The Best In The World debate isn’t ending anytime soon.
And after last night, why would it?
Just one game after Sidney Crosby
supplanting rendering Auston Matthews as Best In The World obsolete, 87 took to the ice head-to-head against Connor McDavid.
Neither player was out to disappoint.
McDavid showed just how electric he is, while Crosby showed just how clinical he is. When all was said and done, it was the elder statesman coming out as The Best in Town on this occasion (more on this later).
As for the Penguins as a team, they weren’t without their flaws. Over the course of 62:12 of gameplay, they managed to give up 46 shots on goal (36 at 5v5) and found themselves shorthanded on 5 occasions. They gave up 28 scoring chances, 17 of which were of the high danger variety at 5v5. To say Matt Murray had a busy night would be an understatement.
What’s more, as we’ve seen developing over the course of the season, is that the Penguins are continuing to give up a lot of high danger unblocked shots against in front of their goaltenders. That happened again last night.
You could make the case that, had it not been for Murray’s 15 high danger saves on 18 high danger shots against (13 HD shots at 5v5, 11 saves), this game could have gotten really out of hand really quickly.
You could also make the case that, had it not been for Sidney Crosby grabbing this team by the scruff of its neck and dragging it to the promised land, the Penguins would be 2-0-0 to start this road trip.
Either way, 4 points from 2 road games is always a positive little takeaway.
There was an expectation, given the lines at practice the other day, that Derek Grant would make his season debut in place of Dan Sprong (that may come in Calgary instead), but he did not. Instead, it was the same lineup that shutout the Leafs in Toronto last week.
PIT – 1st Pd./10:58 – PPG – Crosby; A: Letang, Phil! – 1-0
Early on in the game, Matt Murray was tested by the Oilers, having to come up with big saves against McDavid (above) and Lucic from point blank range (below), including seeing the Pens have to kill a delay of game penalty just 47 seconds in after Rust threw the puck over the glass.
But shortly after the Lucic chance above, Ryan Strome would head off to the box for interfering with Malkin to put the Pens on their first of 3 powerplay chances of the night.
Working his half wall, Phil! saw a nice chunk of the puck, working it to Letang at the center point twice in as many touches. The first saw Letang miss a shot, only for the puck to come back up the wall to Phil! to try again. His no-look backhand area feed found Letang, who picked his head up and picked out a shot-pass this time around.
The rest was all Crosby with a redirect that even he couldn’t help by smile about, finally opening his goal scoring account for the season.
There are just no words to describe the nastiness that is that goal.
EDM – 2nd Pd./1:06 – Draisaitl; A: Nugent-Hopkins, Russell – 1-1
The rest of the first saw Oleksiak and Zack Kassian drop the mitts before Larsson slashed Cullen to give the Pens their second PP.
But as the 2nd 20 minutes opened, it was the Oilers drawing level just 1:06 into it.
There’s an awful lot to unpack here. First the Oilers entered the zone with one man (RNH) carrying the puck and 3 Penguins back defending, along with Russell an Draisaitl coming late. RNH, recognizing that his only support was behind him, drops the puck to Russell, only to have Johnson read the play and try to intercept. Malkin isn’t able to do much, which allowed Russell to beat Johnson to the newly freed puck and work it down the wall to RNH. RNH has enough time to just chip it into the high slot, beyond Hagelin’s pressure, to where Draisaitl, Strome, and Johnson are all converging. Here, Johnson tries to control the puck as he’s skating towards his own goal instead of sweeping it away from the surrounding Oilers forwards, which is more than enough of a mistake for Draisaitl to collect it and wire a shot past Murray and through Riikola, Johnson, and Strome as Strome took Johnson to the net.
EDM – 2nd Pd./3:10 – Chiasson; A: Russell – 2-1
And just over two minutes later, the Oilers jumped out to their first lead of the night with their 4th line out-dueling the Pens 4th line.
With the Oilers working the perimeter, Alex Chiasson found himself in the trenches with Daniel Sprong. Sprong, listed at 6’0″ and 180 lbs., goes to body up on 6’4″, 208 lbs. Chiasson. What happened next was every single Wasted GIF that’s ever been made:
Sprong’s failure gave Chiasson free license to do what he wanted, circling out and throwing a shot at the net. Johnson, leaving Kassian, stepped out from behind the net and blocked the harmless short-side shot, kicking it right back to Chiasson to collect the loose puck after losing Sprong a second time, toss it down to his stick and fire a shot as he was falling down to make it 2.
Sprong would see exactly one more shift on the night in the second period before getting stapled to the bench for the rest of the game. He saw exactly 3:37 of ice time. Again, it should be mentioned that young players need to work through their flaws to learn from their mistakes. But, it’s hard to justify continually putting a player out on the ice that is a perpetual liability in his own zone, particularly if that player isn’t doing dick at the other end of the ice (though that’s not just a Sprong issue, either).
Following the Leafs game, ya boi had this to say:
Sprong, after a couple good days to open camp, has been totally underwhelming this whole last month, including preseason. He’s shown flashes of good play. That much is true, but per 60 minutes of 5v5 ice time this season among the 12 Penguins forwards, Sprong ranks last on the team in: shot attempts for, shot attempts against, shot attempts share, unblocked shot attempts for, unblocked shot attempts against, unblocked shot attempts share, shots on goal for share, scoring chances for, scoring chances for share, high danger chances against, and high danger chances share. That’s not good. Individually, he’s only registering 4.06 shots on goal per 60 minutes and attempting 8.11 shots per hour, both second worst. His 4.06 unblocked shot attempts per hour is a team worst and his 1.35 team worst scoring chances for per hour is a full 3 chances per hour below 2nd worst, while he also is the only forward on the team to not have a single high danger scoring chance. For being someone touted as a dynamic offensive player with a lethal shot, he’s just not using it or showing it and that’s not good enough. Maybe he’d benefit from being moved up the lineup, but simply put, he has not done anything to earn a spot higher up in the lineup.
Overall, Sprong has just not been good enough. He’s not been good enough offensively and certainly hasn’t been good enough offensively to overshadow any of his defensive issues, a part of his game that was always going to need shaping.
PIT – 2nd Pd./7:16 – Oleksiak; A: Malkin, Phil! – 2-2
Anyway, 4 minutes later the Penguins were back level after some Phil Kessel Phun. Flying the zone on an exit, he was able to collect a Malkin feed with speed through the neutral zone. Neither Oilers D could match that speed, allowing Phil! some space to be creative. Instead of trying to swoop wide and smoke Nurse, his stopping up and peeling back once he entered the zone pushed Nurse and Russell back to open up a lane right up the gut for Malkin to slide into. All of the Oilers attention switched to Geno in the high danger area instead of anyone keeping track of Oleksiak jumping in up the right side, which is exactly whomst Gene found for the equalizer.
PIT – 2nd Pd./10:24 – Hornqvist; A: Simon – 3-2
Three minutes later, on Dom Simon’s next-to-last shift of the night, the Pens got their noses back in front off an offensive zone draw.
Brassard lost the faceoff, but that’s never stopped Hornqvist from burrowing in and causing a ruckus. His ability to hound the puck forced the Oilers to shit out of their mouths in their own corner of the ice. Simon’s effort was not lost here as he bodied up on Nurse to put Brodziak in a tough position, eventually pushing the puck up the wall towards Chiasson, who had Maatta defending him properly this time around. Chiasson wasn’t able to do anything other than work it back down into the corner because of Maatta’s strong play, giving it straight to Simon to deftly find Hornqvist driving the net to cash in.
EDM – 2nd Pd./15:15 – Chiasson; A: Rieder, Larsson – 3-3
However, about five minutes later, Chiasson would make up for his giveaway to bring the Oilers back. A Larsson breakout stretch pass beat Malkin and Hagelin in the neutral zone, finding Chiasson’s tape as he hit the Pens blueline on Maatta. He had body position and Toby Rieder trailing with speed, opening up the little drop pass to Rieder to swing around Maatta and slip a little pass on the doorstep back to Chiasson.
Lots of blame to go around here. Johnson was slow to get back on Chiasson because he was cheating more towards Draisaitl in the neutral zone. Malkin and Hagelin were both flat-footed in the neutral zone, so no one picked up Rieder, creating that 2v1 on Maatta.
PIT – 2nd Pd./19:05 – Hornqvist; A: Cullen, Dumoulin – 4-3
But late on, the Pens were able to pull one back as Hornqvist doubled his season goal tally. With Sprong and Simon benched, Hornqvist found himself getting minutes again with the 4th line. Much like against Toronto, that trio found some success in the offensive zone with Cullen and Sheahan doing some of the dirty work along the boards before Sheahan was able to get the biscuit to Dumo for the point shot through traffic. Dad posted up in front of Talbot and battled to knock the loose puck over to Hornqvist crashing again, finding its way in behind Talbot off Big Dick’s skate.
