The Pittsburgh Penguins lost their fourth straight decision on Wednesday Night as the Chicago Blackhawks scored four times in the opening twenty minutes. From there, they would coast to a relatively easy win as injuries and untimely goal tending continue to plague the club down the stretch.
The Penguins sit in third place and continue to trail the Columbus Blue Jackets by two points. The Division title is almost assuredly out of grasp as the Washington Capitals now hold a seven point advantage.
The four game losing streak is the longest since the five game slide right at the start of Mike Sullivan’s run as coach.
Let’s get the obvious elephant in the room out-of-the-way; the injuries will never be admitted as an excuse…..but they are now. You cannot continue to play games without high-caliber talent such as Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and others and expect the Scott Wilson’s and Cameron Gaunce’s of the roster to produce with more minutes.
Justin Schultz was nearly added to that list as he took a shot off of his foot in the third period, but was able to return to the bench and the ice after a quick absence.
The best you can hope for is, in 10 days or so, when the games matter, the lineup will be healthy and rested. A playoff spot is earned, you will play good teams no matter what. Remember, these are still the defending Stanley Cup Champions, and in a weird way, the rest that these injuries are giving some players, may be a blessing in disguise.
As for the game on Wednesday, you just felt that a fast start was needed. If for nothing else but a shot of confidence. The Pens have struggled offensively during the four game slide and the last thing they wanted to do was fall be-
The goal was a great rush and superior speed by Patrick Kane. As he started behind the net, he reversed his pass back out front to Panarin who was able to get enough of the puck that it bounced off of a fooled Marc Andre Fleury and in the net.
After killing off an untimely high sticking minor to Scott Wilson, the Pens looked to have life. But after killing another penalty, this time to Ian Cole, the Hawks would go on a run for the rest of the period that would decide the game.
Richard Panik (at the Disco) would find himself all alone in the slot and bury a feed from Nick Schmaltz at 14:39. Schmaltz was a Penguin killer in the two games with Chicago this year as he was instrumental in their win in Chicago a month or so ago.
From there, the Penguins defense would get run out of the building. Whether it was bad decisions on pinching in the play, or just terrible positioning and execution, the Pens would allow FIVE odd man breaks against. Chicago would score on two of them.
First would be Marcus Kruger, after taking a nifty one-touch pass from Kane, he would be Fleury far-side post under the blocker arm for a 3-0 lead. This was a bad goal for MAF, it appeared that Kruger wanted to put the puck on net for a rebound to kick out. But it went in, regardless and the large numbers of Hawks fans in attendance were having their own little party at PPG.
After the goal by Kruger at 19:05, you were thinking that the locker room would be a place of screaming and yelling and a swift kick in the butt, but the Hawks weren’t done, and the dagger was delivered by an old friend and foe alike.
Marian Hossa would beat Fleury again on an odd-man-rush just 39 seconds later and that was all she wrote. The reality of the situation both on the night and for the playoffs began to take hold.
It looks like a series with Columbus is now in the cards. Barring them, unexpectedly catching the Caps.
Pittsburgh would mostly outplay and outshoot the Hawks over the final 40 minutes, but the damage was done. this was a Chicago team that had been embarassed by Florida 7-0, and then blew a 4-1 lead to Tampa Bay before losing in overtime in their last two games. You had the feeling Chicago was a ticked off team, and the Penguins were ripe for the picking.
Tanner Kero would get a breakaway tally and Bryan Rust would get the Penguins on the board in the third. The result by then was never in doubt.
Fleury would finish the night making 31 saves on 36 shots. No surprise that he stayed in and finished the game as Matt Murray had struggled in his last few starts as well. Despite Murray having some glove hand issues, after watching Wednesday’s performance, you have to consider the team in front of both keepers now as part of the problem.
Corey Crawford picked up the win while stopping 31 of 32 pucks as the Blackhawks recorded a franchise record 24th road win on the year. Chicago also jumps ahead of the Penguins in the NHL overall standings 105 points to 103. this becomes a factor should the two teams go on and meet in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Patrick Kane, with his two assists also jumped ahead of Sidney Crosby in the NHL scoring race as both men still trail Connor McDavid.
Chicago was 0 for 4 on the man advantage….Pittsburgh was 0 for 2
The Penguins travel to New York and MSG to take on the Rangers. This will begin a stretch of 5 games in 8 days for Pittsburgh
Chicago hosts Columbus in the Windy City on Friday.
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