Penguins Struggles? Third Line Dominant and Scoreless
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Penguins Struggles? Third Line Dominant and Scoreless

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Dominik Simon (left), Nick Bjugstad (center), Patric Hornqvist (right) NHL headshots courtesy of NHL and Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Penguins recently-constituted third line formed around Nick Bjugstad and Patric Hornqvist earned nine scoring chances Thursday night. They yielded just one, single, solitary scoring chance despite seeing significant time against the Nashville Predators top line and top defensive pairing.

That’s a 90 percent scoring chance ratio, and that is complete domination.

Even before the Penguins controlled the Nashville Predators Thursday night, the Penguins Bjugstad line which has been elevated to second-line status in the wake of Evgeni Malkin’s injury absence has led the Penguins charge to the low zone.

The culmination of the line came with four minutes remaining Thursday night. Instead of sitting back with a one-goal lead, the line showed a killer instinct. At four minutes left, they pressured Nashville with the best shift of the game. They unloaded with three high-danger scoring chances in 20 seconds.

Yet they didn’t score. Again.

“Yeah, it’s frustrating sometimes. It’s even more frustrating when you’re not getting chances and you start thinking a little too much,” Bjugtad said Saturday morning mostly in regards to the team as a whole. “A lot of guys are getting quality chances.”

Saturday against Dallas, the Bjugstad line again posted pretty advanced statistics and a healthy amount of scoring chances. The stats weren’t as gaudy Saturday because the line was up against one of the best top lines in the NHL. The Penguins third line posted a 64 percent Corsi rating, outshot the Dallas top line and were even in scoring chances. They again blitzed their opponent in the final minutes, too.

But they haven’t scored.

“It will go in at some point,” Bjugstad said to conclude his thoughts. 

Patric Hornqvist hasn’t scored an even strength goal since Jan. 5. Bjugstad has lit the lamp at 5v5 since March 10. The line did create the Penguins lone Penguins goal in the team’s 5-1 loss to St. Louis on March 16 when Dominik Simon converted a loose puck to an unassisted goal.

The goal was unassisted but it was set up by the line’s relentless puck pressure.

RedBeard's Pittsburgh

Below is the imposing shift towards the end of the game in Nashville; two high-danger chances by Bjugstad including embarrassing Nashville top-line center Ryan Johansen for the second chance:

Underlying Stats

Nick Bjugstad is a career eight percent shooter. That’s it. In seven NHL seasons, Bjugstad has just one in which he posted a shooting percentage which went beyond that mark.

Bjugstad, 26, is averaging more shots per game (2.88) than he ever has. Perhaps it is unrealistic to expect a higher degree of finish, too, even with glorious Grade A chances–which he is creating.

Hornqvist is a player born to stir trouble and collect garbage goals like scrap metal. He infuriates opponents in front of the net but he is also displaying a tenacious forecheck which has both bruised and disheveled opponents. A vital component of the third line puck dominance has been the forecheck.

However, the Penguins are not creating rebound chances. Dallas won that battle 8-1. Against Nashville, the Penguins as a team created only two rebound attempts–both were the Penguins third line. Before that, the Penguins created only three rebound attempts against Carolina, and none were the result of the Penguins third line.

Against Philadelphia eight days ago, the Penguins won the rebound battle 3-1. The statistical win was more a result of squashing Philadelphia than it was creating a high volume of ugly chances.

In other words, Hornqvist won’t score many goals without rebound attempts and the Penguins are generating almost none.

Maybe a little more finish on the left wing would help? Even that idea could upset the line balance as Simon has become a catalyst for many of the chances, too.

Penguins center Evgeni Malkin is skating in full gear. He began skating Saturday at the UPMC Lemieux complex–if you watched 11 on the Ice on WPXI Saturday, we broke the news there and we printed the story on Saturday.

Until Malkin returns, the Penguins will need to settle for great scoring chances by the bushel and hope. Hornqvist will find the pay streak soon.

As the Penguins and fans learned over the last 18 months as the Penguins searched for a third line center, it could be worse.

 

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now owner, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Joe Runstedler

    March 25, 2019 at 8:09 am

    Dan you have the finest Penguins coverage. Your insight is up there with MM. I always check out PHN 1st thing in my morning. Great job and keep it up sir.

    In regards to this particular line I dont see it. Seems like Sullivan put 3 guys together who cant score regardless of who they play with thus they may as well play together. I’m with the majority, I dont understand the deal with Simon. Advanced stats and pay cheques all day long, the man doesn’t find the score sheet

    • Dan Kingerski

      March 25, 2019 at 9:06 am

      Thanks for the compliments! Here’s best I can explain: Simon’s value is all about context. Much like Hagelin, actually. Hagelin was a 30 point scorer but widely regarded. Simon is much the same in that his lines experience a spike in scoring chances and puck possession. Sure, the Penguins would love someone who provides those same attributes and scores 60 points instead of 30, but they don’t have one of the former. So, they’re content with him creating the possession for the other two to convert. End of the day, you won’t lose many games when your line gives up one scoring chance…and Sidney Crosby is on your team.

  2. Fitzie

    March 25, 2019 at 12:25 pm

    MM is grossly overrated. He’s also no fan of this site.

    • Dan Kingerski

      March 25, 2019 at 12:28 pm

      He hasn’t ripped us in a while (to my knowledge). His criticisms always spurred traffic, followers and subscribers when people came to bash us then realized we do a darn good job. But his loud criticisms were more than I wanted to deal with…

    • Joe Runstedler

      March 25, 2019 at 12:41 pm

      MM has a certain gimmick that is annoying no question. With that said I find him incredibly insightful, and his takes in regards to the Pens are generally on the money.

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