The difference between the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second period and the third period Saturday against the Dallas Stars was striking. The stalemate which defined the first 40 minutes, turned towards Dallas in the second period. The scoring chances and quality chances tilted towards the long-ago Minnesota North Stars. The Penguins moved their feet and did not lack for effort, but they struggled to maintain their systemic structure, until the third period when they absolutely dominated Dallas. Eventually, the Penguins clicked with a couple of third period goals and an empty netter for a 3-0 shutout win at American Airlines Center.
The Penguins clamped Dallas and yielded just three shots in the third period but fired 16 on the Dallas net.
“We felt like we had one bad period–the second period. In the first period, there wasn’t a lot of ice out there. I think the shot clock was a little deceiving,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “Based on our calculations, the scoring chances were three-to-three. (The first period) wasn’t our best period, but it wasn’t our worst.”
Considering the Penguins returned a pair of players to the lineup after three or more weeks, they were conservative in the first period. The Penguins have been conservative to the point of subdued in recent first periods. Saturday, the Penguins attempted to open the game. The teams traded chances early in the second period, and the game opened up.
In the second period, the Penguins skated and defended, but as Jacques Martin noted on the television broadcast, the Penguins did not get a consistent forecheck with a third forward. In effect, the Penguins got the puck deep and had initial pressure, but did not disrupt the breakouts or outlet passes.
“A couple of shifts there in the second when I was a little bit tired and caught in the D-zone,” Bryan Rust said. “(Murray) kept us in it in the second, and we pushed back really well in the third.”
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So, Dallas was able to generate speed through the neutral zone and exploited the Penguins’ poorly structured coverage for puck possession. The Penguins lost their gaps as some went forward, and others went backward, which left passing lanes open and space to exit the zone.
In the third period, the Penguins won every puck battle and dominated possession. They outskated Dallas and defended the center of the ice. As the teams pushed the other to the perimeter in the first period, the Penguins took away the scoring zones in the third period, then took away the puck.
The Pittsburgh Penguins defense played a significant role, too. The new pairing of Riikola-Marino was able to skate away from the trouble which maintained puck possession. Dallas was not able to attack them. Midway through the third period, the Penguins flipped their pairings and put Riikola with Kris Letang and Jack Johnson with John Marino. Those defensive pairings with a balance of offensive and defensive philosophies, physical and speed, youth and veteran mixes worked, too.
Pittsburgh Penguins Report Card:
Jack Johnson-Kris Letang: B-
The eye test was in stark contrast to the advanced statistics. Johnson appeared to have his A-game with a jump in his step. Letang looked at home on the right side, after two games helming the left side for John Marino.
Johnson darted into the offensive zone, he moved the puck and got his shots through.
However, the advanced stats per NaturalStatTrick.com argue the pairing was on the wrong side of 80% of the scoring chances. Since Dallas had only five scoring chances against the Penguins top defensive pair, that’s an appropriately low number.
Another factor to consider, the Penguins gave limited minutes to Riikola-Marino. That would expand the Penguins top pairing minutes in all situations, especially the defensive zone.
In the limited time together, it was fun to watch the young defensemen add a dynamic skating element to the Penguins defense. Superior skaters don’t necessarily equate to wins (this isn’t Dorothy Hamill’s Ice Capades), but when they defend well and win puck battles, it comes together.
The pair had an approximate 70% Corsi despite the Penguins shooting deficit after two periods (22-11). See the shift-by-shift breakdown for many of the things the pair did right. They were able to skate away from pressure on several occasions. The Penguins third pairing did not get pinned in their own zone.
The group was the Penguins toughest line and created the most consistent pressure. This line was the most productive on the forecheck and created offensive zone time with takeaways and disruptions.
Tanev scored the empty netter, but the line was disruptive from the start. They created four scoring chances and three high-danger chances but yielded just one.
The line wasn’t consistent. Bjugstad and Rust were activated from the IR before the game and had an interesting stat line. They yielded more shot attempts than they attempted but gave up fewer shots than they took. The line found their groove in the third period.
This could be a dynamic line for the Penguins with Rust providing the speed and puck pressure, and Hornqvist shipping in the physicality and net-front agitation.
Matt Murray: A
Matt Murray kept the Pittsburgh Penguins in the game during the second period. He rarely makes it look complicated, but his glove was sharp, and he did not serve any juicy rebounds, either. Murray stuffed Dallas. Had he given up a goal during the tilted second period, the game could have been very different.
Sam Lafferty: A
He was noticeable Saturday night. He provided perhaps the aggressive and disruptive forecheck. Despite twice as many defensive zone shifts as offensive zone starts, he produced positive numbers across the board, including a zero in high-danger scoring chances allowed.
When Kahun scored his first Penguins goal, Lafferty almost had his fourth. Lafferty crashed the net poked the first rebound chance through Bishop before Kahun snapped it across the line. When the team was getting loose, the Penguins fourth line held their spot.
Penguins Power Play: