For the second consecutive series, it will take a full seven games to decide the fate of the 2016-17 Pittsburgh Penguins and their Stanley Cup defense. Game 6 between the Penguins and Ottawa Senators followed a familiar plot, something we’ve seen since Game 4 — with Pittsburgh dominating play and imposing their will on the Senators — but Craig Anderson wasn’t ready for tee time.
He stole this one right out from under the Penguins.
Pittsburgh outshot Ottawa 46-30 and won the overall shot attempt battle handily, piling up 54 attempts at even strength to the Senators’ 31. If you account for special teams play, the Penguins trumped the Senators 75-46 in that regard. The eventual outcome — a 2-1 Senators’ victory — was hardly reflective of what played out on the ice. But, none of that matters unless you finish and the Penguins, unfortunately, weren’t able to solve Anderson.
Or were they?
Scott Wilson had a few great chances in the first frame but couldn’t capitalize. But Matt Murray kept things even with a few great saves of his own and after the first 20 minutes, Pittsburgh and Ottawa went to intermission scoreless. Then, 3 minutes and 4-seconds into the second period it looked as if Pittsburgh had taken the lead.
Senators’ head coach Guy Boucher challenged the goal and it was called back due to goaltender interference. Was there contact? Of course. However, with the puck in the crease and bodies on top of bodies, Trevor Daley has the right to battle for possession. Penguins’ head coach Mike Sullivan was asked if he received an explanation on the no-goal call, to which he said that he didn’t even ask. He knew they wouldn’t change their mind. This situation could be demoralizing to a team — especially on the road — but the Penguins didn’t waver and roughly two minutes later, Evgeni Malkin took over the play with an impressive individual effort to put the Penguins on the board for real.
They weren’t calling this one back.
The remainder of the second period was a clinic, with the Penguins tallying 23 of their 46 shots in that frame alone. They generated 13 scoring chances, with five of them considered high-danger according to NaturalStatTrick.Com. Anderson was up to the task, though, and it became the storyline for this contest. Our own Dan Kingerski, while in Ottawa covering the game for 93.7 The Fan, asked Penguins’ head coach Mike Sullivan if he thought Anderson stole the game and while he gave Anderson credit for his play and timely saves, he wouldn’t go as far as saying he stole it. But make no mistake, that’s exactly what happened.
Nothing Flashy From Craig Anderson
The aforementioned scoring chances and barrage of shots Pittsburgh threw at Anderson were good quality for the most part. Anderson, much like what we see on a nightly basis from Murray in Pittsburgh, is a calm goaltender who’s always positionally sound and gobbles up pucks to stymie second chance opportunities. Outside of Game 5, he has certainly come as advertised in this series and is the difference thus far. Without him, the Penguins are likely preparing to face the Nashville Predators in the Stanley Cup Final.
Pittsburgh was unable to create much traffic in and around the crease on Tuesday night, which is why things looked so easy for Anderson. Everything seemed to hit him in the chest with no chance at creating rebounds. That’s a huge challenge for a Penguins team missing Patric Hornqvist — arguably the best net-front presence in the league — and something that will be a huge factor in a Game 7 at PPG Paints Arena on Thursday night.
Anderson isn’t going to wow you, or have you screaming his name in awe. He will, however, take away shooters’ angles and leave very little to shoot at. Pittsburgh will need traffic and ugly goals to send Ottawa packing.
The outcome of Game 6 was eerily familiar, as the Penguins played the role of opportunistic counter-attack team through the first two rounds of this postseason. Now, the Senators have taken on that identity.
Pittsburgh’s dominant second period was overshadowed by bad penalties — first a blatant interference by Ron Hainsey and then a high stick by Ian Cole — that gave the Senators a 5-on-3 for nearly two full minutes. Of course, Ottawa capitalized when they were able to get Murray moving side-to-side and Bobby Ryan placed a one-timer between Murray’s skate and the post as he slid cross-crease to make the save. Those mistakes are damning against an opportunistic Ottawa team that will happily trap you into oblivion while tied or even worse, leading.
The game-winner stemmed from a simple mistake as well, one that defies how the Penguins normally play. Or should I say, ‘just play’?
The Senators had numbers coming through the neutral zone, yet Scott Wilson opted for a chance at a big, open ice hit when he should have made the safe play on the backcheck. It ended with a wide open Mike Hoffman burying a slap shot that he had far too much time to tee up. The Penguins’ mantra of ‘just play’ doesn’t have room for those types of decisions. Wilson had a solid game and recorded an assist but on that play, he’d almost certainly like a do-over.
Numbers, Notes, and Observations
- The Penguins took their fourth too many men penalty of the postseason with a shade over four minutes remaining in regulation. It’s becoming a trend in this series, as three of those four instances occurred in their last three games. There’s no excuse for those types of bench minors at this point in the season.
- According to our own Bob Grove, Pittsburgh’s 23 shots in the second period set a postseason record. The previous record was 21.
- Dating all the way back to 1975 when the Penguins faced the New York Islanders, they’ve gone 0-7 in Game 7’s in which their opposition forced it by winning Game 6. Their most recent series which that occurred was versus the New York Rangers in 2014. Thankfully for their sake, this is a much different group these days.
- The Senators, as a franchise, has experienced their own demons in Game 7’s. They’re 0-5 all-time and 0-4 on the road.
- Ron Hainsey continues to struggle alongside Brian Dumoulin. After a strong start to the postseason, he’s fallen off substantially and it’s impacting Dumoulin’s play as well. What’s the answer? Considering their injury woes, he’s likely in the lineup for the foreseeable future but if both Justin Schultz and Chad Ruhwedel are able to return at some point, Sullivan may consider giving Hainsey a rest.
Pittsburgh is one win away from their second consecutive Stanley Cup Final appearance. And, all they have to do is beat an overmatched Ottawa Senators team in Game 7 on home ice, right?