Penguins hockey officially returned last night and with it came an opening game loss to a team that probably shouldn’t even be there; against a goalie whose life wasn’t really made all that difficult.
Death. Taxes. And the Penguins losing to teams they should handily beat.
Death. Taxes. And the white hot takes.
Make no mistake- the Penguins should have beaten the Habs last night.
They certainly did enough at 5v5 to get it done in terms of controlling the puck, while also having generated 38 scoring chances (to the Habs 30) and 15 high danger chances (to the Habs 11), per Natural Stat Trick.
They peppered Price with 11 high danger shots against, too, but very little after the fact.
In fact, he faced just 3 rebound shots against (per Natural Stat Trick) in all situations. All 3 came at 5v5, too.
The Penguins had 7 powerplays.
The Penguins had 7 powerplays, including a 2-man advantage for 92 seconds, and registered 0 rebound shots against.
Price is going to stop everything that he sees. That was on display last night. So if you’re looking for one area for the Penguins to improve come Game 2 on Monday night, bullet point 1 should be “Make Carey Price’s life a living hell.”
Otherwise, Penguins hockey is going to be in for another long offseason (and in for the #1 overall pick).
No surprises with the lineup for the Penguins, as the 12 forwards and 6 defensemen that played in the tune-up game against the Flyers got the nod in Game 1. As expected, Matt Murray got the start in the cage opposite Carey Price.
After a pretty poor opening shift, which saw the Crosby line get trapped in their own end with Letang and Dumoulin against the top line of the Habs and saw Murray make a sneaky good save through traffic, the Pens were able to escape unscathed so the Malkin line could jump over the boards and take over, tilting the ice for the next 5+ minutes, ripping off 10 straight shots.
Price was just more dialed in than a college senior on 30mg of extended release adderall.
After the initial commercial break, the Habs looked like they finally settled in in the sense that they were just sitting back, clogging up the neutral and trying to counter attack.
MTL – 11:27 – Kotkaniemi; A: Byron, Kulak – 1-0
And counter attacking is exactly what they did to open the scoring.
One of the keys to success for the Penguins is going to be getting their 4th line out with Johnson and Schultz to try to cover up what that pairing lacks defensively.
But here, all 3 forwards got caught below the offensive goal line as Petry bodied up on Tanev, forcing the turnover. Montreal broke the other way on a 3v2 with Tanev, Blueger, and ZAR backchecking their asses off.
Schultz stepped up after the zone entry, had Blueger and ZAR cycling back towards the net to cover up while he stayed with Paul Byron. But as Byron worked the puck down the wall, Jack Johnson stepped to try to chase a hit on Kotkaniemi, who simply chipped it by him to Lehkonen and go straight to the net, establishing himself in the area vacated by Johnson chasing the hit.
Lehkonen, meanwhile, worked it back to Kulak at the point for a shot that went off Byron and Kotkaniemi, taking weird looping bounce by Murray as Johnson drilled Kotkaniemi from behind.
About 3 minutes later, Marcus Pettersson would head to the box for interfering with Nick Suzuki, giving the Habs a chance to double their lead.
The would have, too, had it not been for Matt Murray.
About 20 seconds after the kill, Danault would open the door for the Penguins to get back to level by holding up Crosby, but the Pens were only able to find iron behind Price, not twine, before the first intermission of the series, taking an 18-6 shot advantage into the break.
All Habs to open the period, save for what felt like every shift that the Zucker-Malkin-Rust line stepped out onto the ice. Far and away the Penguins best line of the game, but Price was there to deny over and again.
MTL – 6:53 – Suzuki; A: N/A – 2-0
And it took a rare mistake from Brian Dumoulin to open up the worms.
Price makes a good play here to stop Dumo’s initial end around, but despite having the wall locked down, the Pens couldn’t force the turnover. Instead, Dumoulin, on his off side, gets caught on his backhand.
He’s basically handcuffed to a radiator while the house is burning down here. On his backhand, stick tied up, dead to rights.
Suzuki picks his pocket and it’s a 1v1 with Murray, changing his release point and putting a nasty little wired shot on a postage stamp.
