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I Can’t Believe The Penguins Managed To Lose That One

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 30: Anaheim Ducks center Mason McTavish (23) skates with the puck on a break away during the third period in the NHL game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Anaheim Ducks on October 30, 2023, at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, PA. (Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire)
Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Penguins' offseason organizational strategy of, "Get older—like, really old—gimme the oldest guys you've got—not Joe Thornton, he's too spry—see if Rytíři Kladno is willing to loan out Jagr" has produced ... let us say mixed results through the first tenth or so of the season. The underlyings aren't terrible, and you could make a case the Pens have outplayed their opponents more often than not. But with just three wins in nine games, Pittsburgh sits at the bottom of the Metro, which means, in head coach Mike Sullivan's words, "We're finding ways to lose." They found a brand-new one on Monday.

The Penguins and Ducks traded goals through the first 59 minutes and 48 seconds of this one, and Pittsburgh did an old good thing—they dominated possession, tripling Anaheim's time in the offensive zone—and a new good thing—they scored a pair of power-play goals, after having only scored two all season. But untimely defensive breakdowns and shaky play from Tristan Jarry meant that it was 3-3 late, when the Ducks got dumb.

Mason McTavish took a tripping call with 2:19 left, and Sam Carrick put the puck over the glass 11 seconds later. This was a dream scenario for the Penguins: 1:49 of 5-on-3 to try to score the winner, and even if not, they'd get at least a point for going to overtime. Right? Right...?

Oh dear. Erik Karlsson, who'd scored on the man-advantage earlier, made a lackadaisical pass that got picked off by Adam Henrique, who rifled it forward to a streaking McTavish coming out of the box. McTavish beat Jarry for the shorthanded winner, and the Penguins were left shaking their heads. “We lost game," Evgeni Malkin said. "It’s tough.”

It's the kind of unforced error that drives fans batty—for all the Penguins' liabilities, Karlsson on the power play was not supposed to be one of them—and the kind of loss that pushes teams toward the existential. “Do we need to make some changes? We might have to, and we'll look at that,” Sullivan said. “But, this one is a discouraging one because of–once again–I thought for most of the night, we carried the play, and we come out on the wrong side of the score."

The other option is to stay the course, keeping faith that possession numbers will eventually translate to goals and wins, but risking falling into an insurmountable hole if in fact this roster is in fact as flawed as it's looked. Decisions should probably be made sooner than later; the Penguins aren't getting any younger.

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