Yohe’s 10 observations: Penguins furious after failed replay challenge as Fleury, Wild hold on


Vintage Marc-Andre Fleury took center stage in the final moments of the Minnesota Wild’s 3-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday at the XCel Center. A few hours earlier, Fleury was honored in a stirring ceremony for playing his 1,000th career game and for becoming the second-winningest goaltender in NHL history.

True to form, he stood on his head in the final seconds to preserve a win against his former team.

With all due respect to the great Fleury, however, the Penguins are making a habit of making goaltenders look like this. It’s not coincidence, not anymore.

The Penguins have now gone nine consecutive games without scoring more than three goals. They last managed to exceed three goals in a game on Jan. 8 in Philadelphia.

Only three teams in the Eastern Conference have scored fewer goals than the Penguins.

Reilly Smith and Sidney Crosby scored to pull the Penguins even on two occasions, but a controversial game winner for Kirill Kaprizov put the Wild ahead to stay.

A furious group of Penguins insisted the puck went out of play, hitting against the netting, before Kaprizov scored. Mike Sullivan challenged the play and, after a lengthy review, it was determined that the puck didn’t go out of play.

The Penguins, outplayed during the first two periods, came to life in the last 20 minutes and fired away at Fleury in the final minutes. They enjoyed a power play in the final two minutes of regulation, throwing the kitchen sink at their old friend.

Fleury, in vintage acrobatic form, made a couple of stunning saves and was helped when Erik Karlsson clanged an open look off the post.

“We had probably five or six scoring chances in the last 30 seconds,” Evgeni Malkin said. “We tried, but the Wild played very well, they’re blocking shots … they win for Flower, for sure.”

The Penguins next play in Winnipeg on Saturday night, where they’ll put their 6-0 record on the second night of back-to-back games to the test.

Ten postgame observations

• If Kyle Dubas doesn’t do something to help Crosby and Jake Guentzel shoulder the offensive load, I don’t think the Penguins are going to make the playoffs.

I’ve been writing for a while that I think the Penguins need to play more “low event” hockey, that it isn’t in their best interest to run and gun these days. I stand by that. But, you still need to score to win.

These are some of the numbers the Penguins are dealing with at forward right now.

Jansen Harkins has no goals in 33 games this season. Colin White has no goals in six games this season. Jesse Puljujarvi has actually looked pretty good in his first two games of the season, but he’s never been an accomplished NHL scorer and he hasn’t scored in his first two games. Drew O’Connor has no goals in his last six games and one in his last 11. Jeff Carter has one goal in his past 11 games and no even-strength goals during that time. Noel Acciari, out with a concussion, has no goals in his last 11 games. Rickard Rakell has no goals in his last nine games and has two shots on goal in his past four games. He’s a total mess. Smith had no goals in 11 games until lighting the lamp Friday.

Bryan Rust has two goals in his last 17 games.

The numbers are staggering. Blame the power play. Blame the coaching. Blame whatever you want. But when nine NHL forwards are scoring that infrequently, no matter whose fault it is, you aren’t going to win many games. It’s a wonder the Penguins’ record is as respectable as it is.

• The Penguins were quite upset about the unsuccessful replay challenge.

“I clearly don’t agree with it,” Sullivan said. “Otherwise I wouldn’t have challenged it. Every player on the ice saw it, even their players. So, they thought it was inconclusive. We felt like there was an angle that showed the puck clearly changed direction.”

Crosby was unusually forceful in his opinion of the situation.

“Most of the guys on the ice felt like it hit the (netting),” Crosby said. “It sucks being on the wrong side of these challenges. Why do replay if you’re not going to get it right?”

Crosby, Guentzel and Alex Nedeljkovic all raised their arms when they believed the puck left the playing surface.

“Then get a view that shows it,” Crosby continued about the NHL’s use of instant replay. “Don’t have a review if you’re not going to at least have decent angles.”

• I couldn’t agree more with Crosby. The whole thing was embarrassing.

I don’t know if the puck hit the netting or not. My eyes aren’t that good. But this is 2024. We have the technology. When a ball clips the net for a let at Wimbledon, a sensor is alerted and a sound goes off. That’s it. Bottom line. No arguments, because the technology is there and it works.

Why can’t the NHL have something like this in place? We know what the league charges for tickets. The money is available for such a thing. Also, we have enough cameras in these buildings, but television replays showed the view from only one angle. Did the referees have more? And if so, why doesn’t the public get to see them?

Here’s the thing. I can’t fault the referees on this one. They obviously didn’t see it live or they would have blown the play dead. It’s an error. It happens. There should be better technology in place so that this kind of judgment call doesn’t need to be made.

The frustrating thing for the Penguins is, when using logic, we know the puck went out of play. Three players wouldn’t have impulsively raised their arms at the very moment the puck went out of play if it didn’t. It’s not like they’re in perfect harmony attempting to deceive referees. But the technology should be in place. Otherwise, it shouldn’t be reviewable. Crosby is right.

• During the first period, a horn inadvertently went off twice while the Penguins were on the power play. They had something cooking when the second stoppage took place.

Not a good night for technology, or lack thereof.

Sullivan was furious and for good reason.

• Something needs to be done about Rakell. He’s completely lost.

My advice would be to put him on one of the top two lines. It could be argued that he hardly deserves that kind of promotion, given how horribly he’s played. I don’t disagree. But you’re going to get production out of him only if he’s playing with Crosby or Malkin. He is a gifted finisher, even if he hasn’t looked the part.

He’s doing no good in a bottom-six role.

• Lars Eller and Karlsson were guilty of a combined three offensive zone penalties in this game.

The one call on Eller was a little soft, but you can’t do that on a night when your team isn’t playing very well.

• I didn’t like Karlsson’s game in the first two periods. But I thought he was the best player on the ice in the third period.

He’s always at his best when the Penguins are trailing. There is so much talent, so much greatness there. It just hasn’t been properly harnessed yet.

Karlsson made a brilliant pass on Crosby’s tying goal.

He got better as the game went on. The Penguins badly need Karlsson to be a more dominant player. We did see flashes of it in this game. Let’s keep an eye on him and see how he plays moving forward.

• It was a relatively quiet night for Crosby’s line. Marcus Pettersson had an off game. Kris Letang could have been better, too.

Those have been the Penguins’ most steady players. It’s hard to imagine the team thriving when those players have shaky nights.

• The bottom six wasn’t awful in this game. They had the puck some. Their defensive work was fine. But I was struck by how unthreatening they looked all night. They’re just not going to score, and I’m not sure how the Penguins can recover from that.

• The Fleury tribute was magnificent.

His children stole the show, offering recorded messages to their father.

Fleury is the best. He’s a beloved human being for good reason. Given how he played, if he wants to play a couple of years longer in the NHL, he could. The freakish athleticism remains.

He’s a real legend and played like it on this night.

(Photo of Penguins goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic looking up at a replay of a controversial play in the third period: Matt Krohn / Associated Press)

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