EDM – 3rd Pd./2:47 – PPG – McDavid; A: Klefbom, Lucic – 4-4
But as the 3rd period opened, the Pens found themselves back in penalty trouble. Just 1:36 in, Hagelin went off for tripping up Lucic. As of course is Oilers tradition, everything has to go through McDavid and as he interchanged with Lucic and Klefbom in moving the puck along that right side of the ice, McDavid was able to take a pass back from Klefbom and walk in on Dumoulin, ripping a wrister that found its way through Murray to level it at 4.
The endzone angle gives us a better idea as to how that made it through. When McDavid picks up the puck, Murr is locked into his positioning. He’s got Dumo directly in front of him and with Johnson and Lucic battling to his right, he has to crouch down a little bit more than he’d probably like to try to track the puck. McDavid probably recognizes this and bides his time, keeping the puck in a shooting position until Dumo shows his hand on blocking the shot. McDavid uses Dumo as a screen, causing enough of a delay in Murr going down that the shot was able to find its way through him, despite getting a big piece of it.
EDM – 3rd Pd./4:18 – PPG – Draisaitl; A: McDavid, Nugent-Hopkins – 5-4
Less than a minute later, the Pens were back on the PK after Maatta got rung up for holding Yamamoto. The Pens PK was active, sending Hagelin and Dumo in on a shorthanded 2v1 on Klefbom, who was able to block Dumo’s shot and turn the puck up north to Draisaitl-McDavid-RNH on a 3v2 on Cullen and Johnson. Regardless of whether it was a forward back on D or not, the puck was always going to go to McDavid. Just so happened that he was matched up on Cullen, leaving Johnson to deal with RNH driving the net and Draisaitl in the soft area at the hash marks. Easy peasy.
PIT – 3rd Pd./6:51 – Oleksiak; A: Hornqvist, Cullen – 5-5
Then, the Big Rig popped up again with a Big Goal as a function of the 4th line’s efforts. Oleksiak did some man’s work down low in his own zone to free up the puck and allow Hornqvist and Cullen to take off into the neutral zone. Hornqvist drove wide on Russell before trying to throw a pass into the slot area. Call it puck luck, but the bouncing piece of rubber ended up popping out to Oleksiak joining late, who just stepped into his shot to launch a Howitzer top cheese on Talbot.
Oleksiak would find himself back in the box about 90 seconds later for tripping Yamamoto, who then negated a portion of it by hooking up Letang on the PP. The Pens weren’t out of the weeds yet as they got hit with a faceoff violation penalty with over 5 to play. But before that, McDavid had the game on his stick, taking a feed from RNH, smoking Dumo, but was unable to get his breakaway backhander by Murr to prevent overtime.
PIT – OT/2:12 – Crosby; A: Johnson, Brassard – 6-5
And in overtime, it was episode one of the new season of Sidney Crosby: Destroyer of Souls. Out on the 3v3 with Brassard and Johnson, Crosby collected the puck just inside the offensive zone from Johnson. Some light pressure allowed him to use the entirety of the zone with Strome on him 1v1.
To say he undressed Strome and put his jock on a rocket to fucking Pluto would be the biggest understatement in the history of understatements. Strome tried. Nurse tried. Talbot tried. But Sidney Crosby happened.
- The edge in the 5v5 battle between Crosby and McDavid goes to Crosby in this one. They saw 11:04 of ice time against one another (more than anyone else). In shot attempts, Crosby took a 19-10 advantage. Crosby was on the ice for 10 scoring chances for against McDavid and just 4 against, while also doubling McDavid up on high danger chances at 4-2. Away from Crosby, McDavid had a shot attempt share of 77.79%, for a little context.
- Individually at 5v5, McDavid had himself 5 shot attempts (all on goal), 3 scoring chances and 3 HD scoring chances, slightly better than Crosby’s 3 attempts (all on goal as well), 1 scoring chance and 1 HD chance.
- Murray won’t get talked about too much with Crosby and McDavid being the focal points and his sub-.900 SV% will be slightly deceiving, but seeing 18 high danger shots against over the course of 62 minutes is a lot.
- Penalties nearly cost the Pens.
- Special shoutouts to both Hornqvist and Oleksiak on their 2 goal efforts. Hornqvist led the team with 7 5v5 shot attempts (4 on goal), 6 scoring chances, and 3 high danger chances. Oleksiak, on the other hand, had the second highest 5v5 shot attempt share on the team at 58.62% (17 for, 12 against). He scored on as many shots at he had on goal (3 attempts) while also leading the D corps with 2 individual high danger chances. Being on the ice for 3 goals for and 0 against always looks good, too.
The Penguanos head to Calgary on Thursday night to take on Johnny Gaudreau, James Neal, and the rest of the Flames. Do it.