"You won't have anything left in the third period if you don't build your legs now!"
The Penguins are in trouble. The Spirit of Herb Brooks can save them.
It's only five games into the season so no time to panic, but the Penguins have a major problem - they cannot close games out. In four of five games, they have been out-shot - and in some cases, badly - in the third period and have blown two multi-goal leads and two leads after two periods. They have scored just two goals in the third period (and one came with one second left in what had been a 3-0 game.)
The opening weekend against Ottawa wasn't too bad; they were out-shot in the first game in the third period 9-5 but had more shots in the second game (though were out-scored 2-1). And in the first game, Rob Scuderi's third-period goal was the only marker of the frame that forced OT, where the Penguins won.
But after that? Oh my.
Holding - no, clinging to - a 1-0 lead after one period, the Penguins were out-shot by New Jersey 15-4 in the second and 20-2 - I repeat, 20-2 - in the third period. Patrik Elias gets a lucky bounce off Hal Gill's skate for the game-tying goal, and after Kris Letang passes up a shot in overtime, Zach Parise scores the game-winner with 37 ticks left. (Oh, and the Devils had more shots in overtime, 4-1.)
Shot total from the third game was 49-15, New Jersey.
In Game 4, the Penguins were up 2-0 then let the Flyers score twice in the final minute of the second period, then were out-shot 9-8 in the third but won in overtime on Pascal Dupuis's slapper with 10 seconds left.
Which brings us to Thursday night, which is the worst yet.
Power play goals by Alex Goligoski, Evgeni Malkin and Miroslav Satan put Pittsburgh up 3-0. A misplay by Satan leads to a semi-lucky goal by Washington but the Penguins were still up 3-1 after two, and held the shots advantage, 20-9.
If hockey was 40 minutes, Pittsburgh would've been fine. Instead, hockey's actually a 60-minute game. The Capitals took their game up a notch, forced the Penguins back on their heels, and out-shot Pittsburgh 21-6 - I repeat, 21-6 - in the final period, scoring three times to earn a 4-3 win.
Each of these last three games was on home ice.
What's the problem? I really wish I knew. The Penguins were playing so well through two periods tonight and then totally laid an egg in the third period. I don't know if it's carry-over from the Sweden trip; but they did have nearly a week off between games two and three, two more days off before game four, and the last three games, as I mentioned above, were all at home. They haven't been doing any more traveling. To blame it on the Europe trip would be, in my opinion, making an excuse, possibly whining, and inaccurate.
Maybe it's new guys trying to grasp the new defensive scheme. Maybe it's really missing defensemen Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney, and relying on Kris Letang and Goligoski isn't working. Maybe it's a lack of toughness. Having Matt Cooke in tonight to pop Alexander Ovechkin, who was throwing checks like no one's business, might've changed things. (By the way, Ovechkin really should've received at least three charging penalties; he left his feet so much on one check he nearly landed in the Penguins' bench. Having said that, there was NO ONE standing up to him on the Penguins, and any kind of defensive play would've won the game for Pittsburgh. Instead, they gacked it away. No blame on the officials from here. Washington earned and deserved the win.)
Calling it a collapse might be a little harsh but it might also be accurate. And if it was a one-time thing, it could be brushed off as "Get 'em next time." But this is the third straight game the Penguins have blown a lead and two out of three they were horribly out-shot in the final period.
It's still early, so again, there's no cause for panic, but the Penguins better figure out how to finish a game or they won't be going anywhere, and that includes the playoffs.