The Pittsburgh Penguins finally looked like…the Pittsburgh Penguins. They looked hungry, aggressive and like a coordinated five-man unit. The New Jersey Devils sufficiently challenged the Penguins by beating them in the three previous meetings and by doing with the Penguins blueprint.
The Penguins blitzed the Devils in classic Penguins fashion. The Devils had to fight for rush opportunities, and the Penguins had to fight for space. It was a wonderful hockey game full of earned chances, highlight reel goals (see Sidney Crosby‘s game-winning goal) and structured hockey.
It was the game the Penguins needed. Now, they need to do it again against Montreal, Saturday, and Washington, Sunday.
Devils Kyle Palmieri (first period. 1-0)
Phil Kessel has had a great season. However, recently he has been a defensive liability. Kessel has reverted to hot-dog Phil instead of the engaged, responsible Phil.
Kessel had control of the puck and options deep in the Devils zone but turned his back on the play and headed backward to the blue line. The Devils pounced–look at the transition game recognize they have Kessel trapped. Brian Dumoulin was slow to realize the coming danger.
Kessel should not have brought the puck to the blue line in a vulnerable position. Sometimes its best to make the simple play and get the puck low.
The Devils stole the puck–and when Dumoulin was slow to recognize the threat–the Devils had numbers going the other way.
Just for the anti-Letang crowd–note who was back.
Kessel’s whoops ultimately became Kyle Palmieri‘s marker
Conor Sheary (1st period. 1-1)
Since we often chide the Penguins for positional mistakes, it’s important to show one of the opponents, too.
Patric Hornqvist created a turnover at center ice, and the Penguins’ third line quickly transitioned to offense. Riley Sheahan may or may not have interfered with Will Butcher at the blue line, creating space for Hornqvist on the right wing:
Devils defenseman Mirco Mueller over-committed to the vacant right wing. Instead of playing it like a two on one, which it was, Mueller covered the shooter–in this case, Hornqvist.
Mueller left his position, which left Conor Sheary open for the tap-in. Mueller should have let goalie Keith Kinkaid have the shooter:
Penguins Great Shift (1st period 16:34-17:17)
Earlier this week, I wrote the Penguins needed to “go for it.” They aren’t going to win a Stanley Cup with defense. The best defense is a good offense. This sequence of the Penguins is exactly what I meant. The Penguins jumped the Devils breakouts, forechecked, and the defensemen pinched–FIVE times. In order:
Justin Schultz had a brilliant shift. He owned the right wing wall and kept the puck in the zone twice. Schultz also won a loose puck battle at the mid-wall. Jamie Oleksiak also owned the left wing wall with the same type of play.
Not pictured was the Penguins attention to detail. Each time Schultz or Oleksiak stepped forward, one Penguins forward stepped back. Jake Guentzel covered Oleksiak at the point. For Guentzel it was a much-needed show of defensive responsibility.
Regarding “Penguins hockey,” nothing exemplified it better than this shift. About 45 seconds of zone time resulted from responsibility and aggression. As Cousin Eddie would say–“Bingo.”
Matt Hunwick PK (2nd period. 2-2).
The Penguins penalty kill has allowed a power-play goal in nine of the last 10 games. Unacceptable.
Most often, the PK foibles have been small details. This is no exception. First, Josh Jooris failed to clear:
The Penguins PK failed to pressure the Devis point men, which allowed Butcher to hold the line–Without a threat to defend, a point man can try to make the play. Butcher made a nice play to keep the blue line. Taylor Hall quickly dropped back to make himself an outlet and reverse the direction of the play:
Now, here’s where the attention to detail is essential. Hunwick is circled because he’s reading the left wing wall, despite being the right side defender. Note his head position and vision. He’s already turned the wrong way, despite the play coming to his side. Here are two angles of it. He should have flowed with the play to the far post. X marks the spot.
Hall skated the puck to the circle around Jooris who challenged point. However, Hunwick drifted out of position. He’s spot should have been between Hall and the net. Instead, he was caught in Nowheresville, population: One.
Hunwick made a few other gaffes, and we detailed them in the free postgame report card. PHN will be following this situation closely.
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