A quick glance at the box score, and it would be hard to figure how the Penguins could have possibly lost Tuesday’s game at PPG Paints.
The Penguins dominated Montreal in most aspects of the game. They double the Habs in offensive zone time. They put up 43 shots to Montreal’s 22.
They even hopped out to an early 2-0 lead, seemingly taking an early momentum swing at a team that appeared to be playing more for position in the draft instead of the playoffs.
But, when the final horn sounded, mixed with a spattering of boos from those in attendance, the scoreboard showed a hard-to-fathom result.
Canadiens 6, Penguins 4.
“I don't know. It's obviously not good enough, because we didn't end up on the right side of the result,” said Penguins coach Mike Sullivan when asked to assess hs team’s performance. “I thought we worked hard. We didn't always work smart.”
Pittsburgh took an early 2-0 lead on goals by Jake Guentzel and Evgeni Malkin. But that quickly went away, as Montreal netted four in a row to close the period, as Tristan Jarry surrendered the markers on seven shots faced.
When the second period began, Jarry was on the bench, and Casey Desmith took over in net — marking the second time in five games in which Jarry, hobbled by injury this year, was pulled. He was also yanked in a 7-2 loss to Edmonton on February 23.
“He's fine from a health standpoint,” Sullivan said of hs goaltender, who has also allowed four goals in four of his last five games. “We're trying to get him up to speed on the fly. And it's a bit of a challenge.
“It is what it is. He's had a challenging year from an injury standpoint. This is circumstantial. Nobody can really control that."
The Penguins, with Desmith in net, continued to control the game. They got goals from Kris Letang, and another from Guentzel, to even the contest at 4-4 after two periods. Pittsburgh led in shots, 33-11, at that point.
But Montreal, sitting in last place in the Atlantic Division, got an early third period goal from Anthony Richard.
“”Although they didn't get a lot of looks, the ones they got were high quality,” Sullivan said.
The Canadiens held off the Penguins’ numerous attempts to even the game down the stretch after that, handing Pittsburgh another baffling loss as it continues to fight for playoff positioning.
“No answers,” said forward Jason Zucker, bluntly. “But we’ve got to figure it out. It’s not good enough.”
The loss is a concerning one. It was a chance to build on a solid overtime win over the Rangers Sunday. But the Penguins were often misaligned defensively, and could not find a way to finish late.
“I just don’t think we came with the same attitude, the same intensity, as we did against the Rangers,” defenseman Kris Letang said.
The Penguins lost a pair of defensemen in the final period, as Jan Rutta took a puck to the left knee and had to be helped off the ice. Jeff Petry also left the game and did not return.
Sullivan had no update after the game on either player.
The Penguins have a pair of games in New York to close out the week, as they meet the Rangers Thursday and Saturday at Madison Square Garden.
Pittsburgh is now eight points in back of the Rangers for the final Metropolitan Division playoff spot.
The Penguins, however, still have control of the Eastern Conference’s top Wld Card position.