Penguins lose special teams battle, proves costly


The Carolina Hurricanes extends the Penguins losing streak to four games.  Both teams came in to this game bottom third in the league in the power play, but special teams was the story.

The Penguins ran into a bit of penalty trouble in the first period.  Adam Clendening held up Hurricanes forward Joakim Nordstrom for the game’s first power play of the evening.

Former Penguin Jordan Staal received a pass from defenseman Justin Faulk on the rush, and powered his way to the cage to squeak the puck past rookie net minder Matt Murray between the blocker arm and body to open up the scoring.

After the penalty, the Penguins’ top line of Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz, and Conor Sheary forced the issue with an onslaught of shots on goaltender Cam Ward, but was able to turn all of the 13 shots he faced within the period.

When it seemed that the Penguins gained some momentum after a flurry of good shifts in the Carolina zone, they went back on the penalty kill two times in succession.  Evgeni Malkin and Trevor Daley each received a two-minute penalty for high-sticking.  As soon as Malkin’s penalty was killed off successfully, Daley skated to the box for his infraction.

That spelled doom for the Penguins again.  Murray made a terrific first save on Andrej Nestrasil at the doorstep, but the Penguins could not clear and John-Michael Liles received a pass at the point from Brett Pesce and scorched a shot past a screened Murray top right corner to make it 2-0 Hurricanes.

The tide would start to turn, however, for the Penguins in the second period.

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At 1:13 of the period, Eric Staal hauled down Kunitz to put the Penguins on their first man advantage of the game with a relatively fresh sheet of ice.  Daley fed Evgeni Malkin with a pass to the blue line, and Malkin would seize the opportunity by firing a wrist shot off the post and in on the blocker side to beat Ward to cut the lead in half.

Dec 19, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) and center Evgeni Malkin (71) and defenseman Trevor Daley (6) celebrate after Malkin scored a power play goal against the Carolina Hurricanes during the second period at the CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Penguins, ever since the second period, controlled the play when they were generating chance after chance.  Malkin skated one-on-one against defenseman Ron Hainsey and he threw on the brakes, which forced a Hainsey wipeout in front of the cage.  Ward was out of position and Malkin tried to beat him blocker side, but he missed the net and Malkin hung his head back in utter disbelief.

Each line started to generate opportunities right after that, but Cam Ward stood tall in net and knocked away 12 Penguin shots in the third (38 shots overall).

Here were some of the takeaways from tonight’s game:

Trevor Daley Fits the Bill

Daley tonight was the Penguins’ best defenseman tonight.  His swift skating and accurate passing helped the Penguins jump start their offense with clean breakouts.  In addition, he is a perfect answer to a power play that has more questions than answers and it showed tonight in his vision to find Malkin at the point, which allowed Malkin to find a seem and ended up in the back of the net.

Matt Murray Was Solid In Goal

It took a little bit for Murray to get settled in to his first NHL game, but when he did, he was huge for the Penguins.  He made the routine saves and a few saves that should not have been stopped.  It did not help that he was thrown into the fire early in the game when the Penguins took a heavy dose of penalties.  Murray finished with 24 saves on 26 shots as both goals came on the power play.  The first goal he would probably want to have back, but he had no chance on the second goal.

Next: Penguins seek redemption against Hurricanes after blow out loss

One Man Wrecking Crew

Malkin continued to bolster a lackluster offense with his lone power play tally of the evening.  In the young season, 13 of his 15 goals have come on home ice.  While the Penguins are not playing well, the blame cannot be placed on Malkin.  He, along with goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, are carrying this team on their backs and are probably wondering when this team is going to left some of the weight off of their backs.  It was hard to watch Malkin tonight when he showed frustration when things were not going their way.

The Penguins are back in action on Monday when they host another struggling division team in the Columbus Blue Jackets.