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‘Getting Back to Details’: Penguins Report Card vs. Detroit

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Pittsburgh Penguins Jared McCann

A dash of intensity, two parts energy, and just a pinch of crazy. Pittsburgh Penguins winger Patric Hornqvist was the dominant player on the ice in an otherwise placid afternoon tilt. Hornqvist crashed the Detroit Red Wings net, put a few pucks into it, and lifted the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 5-1 win over Detroit on Sunday at PPG Paints Arena.

The notoriously traffic-adverse Penguins fans had to wait in line behind the Detroit team, which headed for the exit by the end of the second period.

Detroit had a good start and put the first goal of the game on the board, though the first five minutes had less intensity than a Golden Girls reunion. The teams graciously traded pucks and took turns skating with it, but neither team actually applied pressure or held onto it until the slippery Detroit team showed a little burst.

If not for the Penguins fourth line and grinding effort, this game could have been ugly. Detroit is a slippery team that can build momentum the longer they are in the game.

“To go where we want to be, we have to have all four lines going, all three D pairs and both goalies,” Hornqvist said. “Tonight was a good example. When we’re all playing well, we out chance and outscore the other team. We’re a better team from the drop of the puck.”

The Penguins win pulled them to within one point of Washington atop the Metro Division. The Penguins also have one game in hand.

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Pittsburgh Penguins Tactical Analysis

Tactically, Detroit laid the groundwork for their attack against the Penguins soft forecheck and loose attention to detail, which spotted Detroit the first goal of the game. Granted, Detroit passed on two prime scoring chances to make extra passes (which usually means no shot). Still, Valteri Filppula slipped behind Zach Aston-Reese, who adequately prepared to defend a shot. Filppula neatly finished the beauty with a backhand into the yawning cage.

Detroit flew the zone, and their defensemen made the long outlet and stretch pass. Initially, Detroit was able to get ahead of the play and create offensive zone time and a few scoring chances.

However, when the Penguins tightened up, Detroit softened up.

The Penguins fourth line led the charge with a low cycle, which began to set a physical tone, which Detroit avoided. Even the Evgeni Malkin line dumped the puck in to chase and create a forecheck.

Early, the Penguins were able to work the low-to-high game as Detroit used extra bodies to compete with the Penguins in the dirty zones. Marcus Pettersson activated several times early in the game before the Penguins no longer needed to expose their defensemen.

The Penguins turned the game with hard backchecking, and offensive blue line holds. A pair of Hornqvist’s goals were the direct result of holding the line and extending the play. His third (or second) goal was a bouncing puck in the left-wing circle, which was created by a pinching defenseman and Andrew Agozzino’s backcheck, which prevented the Detroit rush.

Ultimately, the Penguins grind lines simply exposed Detroit’s lack of will. When that happened, the rest of the game opened. And soon after that, the game was over.

Pittsburgh Penguins Report Card:

Patric Hornqvist: A+

If not for Hornqvist’s effort, Detroit may have mired the Penguins in a snoozer. Instead, the crazy Viking lifted the fourth line by plowing into Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard to create the first goal. He crashed and banged on the walls and sniped a couple of wristers.

Last season was the first time in Hornqvist’s career that failed to score 20 goals in a full season. Whether he has 14 or 15 goals after today, he’ll make a run.

Andrew Agozzino: A

We’ll grade on the curve, but Agozzino forced pucks low and helped to assert the fourth line dominance. He played nearly 10 minutes, which is the most since Jan. 14 when he played 10:03, and the second-most this season.

Agozzino also had two shots on goal.

Juuso Riikola: A

Riikola had himself a second period. Before the game, head coach Mike Sullivan responded to PHN that he’d like to see more offense from Riikola (Story tomorrow). In the second period, Riikola was flying. He circled the zone and took the puck to the net. He also activated twice more to extend offensive pressure.

The mullet was flapping in the wind with a pair of shots, a hit, and a takeaway.

Marcus Pettersson: C

We’re grading Pettersson a tad harshly. He allowed himself to be caught by the forecheck in the first period, and he was caught up ice a couple of more times. He didn’t have a good first period. Pettersson and Justin Schultz stabilized in the second period, but the Bell Curve posits that we can’t give everyone an A.

Jared McCann-Bryan Rust: C

The pair could have and should have created more offensive pressure. They didn’t do enough against Detroit. Combined, they put seven pucks on net, but few high-quality chances or second chances.

They were too close to the perimeter and not in the dirty areas.

Overall: B-

The Penguins didn’t have to play their best game. That’s a good thing. Detroit was outplaying them until the Penguins scored a couple of goals. The lackluster effort.

“I think we’re getting back to the game that has brought us success most of the year. I still think there are areas where we’ve got to tighten up in order to be a little more stingy defensively, and harder to play against,” Sullivan said. “We’re working on those details with the guys, but I know it’s not from a lack of effort.”

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now owner, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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