They fired at will in the first period and continued their dominance for 60 minutes.

But they couldn’t score, which has been a story all season. The Penguins have been a very good five-on-five team, but their inability to finish has been a concern, even though they had a mini goal explosion over the past week.

Those finishing issues — or maybe it was simply a brilliant performance from Grubauer — came to a head on the second game of a four-game road trip. It won’t get any easier for the Penguins, who play against a resurgent Calgary team Saturday at the Saddledome before chasing Connor McDavid and the Oilers 24 hours later Sunday.

The Penguins played one of their finest periods of the season in the opening 20 minutes Thursday, only to depart to the dressing room down a goal because of Grubauer’s brilliance and a fluky Oliver Bjorkstrand goal.

Through two periods, the Penguins had 60 shot attempts compared to 29 for the Kraken.

Yet the Penguins, playing without their two best wingers in the injured Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust, simply couldn’t hit the back of the net.

The Penguins are eight points out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, though they have three games in hand on the Philadelphia Flyers for third place in the Metropolitan Division. The Flyers have a seven-point cushion.

Ten postgame observations

• It’s funny saying this because the Penguins didn’t score and we associate Erik Karlsson with offensive output and the production of goals.

But I’ll say it anyway: I thought Karlsson played his best game as a member of the Penguins. Every facet of his game was absolutely clicking throughout the night.

His skating was beautiful, his decision making was very assertive and crisp, his ability to keep pucks in at the blue line was spot on and, really, it was beautiful to watch.

I’ve been critical of Karlsson on numerous occasions this season largely because, given his salary and credentials, I don’t think he’s been good enough. Well, he was very good against Philadelphia and Vancouver. But this performance was next level. It really was. If Karlsson keeps playing at this level, the Penguins are a much different team.

Maybe this is simply a nice run he’s on, or maybe he’s starting to find his game as a member of the Penguins. Or maybe being reunited with Marcus Pettersson has made a real difference.

Whatever the case may be, my biggest impression of this game — and again, the Penguins scored nary a goal — was how exceptional Karlsson was. You couldn’t take your eyes off him.

• On the flip side, I didn’t like Kris Letang’s game all that much.

Letang has been consistently outstanding all season, but he just looked a little off all night.

This was hardly why the Penguins lost, mind you. Still, given the Penguins’ level of desperation, they need both of their star defensemen playing at a high level almost every night.

Offensive chances stalled on a couple of occasions because of Letang looking just a little off.

• On the surface, it’s quite simple to proclaim the Penguins were “goalied” in this game.

Then again, this has happened so much this season that I’m often hesitant to give opposing goaltenders that much credit.

Still, I have to throw significant praise on Grubauer. His rebound control got better and better as the game elapsed. It was a really fine performance.

• Tristan Jarry nearly matched him.

While there was no doubt the Penguins were the better team, Seattle still enjoyed a number of Grade A looks, especially when the game started to open up in the second period.

He allowed only a fluky goal and a power-play goal late in the third period.

Jarry endured a rough outing against the Flyers on Sunday, but he’s been very good lately and terrific all season.

For all of the Penguins’ issues, goaltending isn’t one of them.

• There was a sequence late in the second period when Evgeni Malkin looked to be taking over the game.

And he almost did.

Malkin had his legs going in an enormous way, dominating shift after shift. He had one great look but missed the net. For a few minutes, he looked like the Malkin of old. It was something to see.

Like his teammates, though, Malkin was unable to score and looked to tire just a smidge in the third period. He also took a physical beating throughout the game.

• Sidney Crosby had plenty of looks, especially on the power play, and didn’t score but was otherwise pretty effective.

One thing I’ve noticed about Crosby in recent games is how physical he has been. The Penguins, of course, are anything but a physical team. I’d suggest they’re by far the NHL’s most polite team to play against.

When a big hit has been thrown in recent games, however, Crosby is the one dishing out most of the punishment. Crosby has always been incredibly strong and never avoids physical contact.

But I can’t remember a time when he’s been this assertive in dishing out hits.

• Lars Eller has been a very good player for the Penguins this season and is a rare commodity because of the exceptional attention to detail and intelligence in his game.

I have to say, though, Eller has been guilty of a few uncharacteristically bad plays in recent weeks.

Late in the third period, Eller took a very lazy, thoughtless penalty. The high-sticking call was accurate and resulted in the Alex Wennberg power-play goal that put the Penguins away.

You just can’t take a penalty in that spot.

• Reilly Smith was benched in the third period. I actually thought he was OK in the opening 20 minutes, but the coaching staff wasn’t thrilled with his work.

We saw Eller on Crosby’s left wing for much of the third period.

With Rust and Guentzel out of the lineup, Smith would logically be expected to pick up some of the slack. He hasn’t.

One has to wonder if he’s in his final days with the Penguins.

• You can’t say these Penguins don’t care. The effort level, much like two nights earlier in Vancouver, was off the charts. This is a desperate hockey team and not one that has given up on the season.

The problem is, when you play 82 games, sometimes you’re going to lose games you should win. This was one of those games. Problem is, the Penguins can’t really afford many of those games from here on out.

• Jeff Carter played in career game No. 1,300.

The Penguins surprised Carter by flying his wife and children to the game to celebrate the accomplishment.

I realize the Penguins are in the business of winning hockey games, but I have to take a moment to appreciate the gesture. The Penguins treat their players very well.

Carter didn’t have a reputation for being a consummate professional when he was young and in Philadelphia. Funny thing about life is, we can get better as we age. In that regard, we must give Carter credit.

No, he’s not the player he once was. Not even close. But he’s a pro, and the Penguins would be very wise to include him in some kind of role in the organization when he retires.

(Photo of Philipp Grubauer making one of his 33 saves: Steph Chambers / Getty Images)





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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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