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Don’t Panic Yet, 3 Important Things About the Penguins Power Play

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Patric Hornqvist Pittsburgh Penguins
Patric Hornqvist: Photo by Michael Miller

TORONTO — There was angst surrounding the Pittsburgh Penguins power play in Game 2 on Monday night. After Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan re-inserted Patric Hornqvist on the top unit, there was chaos in the Penguins power play, too.

After two games of the NHL return, the Penguins are 1-12 with a man or two-man advantage against the Montreal Canadiens, but that only tells part of the story.

By the way, the Penguins won 3-1, to even the Qualifying Round series 1-1.

Monday night, the Penguins power play was 0-5, including a brief 26-second five-on-three, but the power play also put 14 shots on goal. At no point did the Penguins light the lamp, but there are vital issues and results to pull from the power-play time. Even if the positives did not lead to goals, the likelihood is they will.

“I think we struggled on a few of the breakouts and some of the entries,” Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said. “…I thought they had some really good looks.”

In the tightly contested five-game series, it seems the Penguins power-play has become a focal point for both teams.

1. Holy Hornqvist

The list could well be Patric Hornqvist, Patric Hornqvist, and Patric Hornqvist.

Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan may have outsmarted himself in Game 1 when he replaced Hornqvist on the Penguins top unit with Jason Zucker. That switch lasted one game, and Hornqvist was back in his office Monday night.

ANIMAL. Hornqvist was absolutely spectacular in front of the Montreal Canadiens net. I found myself watching him and forgetting about the play at the top of the zone. If you’re into MMA, the net front was better than any PPV.

Montreal defensemen Shea Weber can be a swordsman with the stick. He can also be an enforcer near the net. Hornqvist’s ribs and back may not feel good this morning, but Weber, Xavier Ouellet, and Ben Chiarot are likely feeling the effects of the battle, too.

It was a war zone within feet of the crease.

It’s a problem the puck spent so much time at the top of the zone, but it took two Montreal defenders to wrestle Hornqvist away from Price. Have you ever been in a fight with a wild badger, over the last scrap of food, and the badger had rabies, too? I haven’t, but the Montreal defensemen can say they have been through worse.

The results of Hornqvist’s battle were loose pucks in the scoring zone.

“There were lots of pucks lying around the crease that we couldn’t get to,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “Some of them we did get to (but) Price made some big saves.”

Yes, there were. Bryan Rust had one of those chances, and Price was spectacular again.

2. Shots, shots, shots…

The Pittsburgh Penguins finally put pucks on net and zipped 14 on Montreal goalie Carey Price. 14?!

There are criticisms of the Penguins power play, and many are valid. They seem to make it up as they go. The freelancing nature sometimes leads to thinking after the leaders, Kris Letang, Evgeni Malkin or Sidney Crosby get the puck. Not enough good scoring chances. The Penguins keep the puck on the perimeter for too long.

All true.

It is also true he Montreal PK was battered on Monday night. The 14 shots kept them on their heels, and Hornqvist inflicted as much damage as he took.

By unleashing so many shots and the physical nature, the Penguins prevented Montreal from getting momentum. Montreal survived the penalty kill and did thrive.

3. Don’t Overlook the Volume 

The Penguins have earned 12 power plays in two games. Don’t overlook the volume and what it means. The Penguins are outworking Montreal in key areas of the rink, which has yielded hooking, holding, and interference penalties. Also, Montreal coaches may have lost something in translation with two Too Many Men on the Ice penalties on Monday.

The Penguins’ speed and relentless movement created 12 power plays. The volume of penalties signifies the Penguins are winning the even-strength play and forcing Montreal into bad decisions.

The repeated and often infractions cost Montreal only one goal in two games, but that will change. The Pittsburgh Penguins (or any team) will eventually put a few in the net.

As Sullivan said, the Penguins have struggled to achieve a level of crispness both on their breakouts and with the zone entries, but unless they get lazy (as they did a couple of seasons ago), they are forcing Montreal to defend for two minutes. Those are two minutes lost for Montreal, and those are hard minutes on Shea Weber.

The Penguins are not reaping the biggest potential benefit from the power play, but they are reaping benefits.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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Jack McCrory
Jack McCrory
1 year ago

71 and his freelancing need to come off the power-play. Or at least to the second unit. What happened to the idea 58 not playing on the top part play. I’d like 4 their better

stewfnrocker
stewfnrocker
1 year ago

could it be that Carey Price is just playing out of his mind this series. He is touted as one of the best current netminders in the game. He is the Canadiens X factor and he won game 1 and kept the Habs in game 2.

Pens need to stay patient and get gritty, Hornqvist is the perfect tornado to disrupt Price.

Steve Kellar
Steve Kellar
1 year ago

I loved seeing Hornqvist reeking havoc in of the net on the PP last night. It was noticeable and a welcome change. The Pens are doing good things on PP, except scoring. Keep it up and the goals will come.

Ricardo58
Ricardo58
1 year ago

Points 2 and 3 are valid and remain valid if the officiating remains consistent from the first two games. 2 or 3 PP opportunities per game combined with the current issues on the PP will remain problematic.
Fortunately this Montreal team is devoid of O talent as compared to other top teams which minimizes the Pens current challenges to score. Hopefully, the Pens continue to improve and in a hurry. Go Pens.

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Ilja
Ilja
1 year ago

Analysis like this:
“By unleashing so many shots and the physical nature, the Penguins prevented Montreal from getting momentum.”

And this:
“The Penguins are outworking Montreal in key areas of the rink, which has yielded hooking, holding, and interference penalties.”

are part of why this is the best Pens’ analysis available and why we keep reading. PHN makes me a more aware hockey fan. Thanks for this, Dan, and keep up the excellent work.

Last edited 1 year ago by Ilja

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