(Pittsburgh)–The Pittsburgh Penguins shutout the Ottawa Senators, Friday. It will not go down as one of the great games in Penguins history. The teams combined for nearly 16 minutes of special teams play, so it was hard to establish rhythm and flow.
In a collision of stats and eyes, the Penguins outshot the Senators 5-1 through the first 10 minutes, but it was the Senators who controlled the offensive territory. Without Erik Karlsson, the Senators had little offensive punch.
For the remainder of the game, the Penguins had more offensive zone control but fewer shots.
The Penguins had six power-play chances but gave the Senators four. The Senators could have been awarded more power plays as the Penguins sent a few messages, including Sidney Crosby repeatedly cross checking Senators defenseman Thomas Chabot.
Repeatedly. If it were a wrestling crowd, a count would have started and reached at least five.
Evgeni Malkin also went hard at Zach Smith before skating away. Smith wasn’t done and got a few shots on Malkin, who had just stepped onto the Penguins bench. The officials allowed a bit of frontier justice–they assessed Malkin two minor penalties and Smith none.
That’s what you get for starting trouble then turning your back.
The Penguins paired Jamie Oleksiak with Chad Ruhwedel. It appeared to be an effective pairing. Oleksiak played his natural left side and protected the Penguins crease like Linus’ security blanket. Both Thursday and Friday, Oleksiak kept players from getting second chances and kept his goalie’s vision clear.
Oleksiak is becoming a genuine force on the left side.
The penalty kill, Zach Aston-Reese, Patric Hornqvist and Casey DeSmith had good nights…
Casey DeSmith: A
There is some debate if DeSmith should be playoff backup. If history holds, the Penguins backup will have to win a few games, at least.
It’s easy to like DeSmith’s demeanor (or DeMeanor?). He simply stops pucks. He is somewhat reminiscent of Chris Osgood; a smaller goalie who simply does his job. With a lot at stake, DeSmith played the best game of his NHL career. In the second period, his slick glove save on Alex Burrows, and the hard move to the right post to stone Matt Duchene‘s one-timer stood out.
Friday, DeSmith was big when the Penguins needed. His rebound control was mostly on point. Sullivan indicated it would probably be DeSmith behind Matt Murray and DeSmith has given the Penguins no cause to rethink that strategy.
Zach Aston-Reese: B
Aston-Reese played over 14 minutes, dished nine hits and played nearly three minutes short-handed. Aston-Reese was like a puppy on the PK; his feet were always moving, he was fooled by a couple of fakes but tenaciously hopped back into position.
Aston-Reese did not over pursue, he didn’t miss clearing attempts, and he won puck battles along the wall. For his PK work, he earned a high grade.
His offense is still a work in progress. He did not register a shot on goal and was not much of a factor on that side of the blue line. But, given the Penguins embarrassment of riches who can score, at least one player who is excited to do the dirty work isn’t a bad thing.
Sidney Crosby: B
Crosby was in playoff form. Few players in the game command as much respect as Crosby and that is why he was not whistled for cross checking in the first period.
Crosby has graduated to senior statesman by his gritty play in the postseason. Chabot’s ribs will probably have the outline of Crosby’s stick for a week.
Just as Malkin was punished harshly for agitating then skating away, Crosby was rewarded for getting his nose dirty.
Crosby also scored a goal from below the goal line when he banked a shot off Anderson. And dog bites man. Politicians argue.
Jake Guentzel: B-
PHN, especially this writer, have been hard on Guentzel. For good reasons. Mike Sullivan‘s postgame comments, or rather the tone, re-inforced controversial opinions written here about Guentzel’s play. Sullivan said Guentzel has been playing better, but stressed only for “the last handful of games.”
“I’m really happy he scored, he’s played a lot better as of late,” said Sullivan. “The last handful of games, we think his game is coming. He tends to be a streaky guy when he scores.”
Guentzel does not shy away from the front of the net, even though he is not as effective as a net-front presence as he is a sniper. Friday, he made space in the Ottawa zone and played as well offensively as a player could play in that environment.
Guentzel’s offensive creativity is what the Penguins will need moving forward. He showed flashes of that, Friday.
Harder to Play Against: A
One of those general hockey terms which mean nothing yet mean everything. The Penguins challenged the Senators for every puck and did not shy away from playing rough.
(BTW–does anyone else notice the PPG crowd goes crazy for the rough stuff? It’s an interesting dichotomy between fans in attendance and fans on social media).
Crosby was fierce. Oleksiak has become a mountain in front of the Penguins net.
The Penguins look like they are almost ready.