There isn’t a good spin for Marcus Pettersson’s trio of minor penalties or the disjointed Pittsburgh Penguins game over the first 40 minutes that had them staring at a potentially massive deficit in the standings. There are many positives for the Penguins, with Evgeni Malkin having real jump and a pretty goal, to Kris Letang stealing pucks. The Penguins got to their rush offense in the third period and beat Philadelphia 4-3 in regulation at PPG Paints Arena.
The Penguins gained two points in the series and didn’t share any.
The first two periods are almost a wash, tactically. The teams combined for 11 minor penalties, and it seemed each time the game would settle into a flow, the special teams were called upon.
According to Charlie O’Connor of The Athletic Philadelphia, the Penguins had 24 even-strength controlled zone entries in the second period, compared to Philadelphia’s 13.
We can leap to the tactical analysis from that stat, which favored the Penguins in two of three games in the series.
If the Pittsburgh Penguins didn’t fall asleep on Thursday night, they would have won all three games. That has to stick with them. What the Penguins did especially well against the Philadelphia Flyers was generate speed out of the zone.
Specifically, the forwards played in the D-zone and made themselves available for outlets while transitioned. The F1 and sometimes F2 made themselves available and worked in tandem so short passes could escape the zone and get past the first level of the Flyers.
They did so with speed. Eventually.
Just a little swing towards the defenseman, get the puck, eyes up–and GONE.
— Philly Hockey Now (@phillyhockeynow) March 6, 2021
Our boys in Philly like to have some fun. It’s a nice addition to the network. Anyway…
However, the negative: The defensive net was still a high traffic area for the Philadelphia Flyers. Brian Dumoulin helped, but the Flyers still could have planted a flag. Screens in front led to a couple of Flyers goals.
A few defensemen and a few forwards will have to get their nose dirtier, though see above. If you’re worrying too much about keeping the cage clean, the above rushes don’t happen with the same efficacy. There’s a balance somewhere. They were OK on that front today.
Pittsburgh Penguins Report Card
Power Play: A
“The power play was really good tonight. I wish I had an answer on why it was good. I think the players just made good decisions,” Mike Sullivan said.
The Penguins’ power play notched a pair of goals, and both were on controlled zone entries and originated from the stick of Sidney Crosby on the left-wing wall. Both were Delalo’s sweet sauce across the slot and over sticks.
Bryan Rust basically shrugged when asked about the power play. Things are a lot easier when Crosby is dealing. Perhaps the Penguins will note that and make Malkin the shooter instead of the second QB.
And things are easier when playing on the rush. Both PP goals were at full speed, not from the set umbrella.
Evgeni Malkin: A
He took a goofball penalty in the first period, but he was a force in the game. You know Malkin is playing well when all eyes are on him, and they were on Saturday. His goal was a beaut.
The Philadelphia defense was backing into Malkin with complete attention. That was real Malkin. Two points don’t hurt, either.
The line with Kasperi Kapanen and Jared McCann had a 73% possession rate and essentially scored the game-winning goal, though Brandon Tanev hopped on the ice for Kapanen.
Maybe it’s happenstance, but McCann with Malkin has thus far made a better line than Malkin with Zucker.
Sidney Crosby: Ha
Do you think I’ll give the hardest working player in the league with those hands and determination any less than an A?
Brian Dumoulin: A
The less you notice Dumoulin, the better he’s playing. You didn’t notice him unless you looked on Saturday. He did his job. Kris Letang was more aggressive in the defensive zone, too. Letang had just his eighth takeaway this season on Saturday.
A little bit of that aggressiveness surely comes from playing with Dumoulin, who had three hits and one takeaway.
The Penguin PK was noticeably improved, too.
Sam Lafferty: Poor Sam
He made that ghastly giveaway which led to the two-on-none goal (Hey, you can shoot with a two-on-ohhh?), and he was barely heard from again. He played just 3:29 though he did pick up four late shifts after Sullivan decided he delivered his message.
John Marino: C
I wasn’t crazy about his game on Saturday. I noted he got beat to the net a few times, including once by James van Riemsdyk for a high-danger chance. Marino is not that player, but right now, the smooth, poised game controller is more like a second-year guy struggling to find his way.
Marcus Pettersson: Please Stay After Class
Easily Pettersson’s worst game. He had no mojo and took silly interference or hooking penalties. Then argued. They were easy calls; he impeded forecheckers without the puck in close proximity. He played only 12 minutes, in part because he had time to carve his initials in the penalty box bench, but in part, because he was suffering through one of those days.
The Philadelphia forecheck affected him most of all.
Mike Matheson: B+
I see there’s a segment of the fanbase trying to circle Matheson for some scapegoat duties. For the life of me, I can’t figure that one out other than perception, ignorance, or he owes you money.
Matheson was part of the Penguins breakout success this week. A big part. He drew a penalty because he whizzed past the Flyers forecheck.
I was skeptical of him. No question. He’s making me a believer. He has a little bit of Paul Coffey in him. He won’t win a defensive defenseman trophy, but if he gets the puck out of danger, which he did, then advances the play, that’s a job complete.
There are NHL folks who are taking notice of the Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman, too. (no, not trade rumors, but in a complimentary way).