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Penguins Grades: A Different Game, What to Like (and Not) About the Win



Pittsburgh Penguins game, Evgeni Malkin

ANAHEIM — Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan seemed more pleased with the Penguins’ effort in a 4-3 loss to the Anaheim Ducks eight days ago, or at least parts of it, than he did with their 2-0 win over the Ducks Tuesday at the Honda Center.

The Penguins were patient, largely structured, and made good decisions with the puck. They took the stick out of the Ducks’ hands in the second and third periods. Except for a push near the end of the third, the Penguins were in total control.

Read Penguins postgame: That’s Just Ducky: Penguins Find a Way to Stymie Anaheim, 2-0.

Yet, when asked about the win Tuesday, Sullivan veered back to the lost two points eight days ago when Anaheim beat the Penguins 4-3 with a last-second goal at PPG Paints Arena.

“I thought the game we played in Pittsburgh, actually, we controlled a lot more of the game. We had a significant amount of grade-A scoring chances in that game. So, that was a game that just escaped us. You know, I thought we deserved a better fate,” Sullivan said. “But we didn’t get the two points. And I thought tonight was a more evenly matched game. There were some chances on both sides, but there wasn’t a lot of room up there, you know?”

Penguins Analysis

The first period was the polar opposite of the game the teams played in Pittsburgh last week. As coach Mike Sullivan repeated Tuesday before the game, the Penguins “found a way to lose that game.” Tuesday, both teams played a buttoned-up style in the first. Anaheim, at times, packed the zone against the Penguins, who conversely made absolutely sure to stay above the puck and avoid odd-man rushes.

Anaheim tortured the Penguins with odd-man breaks last week (or did the Penguins torture themselves by giving them up?). Instead of pushing too hard or taking chances, the Penguins patiently awaited their chances.

For his part, goalie Magnus Hellberg, who was pressed into duty late in the second period after starting goalie Tristan Jarry suffered a head injury, also felt the Ducks “stole” two points last week and the Penguins had a point, or two, to prove.

“I’m just really happy we got the win because of the game we had against them that we didn’t win. I think they stole two points from us in Pittsburgh,” Hellberg said. “So, of course, they had a little heat going (in the third period). So it was nice to win for them for sure and keep building on Thursday (against the LA Kings).”

Hellberg stopped all 11 shots he faced.

Anaheim had a tough time defending the Penguins at the net (when they got there), though goalie John Gibson did his part to get the Penguins at bay. After a tight first period, the Penguins ripped 17 shots on goal in the second.

Rickard Rakell had three good rips but no goals. Alas, the snakes are still biting.

The Penguins had nine of the 11 even-strength scoring chances in the second period and four of the five high-danger chances, according to

The Penguins’ 1-2-2 base structure was present, but once they got on their toes, it was an aggressive forecheck and a swift-moving game with scoring chances.

“I was happy with our patience — that we didn’t open it up,” said Sullivan. “We just we just took what the game gave us, and if plays weren’t there to be made, we put the puck deep and stayed above the puck.”

Given the Penguins near Keystone Cops routine at some points this season, a parade for that effort might not be a bad thing. The Penguins are good, but they’re not too good to be disappointed by a conservative effort.

Pittsburgh Penguins Shortcoming

However, the Penguins remain conspicuous by their absence near the net. They could have buried Anaheim with more net-front pressure. The team is getting pretty chances, but they didn’t hold the Ducks to the fire (would that be roast Duck?). The top line with Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel, and Byran Rust had a few bouncing pucks at the net and scrums, but not enough. The third line got a goal at the net. And there were a few fly-by chances near the net, which Gibson turned aside.

However, when a team is dominating, one-off chances against a goalie playing as well as John Gibson will be swallowed up. The Penguins need a little more of an edge. They’re playing well, professionally even, but they’re not passionately stalking the net like it’s a need.

Gibson took care of the chances, and I’m not sure how many second cracks the Penguins got. The Penguins did not do enough to make Gibson miserable.

Conversely, the Ducks didn’t do much to make Jarry miserable until late in the second period. Adam Henrique charged to the net and made contact with Jarry’s head just as a shot was arriving. The hit bent Jarry’s neck awkwardly and dislodged his mask as the shot was coming.

How was it not a penalty? Anyway…

The Penguins faced their first 6v5 in a one-goal game this season, and they passed with flying colors.

