The Pittsburgh Penguins are 0-3 to start the season for the first time since 2005.
The Canadiens came to Pittsburgh for the home opener, which proved to be a wholly forgettable game.
The home fans got to see Mike Johnston furrow his brow and try to work through exactly what has caused his team to look this feeble. Besides that, the Pens looked to be making some strides offensively.
After the Penguins made two middle-of-the-pack goalies look like superstars, it came as no surprise that Carey Price made life miserable for the Pens. Price actually looked beatable compared to Niemi and Smith, but he buckled down and made the saves late in the third when the Pens were threatening to tie it.
The same problems keep cropping up, with poor passes and turnovers ruining promising scoring chances. However, several players have started to make progress, most notably Beau Bennett.
David Perron found himself promoted to the second line with Malkin and made a little more noise. Chris Kunitz continues to look soft, getting pushed off the puck and giving up too easily on passes.
The defense, meanwhile, looks like hot garbage. The Habs’ second and third goals came on plays that weren’t even challenged by the Pens’ D-men. Only Letang looks competent right now, and even he has played imperfectly, to say the least.
The Penguins’ offensive unit regressed even further in the first period, only registering four shots through 20 minutes. Crosby finally put one on the net, which came as a relief. Beau Bennett(!) had the other three.
Let’s just say there’s still plenty of room for improvement.
Early in the second, Perron had a beautiful chance after the puck took a weird bounce off the end boards and Price found himself out of position. Perron’s legs turned to Jell-O and he flopped down, overskating the puck and fanning on the shot.
The third and fourth lines actually generated some sustained pressure in the Habs’ zone on consecutive shifts, which is encouraging. Malkin’s line built on that with a shot of its own.
Tomas Fleischmann’s line got a little going in the Pens’ zone but the puck came out to Beau Bennett. Bennett skated hard down the right side of the ice and beat two Habs to snap a shot past Price. Bob Errey noted Bennett was feeling more comfortable playing right wing, which has benefited his game.
Not to be outdone, the top line set up a quality cycle with distribution among all five black jerseys. Kessel got mauled in the slot but Kunitz kept possession and the puck quickly found its way back to Phil. Price had to make a beauty of a glove save on Kessel from point blank to keep the score tied.
On the next shift, Sprong and Plotnikov jumped on the ice at the same time and the Pens got called for the too many men penalty.
With Sprong in the box, the Habs’ PP basically had its way with the Pens’ PK unit. Pacioretty took the puck by the right dot and lasered it past Fleury’s glove as Scuderi stood uselessly nearby.
Pittsburgh got the goal right back. With Malkin, Kessel, Kunitz, Lovejoy and Letang on the ice, Phil collected the puck behind the net and got it to Letang. Letang’s quick knuckleball shot beat Price before the Habs could get in the shooting lane.
Overall, the second was the best the Penguins’ offense has looked through the first three games. Unfortunately, the momentum wouldn’t last.
Letang started off the frame with a brutal turnover to two Habs near the Pens’ net. Luckily, nothing came of the resulting scoring chance.
I realized when Subban took the puck and the announcers called his name that he had been fairly quiet. Subban’s normally a nightmare for the Pens, a slew-footing, penalty-drawing machine. Today he was far more subtle, but still effective.
Throughout the first half of the period, Fleury kept the score tied with several saves, including a lighting-quick toe save after a Maatta turnover.
Lovejoy’s defensive abilities continued to be concerning. It seems like every time Lovejoy’s unit is on the ice, the opposing team spends the whole shift in the Pens’ zone.
Soft defense again allowed Fleishmann to net the Habs’ third goal, taking a pass below the left circle and flipping it past Fleury. It would prove to be the nail in the coffin for the Pens.
With five minutes left in the game, Johnston went with the Three-Headed Monster to try to inspire some scoring. It didn’t work – the line hardly possessed the puck, let alone threatened to get a goal.
The Penguins next play the Ottawa Senators at the Consol Energy Center on Thursday, October 15.