Five games played since Penguins alternate captain, Evgeni Malkin was put on the shelf with an upper body injury. And as of Sunday night, you can all the Pens “butter” because they are on a roll. A 6-0 kind of roll and that’s a beautiful sight! That’s something the Black and Gold have always been expected to do, but have struggled with all season long. Now, the Malkin-less Pens have found their groove. They say there’s “no better time than the present” when starting a positive task, but in the NHL, I say “there’s no better time than right before playoffs!” This is exactly what the Penguins are doing.
3/15 vs NYI
• Not capitalizing on turnovers
• Not taking advantage of a team that played in back to back nights
This was reiterated by Penguins winger Chris Kuntiz in his postgame interview when he stated, “We started turning pucks over and not capitalizing on them playing back to back…”
• Marc-Andre Fleury
• Keeping shots against to under 30
• Kessel looked better
• Crosby really turned it up
As usual the Penguins mainstay between the pipes, Marc-Andre Fleury looked spectacular. When the Pens defensive zone coverage broke down, “Flower” was there to bail them out. Phil Kessel showed signs of how he can use his speed and quick shot release to create offense and turnovers on the forecheck. And of course when Malkin goes down Captain Crosby tends to elevate his game. Crosby did the things that we all know Crosby can do. He created time and space for his teammates to get open and he unleashed his heavy shot. Crosby co-lead the team with Nick Bonino with 5 shots on goal and lead the team with 6 hits. While 87 didn’t score he did assist on the lone goal and extending his point streak.
3/17 vs CAR
• Slow start
• Crosby’s D-zone coverage mistake
• Defense pinching problems
• Odd man breaks against
The Penguins in the beginning of the season would consistently have slow starts and it would bury them early and never recover. Since the coaching change, the team has had much fewer of these circumstances, but haven’t seemed to completely get rid of the problem. This showed throughout the first period as the defense had communication lapses, which allowed a number of odd man breaks against. And again on the Hurricanes’ second goal as Crosby did not have his head on swivel, double covered the man in front of the net and in turn left Carolina’s Nash wide open for a centering pass, which led to goal number two.
• 87 realized his mistake
• Matt Murray was solid and never seemed rattled
• 4 unanswered goals
• Crosby with 5 shots and 2 goals
• Everyone on the team recorded a shot on goal
I give so much credit to Crosby. He blew his coverage on that second goal and he knew it. He didn’t even have to go back to the bench and see the replay on the iPad. He sees the game better than most anyone on the planet, but he will make mistakes. But he’s so good, he won’t make the same mistake twice in one game. The Penguins captain back checked hard all game and broke up a few centering passes that would have been easy tap-ins for goals had he not been there. On top of that, 87 turned up his game offensively yet again, registering 5 shots on goal and tickling the twine with 2 of those shots. Along with Crosby’s stellar performance, was Matt Murray’s effortless game. Giving up two goals early could rattle any goaltender, especially a young goalie like Murray. But the Penguins’ back up netminder didn’t seem to get rattled and shut down the Hurricanes’ attack the rest of the way, as he made most saves look rather routine. That’s something you hope to get from your back up tendy but not what you expect from a backup who’s a rookie. For the first time since the 89/90 season, every Pittsburgh Penguin player recorded a shot on goal. And just when everyone thought that 48 shots on net was impressive, the fact that everyone contributed to that number was even more impressive. After going down by 2 goals, that just shows was a team effort these players are putting in now.
3/19 vs PHI
• Shaky start
• Odd man breaks
Overall the Penguins had very few negatives this game. The shaky start happened once again, once again allowed some crucial odd man chances. But the Pens quickly weathered the storm and righted the ship.
• Limited Flyers to 17 shots on goal
• Stick on puck
• 3rd and 4th line guys
• Shut it down hard after the lead
• Used speed and closed gaps quickly
Lots of positives to come out of this game, especially when playing a heated rival and a surging conference foe. Limiting the Flyers’ shots to only 17 was something the Penguins have never done before. No Pens team has ever limited the Flyers to that few of shots in a game. This didn’t happen by accident. The Black and Gold were relentless on the pursuit of the puck, maintained possession, didn’t get caught up in the extra-curricular activities, they used their speed to close gaps and force turnovers, stuck to the game plan, played stick on puck kind of defense all night, protected “The House”, and silenced the Wells-Fargo Center (notorious for being the “extra attacker” on the Penguins). The fact that Flyers fans didn’t know who to “boo” and just “booed” everyone by the end and then left before the game was over, means the Pens did their jobs, and did them well. I couldn’t agree more. That’s a great feeling for every player and coach going into that locker room in enemy territory.
3/20 vs WSH
• Powerplay without Geno
• Dumoulin’s early exit
The Penguins are now 2 for 19 on the powerplay since Malkin has been put on the IR after the Columbus game. That’s just over 10% effectiveness when the Pens have the man-advantage. In the game vs WSH the Pens had seven powerplay opportunities, one of them being an extended chance on Weber’s boarding major penalty. That’s the only time the Pens capitalized. This is not a good sign going into the playoffs. Especially when special teams can dictate a playoff series. Pittsburgh has to find a way to get it done without Malkin because he’s certainly not going to be in the lineup for the first round of the playoffs. While the puck movement has been great, players are not capitalizing on the rebound opportunities. On the Umbrella Powerplay that the Pens run, the strong side low man is not always collapsing quick enough on the shot. If he does, the Penguins will come up with a lot more rebounds and bank them for goals. As for “Dumo” there is no word yet on his condition. I know as Pens fans you are supposed to hate “Ovi”, who coincidently put the check on Dumoulin that sent him out of the game. But the hit was legal and everyone knows that “The Great 8” will follow through with his checks and follow through hard. That’s hockey. While I truly hope Brian Dumoulin is alright and back in the lineup next game, I can’t blame Ovechkin for an unfortunate happenstance. If Dumo is out long term, Lovejoy is now itching to get back in the lineup as well as Pouliot. Let’s just hope the Pens number 8 heals quick because he’s been a pillar of quiet steadiness on the blue line.
• Speed was evident
• Rust and Kuhnhackl capitalizing
• Players got to the blue paint
• Frustrated the Caps into taking penalties
• Protected “The House”
There is a lot to be said about how the Pens played the Flyers, even more to be said about how they played the Capitals the next day. Notorious this season for not playing well in the second of back to back games, the Penguins showed that’s no long an issue. They used their speed by making area passes and allowing teammates to skate to that area or beat opponents in a foot race. Penguins players were picking up the puck in full flight rather from a standstill or out of their first two steps. This allows players like Hagelin, Kessel, Rust, and Crosby that edge and extra step on the opponent’s defensemen. Leading to Rust, Kuhnhackl, and Cullen to gain the zone easier against the other team’s top lines, cycle on them, and capitalize on their chances that they create. Capitalizing and finishing has been that one piece that is consistently missing from the 3rd line. They’ve created the chances but were having trouble burying them. The speed of all the lines and the defense and their ability to skate and get to loose pucks was frustrating the Capitals. This is exactly what they did against the Flyers the night before. If they Pens continue to frustrate teams with their speed and intelligent play, this will be a team that may be the sleeper pick in the playoffs. Even though they say “defense wins’ championships”, sometimes the best defense is a potent offense. This is what can be used to describe the Penguins right now. They are doing the little things in their own end by clearing rebounds, blocking shots, and getting the puck on to the sticks of their high flying offense. When that happens good luck trying to take the puck back. The philosophy of “if we have the puck, means that they don’t” is a heck of a defense of strategy when you have the arsenal to accomplish, and the Pittsburgh Penguins do!
Good talk…see ya out there!