The Pittsburgh Penguins had nearly 65 percent of the total scoring chances against the Columbus Blue Jackets yet needed overtime to finish off the Metro Division rivals, 5-4.
In their final tuneup before the playoffs, the Penguins showed their strengths, but also their continued defensive lapses cost them. The Blue Jackets were opportunistic, and they got a little help from Matt Murray. Based on every metric and eye test, the Penguins should have won the game easily, instead, it took a great effort by Conor Sheary to tie the game, late in the in the third period.
To the Chalkboard!
The Penguins forecheck was aggressive from the opening puck drop. Here is Evgeni Malkin’s first shift. Malkin lost the faceoff in the offensive zone, but the Penguins did not retreat or surrender the puck. (Sidenote: this is why I cringe when some people place too much emphasis on faceoffs. It’s not always the win or loss; it is the next 10 seconds which matter). The Penguins relentlessly pursued the puck and defensemen Olli Maatta and Justin Schultz held the blue line for a clean scoring chance. Malkin is the red circle to start–he charged the breakout:
Olli Maatta followed suit. It was a dangerous step forward, but the Penguins mindset was –“Forward!”– and that is how they are built to play.
Maatta disrupted the breakout and which led to a sloppy pass. Schultz had his eyes up and was agile enough to step into the puck. Schultz kept the play alive and suddenly the Penguins had numbers in the offensive zone:
High risk, high reward. It culminated in Patric Hornqvist getting a clean shot on Sergei Bobrovsky and Carl Hagelin heading towards the net. If Bobrovsky yielded a rebound, Hagelin would have picked it cleanly.
Hornqvist Goal (4:25 1st Period)
Patric Hornqvist scored his 10th goal in 13 games. Justin Schultz again was quietly the man who made it happen. Schultz stepped into the midwall to keep the play alive twice. Malkin wisely dropped back to cover Schultz until it was time to join the fun. It all began with a dump-in and a good forecheck. The Penguins forecheck covered both exits:
As you can see above, the Penguins took what the Blue Jackets gave. Malkin wisely chipped it into the zone.
Schultz had all five Blue Jackets in front of him and so he was able to step into the play. Note Malkin’s response to Schultz’ pinch. Perfect.
Hagelin and Hornqvist jarred the puck off the wall and even despite losing the puck battle, the chase continued…and Malkin lurked.
The Blue Jackets couldn’t move the puck and there was no one on the back side to reverse the play. So, Malkin stepped forward and the Penguins pressure continued. I should have used a green check mark for Schultz and Malkin. They played this well.
The pressure culminated when Hornqvist teed up a fluttering puck which initially was Schultz’ D-to-D pass. The pass was deflected. You make your luck but the Penguins had three players in prime position, too.
Boone Jenner Power Play Goal (6:35 2nd period)
This is one of the goals which are being hung on Kris Letang. However, a quick look at the film and we can see the Penguins PK box broke down when Dumoulin bolted for the wall. It was a wrong decision by Dumoulin (X marks the spot he should have kept). Hagelin had the wall and point–the Penguins weren’t in danger until Dumoulin chased.
Letang flowed with Sonny Milano (#22) as he was the immediate threat posed by Dumoulin’s vacancy, but that left Jenner in 58’s blindspot.
I’m hard-pressed to blame Letang on this goal. If he drops coverage of Milano, the Blue Jackets have a prime opportunity on the doorstep. Dumoulin made it all or nothing and…the Pens got nothing.
Murray was perhaps surprised by the play, too. He was deep in the net when Jenner released the shot. When Murray is on his game, he would have been able to take a full step forward to make the shot more difficult.
Sheary! (12:16 3rd period)
This is a fun play to break down. It included good plays and a defensive switch or miscue.
To begin, this is good zone coverage. Green checkmarks! Oleksiak made this play or saved it. The big defenseman had his man in front of the net and he controlled the territory.
Phil Kessel came deeper into the defensive zone in response to the play, and Schultz had Jenner covered in the slot. Should Schultz and Sheahan switch?
Schultz certainly thought he and Sheahan should switch. He reclaimed his more traditional spot but Sheahan stayed with the man, which left Jenner open for a good shot. Kessel maintained nice positioning. Jenner isn’t his man and if Kessel over commits, the coverage breaks down entirely. Oleksiak won his battle–and blocked the Jenner’s shot. Note Sheary’s head and stance. He has a full picture in front of him and is ready to go, already.
Oleksiak blocked the shot, which fluttered back toward the circle. Kessel collapsed low to help his centerman and was the first to the loose puck. Kessel chipped it to the wall but Sheary already knew what he was going to do. And here we go:
It was a great read and play by Sheary. Solid work by Oleksiak and credit Kessel for diving deep in the defensive zone.
And there you go. But don’t tell anyone I showed you it wasn’t necessarily Letang’s fault on the power play goal. Twitter is probably working up “a good hate” as I type. We wouldn’t want to spoil their fun on a Friday.
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