The Pittsburgh Penguins dominated shots, scoring chances, and scored a pair of power-play goals against the Columbus Blue Jackets Thursday night. On paper, it should have been an easy Penguins win. However, the Blue Jackets were able to buckle the Penguins zone coverage a few times and were the recipient of a soft goal.
The Penguins had 63.5 percent Corsi rating and controlled over 64 percent of the scoring chances. The Penguins simultaneously flexed their muscle and showed their complete game isn’t yet ready.
Also, the Blue Jackets didn’t miss their chances.
The Penguins could have eased up, several times. They were on the road and already clinched a playoff berth. However, they played aggressively. The Penguins forechecked and pressured the Blue Jackets breakouts which set the tone for the Penguins offense.
The Penguins were also able to use the rush at even strength and on the power play, unlike Sunday against the Washington Capitals. The Blue Jackets didn’t take the Penguins legs away.
Make sure to read Pittsburgh Hockey Now’s game recap, too.
Matt Murray: C+
Murray made too many big saves to give him a poor grade. His statistics certainly merit a D; he stopped 26 of 30 shots. The soft goal to However, Murray stopped a couple of breakaways and one-timers in the scoring zone.
“Every shot was a scoring chance, it seemed like,” said Murray.
Murray’s whiff against Zach Werenski was one of the worst goals he allowed this season. Murray will have to take a deep breath and get ready for the playoffs. The First Round could be against a team capable of beating them.
Conor Sheary: A
Sheary has become a staple in the report card section. His game has sparkled over the past few weeks. Sheary has regained his confidence, and it does not matter if he’s playing beside Derick Brassard, Riley Sheahan or Sidney Crosby.
Sheary had four shots in just over 11 minutes of ice time. He will never be a hard 200-foot player, but he played goal line to goal line against Columbus. His breakaway goal was the result of going deep into the defensive zone then recognizing the opportunity existed.
He outskated everyone to the Blue Jackets net and didn’t give up even after being knocked to the ice.
Penguins PK: C-
The Penguins penalty killing unit is out of time. They must get it together. The PK unit yielded a breakaway and a power-play goal. They also spent long stretches keeping Columbus to the perimeter by maintaining stable positioning. Of course, they followed that solid positioning with several poor clearing attempts. In fact, poor is being kind.
The Penguins PK could not clear the puck which made them work harder. They allowed one goal in three chances. It’s pointless to count how many games they’ve allowed a man-advantage goal because recently it has been most games.
The Blue Jackets power-play has been hot, but penalty killing is about small details: sticks in lanes, adjusting to movement, winning puck battles and ultimately getting the puck out of the zone.
A unit which does one or a couple well but not all ultimately will not succeed. It’s time for someone to step forward on the PK and get the puck out of the zone.
Patric Hornqvist: A
Hornqvist has become another staple of the Report Card. He’s fun to watch, isn’t he? There aren’t many net-front players in the history of the NHL who have been worth the price of admission, but when Hornqvist is on a roll, he’s as much fun to watch as any superstar.
Hornqvist drove the Capitals batty, Sunday. He pressured the Blue Jackets and created a traffic jam in front of the net. The Blue Jackets defenders were forced to engage him which created space and opportunity for Sheary and Riley Sheahan. Hornqvist has had a jump in his step this week.
It’s obvious. He’s ready for what comes next.
Kris Letang: B
No more grading on the curve. The “first” season is done.
Initial reaction without watching the film, Letang moved well and defended his position. He also played 28 minutes.
On the Blue Jackets fourth goal by Cam Atkinson, Letang was caught in a no-win situation. Pierre Luc Dubois cut past Brian Dumoulin. Letang chose to step into Dubois. It wasn’t a wrong decision, but the puck squirted directly to Atkinson.
If Letang stayed with Atkinson, Dubois would have had a glorious chance with a high probability of success.
The Blue Jackets did not get extended zone time, and the scoring chances Letang’s Corsi rating was in line with the team, at 64 percent. Letang also helped generate nine scoring chances despite yielding only six. If Letang doesn’t play against Ottawa, it was a good end to the regular season.
Update: 8:05 a.m.
Justin Schultz: A
Only after working on the PHN Extra: Pens Chalkboard did I realize how well Schultz played. His pinches were well timed and effective. His defensive zone coverage was tight.
Schultz’ game has continued to grow, even this season. Schultz pinched twice on the play which resulted in Patric Hornqvist’s flukey goal and it was Schultz’ pass which was deflected and fluttered towards Hornqvist.
You make your own luck and Schultz earned high praise for that shift and more, Thursday night.