You just knew this Penguins team wasn’t going to take this lying down and it was the Crosby line plus some insane work from God King John Marino to finally break through Carey Price.
PIT – 9:55 – Crosby; A: Guentzel, Schultz – 2-1
The play started after the Habs got it out of their own zone, forcing Marino and Co. back to retrieve. Marino’s stretch pass here is so clean it could win a down ballot election.
It’s the whole reason the Penguins are able to cleanly enter the zone and put the Habs back on their heels.
But Montreal was able to get organized enough as the Pens worked it down low, actually turning the puck over and nearly clearing it.
“Nearly” being the operative word as John Marino pops up again, this time keeping the puck in under duress and working it back down low, getting off the ice for a change.
As Guentzel-Crosby-Sheary continued to chip away at the D, Schultz would eventually pop up to hold the puck in the zone and hit Guentzel with a shot-pass.
Guentzel wasn’t dicking around here, redirecting it towards Crosby at the side of the net for 87 to go Ultra Mega God King, beating Ouellet with a quick stick lift and banking it in off Price.
The Pens had some life, getting to the powerplay a minute later with Drouin getting caught holding Dumo. You wouldn’t know it was a PP based on the chances the Habs created shorthanded though, both of the good ones turned aside by Murray and Letang.
PIT – 12:34 – PPG – Rust; A: Hornqvist, McCann – 2-2
And after the Pens finally got the puck back into the offensive zone, a McCann faceoff win set the stage for the equalizer as Schultz and Marino played catch at the blue line, opening up a little bit of space for McCann to cycle up to the low point to rip a shot on net.
Hornqvist takes an absolute beating by Ben Chiarot, opening up the space for Rust to jam the bouncing puck home.
Drouin would head back to the box a few minutes later, but the Pens powerplay still seems to be the exact same as it was in the regular season to send this bad boy level at 2 into the final frame.
Pens opened the period this time being the dominant beast, earning a Danualt slashing penalty on Letang, who had jumped into the play and ripped a shot off a Crosby feed.
Just 28 seconds into it, Chiarot cross-checked Crosby in the face on a clearing attempt to give the Pens a 5v3.
Malkin and Letang were the trigger men on the two-man, just pumping shot after shot at the net. Some got through, some didn’t, some went wide, but none made it behind Carey Price. They spent about 80 of the 92 seconds in the zone just pummeling the Habs, but they survived and ended up getting a powerplay of their own just after Chiarot was released from his cage when McCann batted an airborne puck out of the air and over the glass in his own zone.
Murr City on the kill.
The pilot episode of the Special Teams Show continued to air after about a 20 second break when Paul Byron got himself rung up for interfering with Sheary. Zucker had a nice redirect right at the start of the man-advantage, but that was about it for the remaining like 1:50 of the penalty.
From that point on, the ice started rapidly deteriorating and the on-ice product did at roughly the same rate, but the goaltender duel remained a high point with Murray making another Timely Save late to keep it level.
With the Habs getting a bit of control on their breakout, the stretch pass eluded everyone’s control and sent Letang back to gather it. Montreal came away with it and a blind pass to the point found nothing but Conor Sheary, splitting the D and heading in on a breakaway.
More hooks on it than an alley in Amsterdam, giving way to a penalty shot with about 3 minutes to play.
Habs hit the post right after Sheary’s miss, but that’d be that and off to OT we’d go.
Nobody asked for that.
Pens with the first chance in OT, but Sid and the Young Adults’ wheelin’ and dealin’ ended with Sheary’s shot getting blocked by Tatar for what almost assuredly would’ve ended it.
Montreal turned it around, levying the first three shots on goal of the OT frame. But the big moment of the opening 3:09 was Danault hooking up Guentzel to give the Penguins their 7th powerplay of the night.
The second unit got it started, creating a bit but, more importantly, keeping the puck in the zone for the top unit to jump out around 40 seconds in. They smothered the Habs, but it just wasn’t enough to find the GWG.
Less than two minutes after the kill, it was piss your pants time.
