Senators 4, Penguins 1: Pens Do Nothing, Somehow Lose To League’s Hottest Team

Only two main observations about last night’s semi-anemic Penguin loss:

1) The gameplay and chances were largely even throughout pretty much all three periods, but in the simplest sense, Brian Elliot just outplayed Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury seemed to have trouble covering pucks all night — on the FNS broadcast, Bob Errey continually pointed out specific clips in which Fleury appeared to be uncomfortable with his injured hand — and seemed lost on a couple pucks that hit the post behind him and an early bizarre Jason Spezza chance that trickled wide through the crease. Elliott, meanwhile, stopped everything after Malkin’s game-opening goal early in the first, including a handful of legitimate scoring chances and a couple nearly-competent power plays. Fleury wasn’t awful, but Elliott was clearly better.

2) The Penguins’ defensemen got beat one-on-one by the Ottawa forwards disturbingly frequently. Far too often, a Senators forward would come in on a harmless-looking one-on-one against a defender who appeared to be in position, and turn banal opportunities into scoring chances by either varying their speed and busting around the defenders / cutting to the slot, or pulling up and hitting an open trailing forward. Ottawa is clearly playing with confidence on their recent win streak, and their individuals entered the offensive zone with a consistent level of effort, intensity, and awareness that the Pens’ defense wasn’t ready to match. Jason Spezza in particular had a fantastic game, and looked to have more jump than I’ve seen out of him in quite some time, especially for someone coming off a lengthy torn MCL injury.

Overall, the Pens haven’t been able to string together a period of extended dominance since back in early November, and while they’ll certainly still make the playoffs if they keep up their win a couple, lose a couple on-and-off pace, the way they’ve been playing lately simply won’t cut it in the Playoffs. I realize that it’s a given that every team elevates their game in the postseason, but Ottawa’s also playing regular season games and they’ve won 8 straight — even within the bounds of regular season hockey, the Pens have a lot of room for improvement. Malkin’s been playing a lot better, at least, but the defense has a loooong way to go.

The Pens don’t play again until the Red Wings game on Sunday afternoon. I expect Marian Hossa will get booed, even though he’s not on either team.

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