They kept the Ducks to the exterior. They weren’t sloppy or rushed with the puck. No, they weren’t perfect, but they were pretty good. Perhaps I had a higher opinion of the Penguins’ win than the coach.

That only seems fair since I’ve had a much lower opinion of some losses.

There are some personnel issues to dissect in the report card, including the fourth line. The line was a mixed bag on Tuesday, and you’ll decide if their zero shot attempts were acceptable while playing mostly against the Ducks’ top six.

The Ducks’ top lines didn’t have a lot of chances (6), but the Penguins’ fourth line didn’t play with the puck. At all.

I’ll take that trade against a talented but thin team like Anaheim, but that won’t always be the case.

On defense, Chad Ruhwedel was victimized more times than Roy Sullivan (the Guinness Book of World Records holder for most times struck by lightning — Seven). Ruhwedel returned to the lineup after a one-game absence, and P.O Joseph returned to being a healthy scratch.

My take is that Joseph played a bad game Saturday in San Jose. Going back to last season, Ruhwedel is struggling regularly at this point in his career — More in the report card.

Also, Crosby left the game twice with equipment issues. Crosby is having issues with his skates; it seems something has to give sooner or later. He’s been battling those skates for a few weeks.

Pittsburgh Penguins Report Card

Let’s start with the good performances. All stats are according to

Guentzel-Crosby-Rust: A

They did everything. They controlled the puck and led all lines with five high-danger scoring chances. The line seemed to control the puck all night.

O’Connor-Eller-Zohorna: A+

The Penguins’ best line? They led the team with seven scoring chances and scored the game-winner. Zohorna makes so many subtle little plays that you may not notice if you’re watching the puck (don’t we all?). He cleared space at the blue line for Eller’s zone entry on the goal, then went to the net, where he poked the rebound with his expansive reach.

He smiled a bit when I asked if it was an “accident” that he bumped the defenseman to create space. He’s too honest.

Speaker 2: I saw he was coming. Like, I just tried to put it back to the edge and then it was kind of like, you know, I want to go like

Kris Letang: A

Have you noticed how good Letang has been? He’s been conservative and kept his zone clean. Actually, his reserved play is creating opportunities for Ryan Graves to pinch–though it’s not always a good idea when Graves pinches.

Letang is having his quietest season but his most responsible.

Ryan Graves: C+

He’s making a lot of iffy decisions and missing guys by the net. He almost got burned a couple of times on Tuesday. He’s trying to play more offensive hockey than he should. There was a moment in the third period when he was going to the back wall to receive a pass, but he was committing before the Penguins had the puck. He quickly realized the Penguins did not have control, and there was a player uncovered in front of the net.

He quickly scrambled to position, but just in time. He should have recognized the situation a few beats sooner.

PP2: A

The Penguins only had one real power play opportunity. The Penguins’ second power-play unit is better than its first. They had a couple of good shots, including Vinnie Hinostroza forcing Ducks goalie John Gibson to make a great save at the net front.

Letang runs the second power play, by the way.

They don’t waste time. They move the puck, and they get to the net. Ahem, PP1.

Fourth Line: D

Zero shot attempts. They allowed five attempts and four on net. They also allowed two scoring chances and one high danger.

I’m not sure they played with the puck on the fun side of the blue line all night. That was not the performance anyone expected, and I’ll type this without any agenda: The line has been better with c.

No, I don’t know how to reconcile what I’ve seen with what I saw.

Evgeni Malkin: A

Malkin was strong, especially in the second period. He was a vacuum cleaner, and every loose puck within 20 feet was his. HIS. He was assertive and directed play, though linemate Rickard Rakell could not buy a goal.

Rakell is in a funk, but Malkin set up a few Grade A chances.

Chad Ruhwedel: Ummm

By PHN’s unofficial count, Ruhwedel was on the wrong end of four scoring chances. Lost battles near the net, a misplay on the rush (with a player near the net), and getting turned on the back wall.

Ruhwedel is having trouble, and his effectiveness is in question. Perhaps he’s a better option in the short term than re-inserting Joseph into the lineup, but it’s debatable if that’s also a long-term answer.

Ryan Shea remains solid and the best of the three defenders vying for ice time. Shea keeps it simple and limits mistakes.