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.
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.