The Pittsburgh Penguins had Game 3. They owned significant stretches of play in the second period, held a 3-2 lead and they were dominating play in the final minutes, pressing for a winning goal.
But the Penguins defensemen, like sailors lured to the rocks by a Siren song, could not avoid pinching. Or stepping forward into oncoming traffic. After the furor of Tom Wilson dies down, because the NHL gets it right or impotently chickens out, much like Wilson when challenged by the Penguins, the Penguins undisciplined play will be the main story.
Kris Letang. Jamie Oleksiak. Olli Maatta. They went forward, not backward at crucial moments. Each bad pinch yielded a goal. Maatta was caught up in the Penguins blitzkrieg of the Capitals zone in the final minutes and was the victim of Wilson’s trip which nullified Maatta’s defensive ability.
If Sergei Gonchar is the defenseman whisperer, he should whisper to his crew, “Play defense.”
The Good Parts
The Penguins moved their feet. The heightened intensity of their strides was immediately noticeable. The Penguins were first on pucks in all three zones. They aggressively took away space by racing into position and tracking their men.
Those defensive zone puck wins generate more rushes.
The Capitals did not stack the blue line in Game 3 but went to an aggressive forecheck. The resulting fireworks made for riveting action, but a Penguins advantage. Or at least it should have been a Penguins advantage.
The Bad Parts
The Penguins are now playing with May intensity but an October structure. Mistakes and sloppiness are overshadowing their effort to dial in their game finally. The Penguin did bring their “A Game” once–Game 1, Round 1.
Since then, the Penguins have been chasing themselves as much as they’ve chased the puck.
Poor pinches, bad penalties, dormant offense from half the lineup and a scuffling Phil Kessel have the Penguins behind the 8-ball.
Matt Murray: D
Game 3 was one of the worst playoff games of Matt Murray’s short playoff career. There were bouncy rebounds, leaky saves, and Murray was beaten by Matt Niskanen from over 40 feet away. There were several “almost goals,” pucks which trickled behind Murray and nearly rolled into the net.
Murray was lit up in Game 2 as the Capitals picked his glove hand. In Game 3, they didn’t have as much time and space, but they still managed to get pucks through the big goalie.
Derick Brassard: B
Brassard must come through with some offense, but his line again created chances. Brassard also played with a lot of jam and fire. Brassard was only given credit for two hits, but that number is deficient. Brassard’s physical presence altered how Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen played the puck in the first period. Niskanen saw Brassard coming and hurried the breakout pass, which the Penguins disrupted.
In Game 3, Brassard had a positive value in every statistical category. Now, he has to light the lamp a couple of times.
Brian Dumoulin: A-
Dumoulin had a noticeable edge to his game. His skating was more aggressive and he didn’t hesitate to play with the puck in the scoring zones. He created a couple of high danger scoring chances with good skating and puck patience.
Dumoulin had three hits and three shots. He nearly beat several Capitals and goaltender Braden Holtby later in the third period.
Phil Kessel: D-
Where have you gone, Phil Kessel? A city turns its lonely eyes to you.
After a bad performance in Game 2, Kessel did not rebound. Literally or figuratively. He posted one shot and two turnovers. His game just isn’t kosher right now. Kessel hasn’t even been a power play spark plug. Injuries may affect individual skills. Injuries don’t lead to going the wrong way in the neutral zone.
Mark Recchi: F
The Pittsburgh Penguins are becoming synonymous with “poor line change.” Too many men on the ice, late in the second period is brutal. Bad line changes which yield high-quality scoring chances on a consistent basis won’t burnish Recchi’s coaching resume.
Some players are trying to do too much and turning the puck over at the wrong moment, but the Philadelphia Flyers and Capitals have banked on taking advantage of the Penguins poor line changes. Tuesday was Game 91 this season. It’s time for the Penguins to master the little things, like line changes.
Jake Guentzel: A+
Credit and criticism when its due. Guentzel played a physical 200-foot game. He rattled a couple of Capitals on the end wall. He was creative offensively. The goal and the beautiful assist on Sidney Crosby’s goal were rewards for a game well played.
Braden Holtby: A
Penguins fans expecting Holtby to crumble have been and likely will be disappointed. After a couple of softies in Game 1, Holtby has slammed the door when needed.
The Penguins drive-by chances are not taxing Holtby as much as the sustained pressure of years past, but Holtby is making all of the saves he should and a few he shouldn’t