Plenty of blame to go around for Penguins’ poor defensive start

October 12, 2018

Hockey coaches are often hesitant to give a critical assessment of a goaltender’s play, especially after a lopsided loss.

After his team dropped a 5-1 decision to the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night, Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan was no different.

Matt Murray has given up a total of 11 goals in his first two starts of the season, but Sullivan wasn’t about to single out his goaltender.

“I think Matt’s game is in the same place where our team is,” Sullivan said. “We all have to be better.”

A look at the numbers provides some evidence for Sullivan’s contention.

In a season-opening 7-6 overtime win over the Washington Capitals on Thursday night, every skater the Penguins dressed was on the ice for at least one even-strength goal against.

In Saturday night’s game, the only players who escaped a minus were top-line forwards Jake Guentzel, Sidney Crosby and Patric Hornqvist.

That’s one of the more remarkable aspects of the poor defensive start the Penguins are off to. There is no one, with the possible exception of back-up goalie Casey DeSmith, who has yet to play a minute, whose hands are clean.

A quick sample of the lowlights from Saturday night:

-- The defense pair of Olli Maatta and Jack Johnson looked all sorts of out of sync when it was on the ice for Montreal’s first two goals in the first period.

-- The third line combination of Dominik Simon, Derick Brassard and Bryan Rust, so effective throughout the preseason and into the opener against the Capitals, didn’t manage a single shot on goal in about 12 minutes of even-strength ice time.

-- The fourth-line trio of Matt Cullen, Riley Sheahan and Daniel Sprong was responsible for the team’s only goal of the game, but it was also on the ice for two goals against.

-- When Justin Schultz was on the ice at even strength, the Penguins were outshot, 13-4. Murray’s save percentage was .827. The power play went 0 for 3. The list could go on and on.

The Penguins are off until Thursday, so Sullivan has the time to experiment with new personnel groupings if he so chooses. He said he might.

“There’s a chance,” Sullivan said. “We’re going to look at everything. We’ll put everything on the table and try to digest it and see where we go from here in order to get better.”

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