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PHN EXTRA: Penguins Have Momentum, Report Card vs. Florida Panthers



Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel

PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins seemingly dominated the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night yet as they had to do in two of the last four games, the Penguins needed overtime to gain the victor’s point against an opponent they outplayed. In the previous two occasions, they failed and skated off with only one point for their effort. Tuesday night, Jake Guentzel deked Roberto Luongo and the Penguins finally earned the winner’s point.

The Penguins beat the Panthers 3-2 in OT, Tuesday night at PPG Paints Arena.

And it was a big point, too. The Carolina Hurricanes, who occupy third place in the Metro Division, lost in overtime to the Boston Bruins. So, with Carolina being the team stuck with the loser point, the Penguins moved into a third-place tie with Carolina. Each has 77 points but Carolina currently has one more ROW (Regulation Overtime Wins). The Penguins are also two points ahead of Montreal, which is the first team out of the playoffs.

“We wanted the extra point, for sure. It’s tough when you get all that way and play a good game. With 3-on-3, it can go either way, it’s usually good chances at each end,” said Penguins goalie Matt Murray. “So sometimes you feel a little bit worse than you should if you lose an overtime game but we earned it tonight. We played really well.”

The Penguins game was enough to make a head coach smile, if not for lack of finish. The Penguins blitzed the Florida zone for most of the game, controlled the puck and pushed the play. The game was the Penguins’ game.

Tactically, the Penguins pressured Florida. The Sidney Crosby line with Jared McCann and Jake Guentzel was aggressive on the puck. The Penguins first goal was the direct result of Crosby’s forecheck, McCann was first on the loose puck and Guentzel charged the zone.

“(Guentzel’s) shot stands out the most. He knows where to go and when he gets it, he lets it off quick,” Crosby said of Guentzel.

The Penguins third line was nearly unbeatable in the low zone. They won puck battle after puck battle. If stats geeks want to create a stat on which everyone can agree, they need to add puck battles. Nick Bjugstad and Patric Hornqvist outmuscled Florida and pinned Florida into the defensive zone numerous times. That created offensive pressure and tilted the ice.

The Penguins third line drew a fair amount of the Florida top pairing of Aaron Ekblad and Mike Matheson. The Penguins attacked Matheson and won the right corner battle. Bjugstad effectively barged off the wall towards the goal several times.

The advanced stats back up that eye test — more in the report card section.

The defense again did its job and held the fort. See the heat map in the report card section. The Penguins defense allowed very little in the dirty scoring zones. Since the outdoor game, the Penguins defense has built a wall around Murray.

The Penguins were also aggressive, as a team in the neutral zone. Florida had very few uncontested zone entries. After some early bobbles, Erik Gudbranson was noticeably crossing the red line to disrupt Florida and take away passing lanes. He was playing forward, as were most of the Penguins defenders. After a softer first period, the Penguins pushed.

Their puck support was also on prime display. There weren’t too many stretch passes. The Penguins brought the puck out of their zone because they fronted Florida and won battles. They were making simple plays–stick to stick.

The heat map tells the story.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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