The Pittsburgh Penguins shuffled the lines, swapped their goaltender, decided to hit everything which moved, and beat the Ottawa Senators in Game 4, 3-2. The Penguins reversed their lifeless, despondent performance from Game 3 and played with more energy, in all zones. It was a vital win for the Penguins, which tied the Eastern Conference Final, 2-2.
The much discussed goalie swap had a somewhat predictable result: Matt Murray played well. The 22-year old again burnished his big game credentials with 24 saves, including nullifying most of the Senators 15 High-Danger Scoring Chances (per www.NaturalStatTrick.com).
Penguins head coach, Mike Sullivan changed up all four lines with the goal of adding a physical presence on each unit. Chris Kunitz resumed his traditional role on Sidney Crosby’s left. Scott Wilson, who had 10 hits in Game 2, skated on the Evgeni Malkin’s left. Carter Rowney was elevated to the third line and fourth liner Josh Archibald got his first playoff action.
All four players were noticeable, positive forces. Wilson had six hits, three shots and one takeaway. Kunitz had four hits, while Rowney had three hits and a team high two takeaways. Josh Archibald was not credited with a hit; nope, not given credit for any one of the three solid checks on Erik Karlsson.
The physical play energized the Penguins, who played an uncharacteristically strong first period.
To reinforce the Bizarro World notion, the Penguins first goal came from…Olli Maatta. On an odd man break, Maatta skated past the forward defender and picked the short side on Senators goalie Craig Anderson who cheated towards the middle to take away the pass, which never came, to Sidney Crosby. Maatta took the open net for his first playoff goal, with only 45 seconds remaining in the first period.
Sidney Crosby scored a power play goal, seven minutes into the second period. Crosby was the target of Jean-Gabriel’s roughing penalty, even as Jake Guentzel took punches behind the net. The Penguins lead 2-0, but did not yet ease up.
The unlikely scoring continued as Brian Dumoulin was credited with a goal when his shot caromed off Dion Phaneuf, into the Senators net. And…Evgeni Malkin, who has been tormented by Phaneuf in this series, took a moment to say thank you.
Puck goes in off the skate of Dion Phaneuf. Malkin turns around and makes sure he knows it pic.twitter.com/Lk7q1uGl9l
— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) May 20, 2017
You may have heard, Malkin and Phaneuf don’t exchange pleasantries, and haven’t for years. The rivalry even pre-dates their 2014 fight.
Chad Ruhwedel was concussed late in the first period. After taking a high-stick, Ruhwedel was low on the boards, as Bobby Ryan steamrolled him. Ryan made hard and direct contact with Ruhwedel’s head. It was another avoidable head hit, which some NBCsn analysts touted as “unfortunate” but legal.
Their definition of legal and my definition differ. Perhaps the NHL will someday accept that concussions are a problem. However, none of the long time players in the Department of Player Safety can actually remember having concussions, so it’s not a big deal.
The Penguins played with five defensemen for two periods. See below for analysis.
The advanced stats show this was the Penguins game, in game flow, Corsi, and scoring chances. The shot chart above shows something more important than Corsi. The Penguins fought their way into the scoring area. Finally.
Two of the three Penguins goals were scored between the dots, and the third goal was the result continued offensive pressure. As the Senators will attest, pressure and repeated opportunities may result in less than pretty goals.
–The Penguins rose to the occasion, as they have done every time, when challenged. As important as the win, the Penguins set themselves up for Game 5 and the rest of the playoffs. The Penguins found balanced lines with physicality, scoring and spark.
–The Penguins five defensemen rotation pressed guys into larger minutes, but its positive impact was–it broke up the Dumoulin-Hainsey pairing. That pairing has mostly been pinned into their own zone, without reprise.
By breaking it up, the Penguins continued their quick play of the first period.
–Matt Murray. When he’s on his game, he reminds me of Martin Brodeur. There is a peace, and lack of excitement to his game. Even as the Senators pressed in the final minutes, the game was less chaotic. Credit the Penguins team, but Murray’s presence goes a long way to that mindset.
The Senators amassed 15 high-danger scoring chances, six in the first and third periods. Murray’s 10-bell moment came in the first period. Bobby Ryan drove to the net, and Derrick Brassard had a great rebound chance. Murray did the long splits and made the save.
–It is entirely possible to praise Murray, disagree with the goalie switch, and acknowledge the differences in players.
–The Penguins did not limit the changes to the goalie swap, and that was important. It was a legitimate question to ask if dumping Fleury could have a negative impact on the locker room. The line changes changed the dynamic, as well.
Sullivan said they didn’t make changes just for change. That is true. However, they clearly shook things up and it worked. The Penguins physical play was controlled and effective.
–Trevor Daley looked very good. Unlike Game 3 when he looked very bad. Daley’s return to form comes at the most important time. They could not win without a competent right-side defenseman. Daley provided speed and puck movement. Sorely needed.
–The difference in coverage between Sportsnet and NBCsn is amazing. On the Brian Dumoulin goal, Sportsnet highlights showed Chris Kunitz slashing Karlsson, twice, to take the puck and create the rush. Sportsnet gave the slashes tacit approval, while NBCsn never showed them.
NBCsn’s refusal to call Ryan’s hit on Ruhwedel a head shot must be the result of league orders. There can be no other explanation for the lack of discussion of the issue EVERY fan watching the playoffs is discussing.
–Ruhwedel was low for long enough that Ryan could have avoided the hit. But…it’s the playoffs. Players are allowed to murder, maim, or otherwise harm their opponent to the best of their God-given ability because…it’s the Stanley Cup.
–Phil Kessel was the goat on the Senators first goal. He was caught out of position along the boards, thus allowing Karlsson a good shot on net. Otherwise, Kessel was more engaged. He forechecked with interest. He helped his team win in Game 4. That’s important.
–Yes, Fleury has likely played his last game as a Penguin. For anyone paying attention, he erased the last vestiges of past failure. He stole several games and if there is another Stanley Cup, he will have earned his skate with it.
–Any lingering doubt about the Penguins future is gone. It’s Murray. If he stays healthy and continues playing as he did in Game 4, it is hard to argue with the Penguins choice.