Penguins Must Play All 60 Minutes

The Pittsburgh Penguins broke their four-game winless streak Friday night against the New York Rangers. Fans liked a lot about the gamethe Penguins’ energy level was much higher than the previous two games, two previously injured players returned and made major impacts, and goaltender Matt Murray resembled his 2016 playoff self.

But, the victory didn’t come without its drawbacks either. The Rangers tied the game with about 11 seconds remaining and nearly prevented the Penguins from earning the coveted second point.

Last season, Pittsburgh feasted on goals late in periods on the way to the Stanley Cup Final. Lately, it’s been the other way around.

Losing Focus

Matt Murray, Pittsburgh Penguins, NHL
Matt Murray (Don Wright-USA TODAY Sports)

For four straight games, the Penguins have yielded at least one goal in the final minute of a period. It happened twice in the last minute of the first period during Wednesday’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks, and then in the second and third periods of Friday’s contest at Madison Square Garden.

In a couple cases, the opposing team scored on Pittsburgh in the last 20 seconds of the period. If the Penguins are to repeat, this cannot continue.

It’s tough to really determine the reasoning for this sudden problem, but it’s definitely an issue. Prior to March, excluding empty-netters, the Penguins had allowed just seven goals in the final minute of a period. But in March alone, Pittsburgh yielded nine such goals.

The Penguins deserve a lot of praise for continuing to stay hungry a year after winning it all, but clearly, Mike Sullivan’s club hasn’t played a full 60-minute game in the last week. It’s probably not a coincidence that this issue arose shortly after Pittsburgh clinched a playoff spot.

Seeing as though these last few games are pretty much meaningless, it’s human nature to ease off the gas pedal a bit. Again, though, it’s an alarming trend that must stop come playoff time.

Turning Momentum

It doesn’t seem like it should really matter when teams give up goals, but it does. Not all goals are created equal. Giving up a late goal in a period can turn the tide of a game.

That’s happened more often than not when Pittsburgh yields a late score. In games where the opposition tallies a goal in the final minute of a period (again, excluding empty-netters), the Penguins are 3-10-1.

No matter what the situation, a late tally changes the complexion of a game. If the Penguins are ahead, it allows the opposing team back into the game. And should Pittsburgh already be behind, the late goal against makes it that much harder to come back.

This happened Wednesday against Chicago. The Blackhawks dominated the game anyway, so a comeback was probably unlikely, but 2-0 at the end of the first would have felt much better than what it was4-0due to two late Chicago goals.

Last Sunday, Pittsburgh should have taken a one-goal lead into the first intermission, but a leaky goal from Murray allowed Philadelphia to tie the game. In that particular contest, the Penguins were the much better team in the first, but the period ended in a tie, and the Flyers used the late goal as momentum in the second. Over the final 40 minutes, Philadelphia outshot and outscored Pittsburgh 24-15 and 5-1, respectively.

Although a turnover in the neutral zone ultimately led to this goal, Murray needs to make that stop. But goaltending hasn’t been the main issue. Defensemen need to make sure to finish periodseven the final few seconds of onestrongly. If not, then goals like this with under five seconds to go could continue to occur:

In this particular case, Chad Ruhwedel couldn’t keep the puck away from John Tavares a few extra seconds. Whether he underestimated the time remaining or Tavares just cleanly beat him on the play, it forced the Penguins into chase mode in the third period.

Finish What You Started

On Friday, this same problem occurredtwice. Pittsburgh should have led 2-0 heading into the third, but a Rangers score in the final minute of the second pulled New York back into it.

Then with under 20 seconds to go in regulation and ahead by one, the Penguins inexplicably couldn’t clear their defensive zone one last time, and the Rangers tied the game.

As great as the Penguins looked for much of Friday, it was nearly all erased because of two lapses inside the final minute of periods. Pittsburgh should feel better about themselves after Friday’s game because they played a strong road game against a good (although unmotivated) opponent. Murray made some outstanding saves too.

But, it was nearly all for naught. The Penguins can dominate a playoff game all they want, but if opponents remain opportunistic and tie games in the final minutes of periods, then Pittsburgh won’t be playing May and June hockey.

It’s not a major fix, but the Penguins need to get back to playing a full 60 minutes of hockey. Great hockey for 57 minutes and easing off the gas pedal in the final 60 seconds of periods is not a winning formula.