All of the Penguins flaws on display in latest worst loss of the season

The 2022-23 Pittsburgh Penguins have had about six games this season, all of which could be counted as their worst loss of the season.

That game, in which they lost four goals in the first half, led to the Detroit Red Wings.

Pretty much every game against the New York Islanders.

Lost at home to San Jose the night before bye week and the All-Star game.

Absolutely embarrassed at home by the Edmonton Oilers.

Then came the king of them on Tuesday night, losing 6-4 to the Montreal Canadiens in a game that should have been perfectly primed for a win. It’s the kind of game that should have been as close to automatic two points as the NHL can get. The Canadians, bottom of the NHL rankings, with most of their best players off the lineup and injured, came on after losing seven straight games, including an embarrassing 8-4 loss 24 hours earlier. They were in the second half of a back-to-back game and had to travel from Montreal to Pittsburgh while the Penguins sat at home, resting, being part of a five-game homestand and battling for a playoff spot .

Yes, everyone in the NHL is good. Yes, any team can beat any team on any night. Yes, it was an obvious trap game, being wedged between three big games against the New York Rangers.

But this game should be a win. These games against the non-playoff teams must be won because you have to assume that you could lose one or even both of these away games against the Rangers.

Taking a 2-0 lead in the first four minutes of the game seemed like a good start, something the Penguins have struggled to do lately. It looked like they could do whatever it took and just roll over a team they were supposed to beat.

Then all the shortcomings that held and sank the team began to show themselves emphatically.

The lack of focus and attention to detail after goals. That was immediately apparent as the Penguins squandered a huge scoring opportunity just seconds after Jake Guentzel scored the first goal and conceded an actual goal to Mike Hoffman just a minute after Evgeni Malkin’s power play goal. Then the floodgates opened, revealing another critical flaw.

The goalkeeper. Tristan Jarry has been a mess since returning to the lineup, having been benched in three of his last nine starts with a sub-.890 save rate. He allowed four goals in six shots in the first period on Tuesday. You can break down the X’s and O’s on these targets individually as much as you want. You can talk to me about distractions and missed tasks and open eyes and anything else you want to throw out there. Bottom line, four goals in six shots sucks. Being on the bench in three of your last nine games sucks. Having the numbers he’s had since coming back sucks.

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At some point you will need your goalie to parry. You need them to make hard saves. If your only expectation of a goalkeeper is to stop all the easy muffins from the blue line and just accept that they don’t stand a chance of the hard goals, then why does it even matter who you put in goal? Just call someone from the American Hockey League on the league minimum contract and call it quits. Every NHL goalie has to deal with misses and breakaways and difficult scoring chances. You are allowed to stop them occasionally.

This will now result in Casey DeSmith getting most of the game time because he is playing better at the moment. He absolutely is. But we should all know how this ends. Every time DeSmith has to be asked or expected to play a string of back-to-back games as a starter, his mistakes are exposed and he begins to give up four or five goals in each game.

The end game here is the Penguins lack a goaltender to be confident with and look forward to a third straight year with the position sabotaging their season.

The penguins should be tired of walking away from games saying, “You know what? We have done many good things. We controlled the shots, chances etc… it just sucks that we lost.”

This season, there have been 59 games in the NHL in which a team has scored at least 69 percent of the expected goals and actually scored four goals. The teams that did that are 56-2-1 in those games this season. These two regulatory losses? The two teams that didn’t get at least a point in that performance? In both cases it was the Pittsburgh Penguins (the New York Islanders game on February 17 and Tuesday’s game against Montreal). If all other games on the schedule and their results remain the same, and the Penguins easily win those two games, they will sit even more firmly in a playoff spot and still be within striking distance of the Rangers for third place in the Metropolitan Division.

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Speaking of sabotaging the season. Let’s talk about Mike Sullivan’s use of Jeff Carter and Ron Hextall’s signing of Carter. As I said last week, I can’t blame Carter at this point. He is what he is as a player. There’s no indication he’s not a pro or taking shifts or games off. He’s just not the player he was in his prime. Father time is undefeated and all that.

But Carter’s presence on the roster and his bizarre usage absolutely crushes this team. His line was on the ice for FOUR Montreal goals on Tuesday, even though Carter only played eight minutes. Do you realize how bad it must be to give up four goals in eight minutes? Tuesday was a comedy of Carter-related errors, beginning with the Canadians’ fourth goal late in the first period.

By this time Carter’s line was already on the ice with two goals conceded, the Penguins were 3-2 down and faced a faceoff in the defending zone with 12 seconds left. Sullivan trotted Carter out because he’s the faceoff master who for some reason is constantly tasked with making every important draw. He lost it. Clean. And Montreal got that win right away.

Carter’s line was then mostly pinned to the bench until they finally touched the ice again early in the third period… and immediately conceded a fourth goal. After that goal, Carter didn’t see the ice for another 15 minutes as he inexplicably saw the ice for two shifts in the last three minutes of the game as the Penguins scored and desperately tried to level the game.


He was on the bench for almost two periods, has five points (and only two goals) in his last 25 games and is trying to level the game at the end? I’m asking again.


Even as an additional attacker in an off-net situation, it’s a confusing player choice. That’s been the Sullivan Carter storyline all season, and especially lately when we’ve been collecting so much data and gameplay to see how bad it is. Every great duel. The beginning of each over time. protect leads. Try to come from behind. After goals. At the end of the period. It’s madness

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Either Sullivan is intentionally tanking it as an F-You to Ron Hextall for giving him that, or he’s lost the plot altogether.

All season, the Penguins’ third line has been one of their biggest problems. But ever since Carter was demoted from that line and they put together the newly formed line of Rickard Rakell, Mikael Granlund and Drew O’Connor, that line has been really good. It’s only 30 minutes of 5-a-side ice time, but in those minutes they have over 57 percent of shot attempts, scoring chances, dangerous chances to score, expected goals, and are making strong starts in the defensive zone despite being 2-0 in actual goals got (only 28 percent starting percentage in the offensive zone). It actually looks like a promising third line.

The problem now is that the fourth line has become unplayable. Since the All-Star Break, the Penguins are beaten 4-13 points when Carter’s line (third or fourth line) is on the ice. They outperform teams 38-28 during the same stretch without Carter’s line on the ice. To make matters worse, the only player who could realistically replace him now, Nick Bonino, who was picked up after the trade deadline ended, is now sidelined with an injury.

The craziest thing about all of this is that so many of these preseason mistakes were easy to spot. Two years in a row the goalkeeping had failed and they brought back the same duo. Forward depth in the bottom six was an issue, while Carter’s contract renewal seemed rushed and unnecessary at the time (though I didn’t hate that much, I’ll admit; still…it seemed rushed and unnecessary). Not only did Hextall ignore these issues and concerns, he actively aggravated some of the issues.

There’s still little doubt that the Penguins will still make the playoffs. The math is still very much in their favor. Even with a hard stretch of play, they should still be fine, even if it comes a little closer than anyone wants, or closer than it should. But the shortcomings this team has in terms of goalies, attention to detail in big moments and a whole line that’s completely unplayable will likely make this a very short post-season trip again.

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