Marleau got beat to tied up faceoff, Montreal got the right bounce and McCann tried to do too much, all culminating in springing Drouin for a breakaway as Johnson and Schultz got spread too far apart. Johnson kind of caught Drouin just enough to hold him up and give the former Lightning boy a penalty shot.
And, well, he blew it with the game on his stick.
Buy that ice a beer, bub.
But 7 minutes later, Montreal would find a way to end it, this time with Johnson on the ice.
MTL – 13:57 – Petry; A: Gallagher, Danault – 3-2
With another controlled breakout, the Penguins’ 4th line was able to get their neutral zone system set up. But a quick little 5 foot pass as Tanev stepped up to try seal off the wall allowed the Habs to gain entry into the zone against Johnson through Gallagher.
Johnson is in a tough spot here. Tanev gets spun, but they still have numbers back. If he steps up to stop the entry, maybe he forces the offside. But there’s the chance that Gallagher either chips it and blows by him or connects on a pass to Danault driving through the middle, the latter of which would create a mini 2v1 from the circles in.
So he sits off and actually defends it okay, blocking Gallagher’s forced pass with his skate (albeit inadvertently).
But that block left Tanev scrambling and trying to react and track it down. At this point, Johnson was driven back into the corner by 5’9″, 180 lbs. Brendan Gallagher. All the while, Schultz, who had tied up Danault driving the cage, also found himself in the corner on a fly by.
Both Johnson and Schultz are going to catch a lot here, but aside from getting pushed back by Gallagher, there’s not a whole lot JJ could’ve done differently.
The larger issue was that, after ending up in the corner, both he and Schultz stopped and watched the play happen for a full second before trying to get back into it.
By that point, the puck was already in the back of the net.
Speaking of the puck being in the back of the net, it was Jeff Petry, who had a hell of a game to this point, that was first to react to the loose puck.
You see Tanev sell out for the block. You also see Tatar skate through Murray’s line of sight and Petry dragging the puck to change the angle as ZAR was on an island, screening Murray and watching Petry’s shot go through his legs and in behind Murr.
If you’re going to be in the shooting lane and screening your own goalie, you have to make the block. Drop down and just take it. Or get out of the way so he can see it. ZAR did neither here and a mixture of bad luck and poor execution executed the Penguins.
- All in all, Matt Murray was pretty good last night, stopping 32 of 35 (.914). Can’t really lay the blame at his feet for the game or any of the 3 goals. He faced 11 high danger shots in all situations, stopping 10 of them, and made more than his fair share of Timely Saves. If he’s catching any heat, it’s because the decision was made to cook him prior to 8 PM on August 1.
- The powerplay, on the other hand, continues to be a problem. The lone goal they managed to score on, again, 7 chances, was from getting dirty and grimy and jamming it in. Can’t let a 5v3 and a separate 5v4 in a tie game in the playoffs go by the wayside. You almost have to put Hornqvist on the top unit at this point.
- Might also need to bump Hornqvist up to the top line too. Our pal CK makes a great point regarding the ice here, but also because the 3rd line was pretty bad. Got out-attempted 5-14, while scoring chances were 7-2 at 5v5, not in their favor.
- Also a problem: the Penguins 3rd pairing. The horse has been beaten straight to hell, but their defending on the first goal in particular and partially on the 3rd is troubling. Especially when, at 5v5, they controlled 64.71% of the shot attempts, 71.43% of the unblocked attempts, 65.66% of the expected goals, and allowed just 1 high danger scoring chance. On one hand, those numbers are really encouraging. On the other, they spent a lot of time either getting pulled out of position or chasing hits. Sometimes both!
- John Marino was probably the Penguins best player. He’s just so positionally sound that the puck seems to follow him. He was also on the ice for 17 scoring chances for (7 high danger) and just 6 against (3 high danger).
- Worth mentioning just how good the Zucker-Malkin-Rust line was at 5v5: 17-5 in shot attempts, 15-7 in unblocked attempts, 10-2 in scoring chances and 3-1.
Must-win Game 2 on Monday night. Going to really see what these guys are made of. Go Pens.
All stats via NaturalStatTrick.com unless otherwise noted.