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Penguins Grades: Scrappers Rise, Pens’ Pulse Gets Stronger



Pittsburgh Penguins Game analysis, Win over Detroit Red Wings

So, that is the Pittsburgh Penguins competition for a playoff spot?

The Penguins outclassed the sagging Detroit Red Wings, outmuscled them along the wall, and generally outplayed them in what was essentially a must-win game for the Penguins. A loss meant trailing the Red Wings by nine points for the final playoff spot with only 14 games to go.

Their win put them five back of Detroit and four back of the New York Islanders, who lost to the New York Rangers Sunday. In other words, game on.

Read More: Winging It, Penguins Overwhelm Detroit 6-3. Penguins recap.

The Penguins had a dominating stretch in the first period, though not without a couple of harrowing moments. They remarkably yielded a pair of three-on-one rushes without turning the puck over. They just didn’t transition with Detroit.

While their spellbinding defensive lapses have become unfortunate commonplace, the Penguins finished their chances Sunday. Reilly Smith was credited with a goal that first hit Moritz Seider’s skate before caroming upward off Smith’s thigh and into the net.

Perhaps it was the luck of the Irish for a city that once housed a hockey team named the Shamrocks (and legend has it that original general manager Jack Reilly wanted to name the NHL franchise that, too).

For a solid six-minute stretch in the middle of the first, the Penguins dominated play, firing 10 shots at Detroit goalie Alex Lyon. That was probably the fulcrum for the remainder of the game, even as those defensive walkabouts bit them. Defensemen Erik Karlsson and Ryan Graves lost a few puck battles, and the Sidney Crosby line was disengaged from the play, allowing Lucas Raymond to sign a few autographs on his way to the right dot for a clean wrister and a tie game.

From there, the Penguins relatively dominated the team seven points ahead of them and occupied the final playoff spot. Late in the first period, the Penguins cracked the Red Wings, scoring two goals in 23 seconds. The goals also occurred in the final 67 seconds of the first period.

Crosby scored the first goal when his team counterattacked after a three-on-one and backhanded a puck through Lyon for the Penguins’ second goal.

We’ll get to how the Penguins managed to yield a pair of three-on-ones.

And 23 seconds later, Lars Eller’s line held the puck in the offensive zone, cycling down low before Smith was open behind the net and Valtteri Puustinen found space in the slot for a perfect bardown wrist shot.

“We can play (in the offensive zone), and I can (try to get open),” Puustinen said. “Schmidty looks for me. And I shoot.”

Easy peasy.

By midway through the second period, the Penguins led 4-1 and were outshooting Detroit 24-11.

Penguins Analysis

The Penguins again did a lot right on the good side of the red line. The Penguins made simple plays through the neutral zone to create controlled zone entries. But didn’t stop there.

The Penguins protected the house. Detroit had shot attempts but not nearly as many shots on goal. As they often espouse but often struggle to do, the Penguins “played in fives.” The defensemen were a part of the play, yet minus the mistakes, the Penguins also held their layers through the neutral zone.

“I thought we just did a better job defending with numbers and keeping the puck to the perimeter. And so that’s just an essential aspect of winning,” said Mike Sullivan. “You have to be able to keep it out of your net. You’ve got to manage the puck, and stay above the attack at times. You can create offense through your defense … And I also thought we manufactured some offense which is really encouraging.”

The Penguins kept the heat off their backup goalie, Alex Nedeljkovic, which is exactly how it should be. They also didn’t get sloppy in the third; they went for the kill, but not at the expense of leaving themselves vulnerable.

Penguins Report Card

Team: A-

You can’t allow a pair of three-on-ones, have a handful of defensive whoops, and get an A+. Credit the Penguins for rebounding from what was probably a mental-trip sort of loss on Saturday. The Penguins may have well outplayed the Rangers Saturday but tripped over themselves and lost 7-4.

They well outplayed Detroit Sunday. The effort and intensity were appropriate for the situation, and they tightened up as the game progressed. No, it wasn’t perfect. This team probably isn’t capable of that, but wins don’t come with additional style points.

Performances to like:

Power Play: Hey, they got the puck in the zone, worked it low, moved it to the net, and even netted what was essentially a power play goal (Puustinen’s goal was one second after expiration). The power play wasn’t perfect, but it was effective in its simplicity.

Michael Bunting: He’s not as good as Jake Guentzel, but he brings an element to the lineup the Penguins have been missing. He’s just scrappy and unafraid to battle at the net. His diving rebound goal and the number of puck battles around the net speaks well. He’s also creating space for Evgeni Malkin. The game is opening up for that line.

Fourth Line, Bemstrom-Acciari-Carter: gets an A+. They had more shot attempts in the first period than any Penguins line (5). They allowed only one shot attempt and zero shots on goal. More importantly, they had a pair of high-danger chances (Bemstrom’s breakaway and a tight Accairi shot).

They allowed a few shot attempts in the second period but only one on goal. They assumed the defensive posture and stayed between the puck and the goal.

If you’ve followed me for years, you know I’m a fan of the lunchpail guys, and they’ve been bringing it. The advanced stats (for once) told the proper story.

P.O Joseph-John Ludvig: They were very good. By the end of the second period, they had activated and kept the play alive no less than four times. Ludvig is playing his best hockey and Joseph is playing smart and quick, too. After 40 minutes, they were not on the ice for a Detroit scoring chance (Ludvig was on the ice for Detroit’s second goal late in the second period but most certainly had his responsibility covered).

Third Line, Reilly Smith-Lars Eller-Valtteri Puustinen: The Penguins’ blood and guts center is showing an offensive streak. He scored his 14th of the season on a power play tip. Eller has elevated the Penguins’ power play, as well. His biggest contributions have been dragging his line deep into the zone. He and Reilly Smith have chemistry, and Puustinen provides a little more offensive pop.

The line attacked in the low zone. After 40 minutes, they had 10 shot attempts vs. 3, scored a goal, and did not allow a scoring chance.