The Pittsburgh Penguins have struggled against non-playoff teams. Saturday night the Penguins flexed their power play and offensive speed game. Conor Sheary and Patric Hornqvist each scored for the second consecutive game, and the Penguins power-play scored a trio of goals. The Penguins skated around and through the Montreal Canadiens for a 5-2 win.
The Penguins win qualified them for the playoffs for the 12th consecutive season.
The Canadiens had the early jump on the Penguins. Midway through the first period, defenseman Jeff Petry‘s skipping shot hit Penguins center Evgeni Malkin‘s skate in the slot, and the puck jumped over Penguins goalie Matt Murray‘s pad. Petry’s shot (11) was weak but found its way into the net.
The Penguins responded quickly and often through the remainder of the first period.
One minute after Petry scored, Sheary tied the game. Off the rush, Riley Sheahan won a puck battle behind the Canadiens net then chipped it front to Sheary. For the second game in a row, Sheary lit the lamp when he roofed the bouncing puck past Canadiens goalie Antti Niemi.
One minute after that, Hornqvist demonstrated his superior net-front presence. On a power play, Hornqvist was uncontested in front of the Canadiens net. He grabbed a Justin Schultz rebound and quickly turned over to the backhand. Hornqvist (26) fooled Niemi with the quick move and had a wide-open net.
It was Hornqvist’s 200th career goal.
“We didn’t play our best tonight, but we didn’t shoot ourselves in the foot either,” said Hornqvist. “We were always on the right side of the puck, and we competed out there.”
The Penguins scored their third unanswered goal with about five minutes remaining in the first period. From the faceoff, Carl Hagelin was the first to get the loose puck. Niemi stopped Hagelin’s first shot, but Hagelin chased the rebound below the goal line. From behind the line, Hagelin (10) did his best Sidney Crosby impersonation and wristed it off Niemi into the net.
Montreal kept the game close, until the third period.
In the final seconds of the first period, the Penguins penalty-killing unit allowed another power-play goal. The unit has allowed 10 goals in the last 11 games. Canadiens center Jonathan Drouin (13) picked the top corner, glove side with a nifty shot from the left wing circle.
However, the Penguins power play was lethal in the third period.
Midway through the third period, Phil Kessel (31) was the last of four quick passes through the seams of the Canadiens penalty kill. Kessel’s intended pass for Hornqvist in the crease instead deflected off Petry and through Niemi’s five-hole.
Less than two minutes later, the Penguins second power-play unit scored. Sheahan (31) deflected Olli Maatta‘s point shot. The Penguins led 5-2, and the game was effectively over.
Kessel left the game in the third period and did not return.
Murray stopped 24 of 26 shots. Niemi was burned for five goals on 33 shots.
Postgame Analysis & Report Card
Penguins Power Play: A+
Good grief. The Penguins power-play kept the puck moving like a whirling dervish. The point men, Justin Schultz and Kris Letang, distributed the puck with precision. The Penguins had the Canadiens PK guessing. Hornqvist staked out the front of the net as if he planted a flag.
3rd Line, Sheary-Sheahan-Hornqvist: A+
Sheahan is setting an interesting discussion when Derick Brassard is healthy. The Penguins have clearly found something with the two rugged players, Sheahan and Hornqvist, and the zippy Sheary. The trio forechecked, backchecked, and they scored again.
“Conor brings a lot of speed and tenacity. (Hornqvist) is really good on the forecheck and goes to the net. Riley is a real good 200-foot player,” said head coach Mike Sullivan.
Before anyone gets ahead of himself or herself, Sheary also looked good beside Brassard. Right now, the line is playing well in all three zones
Matt Murray: B+
Murray was big on the Canadiens scoring chances, and he was big when he stared down a pair of shorthanded breakaways. The Penguins locked down the defensive zone in the final 40 minutes, but they did give up a bevy of quality chances. When they lapsed, Murray was stout.
Murray was aggressive against the Canadiens chances. He can smell the playoffs, and his game looks to be turning the corner.
Phil Kessel: C
Before he was injured, apparently with a slash (unshown on AT&T Sports but shown on Hockey Night in Canada) Kessel continued his run of mediocre or sloppy play. His puck management has been poor for most of March. It reached a crescendo with several giveaways against New Jersey, but it was sloppy tonight.
Penalty Kill: D
Statistically, the penalty kill is more indicative of playoff success than the power play. Stanley Cup winners are typically top penalty-killing teams.
The Penguins continue to make mistakes, chase pucks, and generally cede clean zone entries. The PK is not consistently bad. Often, it looks quite good. But, but the unit gets disheveled quickly. That should be a huge concern. Fortunately, the Penguins have the talent to correct the mistakes.
As a bonus, here’s my evening news segment with WPXI’s Chase Williams, talking about the Penguins’ current form and how they can overcome their habit of not following up well on promising games: