Cranberry, Twp — The Pittsburgh Penguins probably aren’t looking forward to New York for a pizzeria open past 9 p.m. or top-shelf Chicken Parm that is wise guy approved. The playoffs await. If it is not the last ride for the three amigos of Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, and Evgeni Malkin, it’s one of the last. In what figures to be a tight series, special teams or the lack thereof could tip the scales in either direction.
It’s no wonder the Penguins dedicated much of their first postseason practice to special teams. Power play. Special teams.
The PK was aggressive. Even the Penguins second penalty kill unit played fast and aggressive and gave the power play little space. To the Penguins’ PP2 credit, Mike Matheson and Evan Rodrigues moved the puck quickly from the top of the zone and the mid-wall.
Towards the end of the 50-minute practice, Rodrigues even stung backup goalie Louis Domingue with a one-timer from the circle.
Domingue audibly grimaced, had to drop his blocker, and take a little skate. Don’t worry, Domingue resumed practice, though the up-tempo go wrapped a few minutes later.
The battle between the Penguins PK1 and PP1 was also similar. Watch for the Penguins to move the puck quickly and try to create space in the circle for open looks. Expect Evgeni Malkin and Rodrigues to blast away.
How Jake Guentzel and Rickard Rakell fare in front of Igor Shesterkin could be a big issue.
“I’m not a goalie expert… I know (Shesterkin) stops a lot of pucks,” Kris Letang laughed.
Shesterkin will be a big factor in the series. He will garner significant Hart Trophy consideration after posting a .935 save percentage and 2.07 GAA this season.
Back to special teams…
“A big part of the penalty kill is pressure–Try to force the team to make plays they don’t want to make,” Letang said. “And for the rest of this, battles blocked shots, stuff like that. I think we can increase our collective game for the playoffs.
The Rangers’ power-play was in the top-10 nearly all season. Chris Kreider scored a career-high 52 goals, including 26 power-play tallies. And if you watched a few minutes of the Penguins-Rangers battles, you saw Kreider near the net.
And more of Kreider near the net.
“They’re one of the more dynamic power players in the league. Their power play has been a difference-maker for them all year. (Adam) Fox might not have a power-play goal, but he’s a huge part of how it works and operates. His ability to scale the blue line, his deception, and his ability to get pucks through,” Sullivan said. “You know, Chris Kreider has had a career year with respect to goals, a lot of them, a lot of been on the power play. And when you look at the types of goals that he’s scored, many of them are a foot-and-a-half in the blue paint.”
That will be on Marcus Pettersson and Chad Ruhwedel, and John Marino. It won’t be easy.
No Zucker, Jarry
It’s the playoffs. Injuries are guarded like Fort Knox. Or the name of Ryan Seacrest’s plastic surgeon.
To that end, head coach Mike Sullivan was a little more generous than usual. Brian Dumoulin is fine despite leaving the game twice on Friday.
No. 1 goalie Tristan Jarry is still dealing with a foot injury. When last we saw the goalie, he was seen being pushed off the ice on a folding chair to a waiting scooter with his right foot in a boot or cast after the team picture about 10 days ago.
Jason Zucker left last Tuesday’s game against Edmonton with a lower-body injury.
Neither practiced on Sunday, and neither will be available for the first couple of games. That was as much as Sullivan would commit.
“I would categorize their status as day-to-day. We don’t expect to have them for the first couple of games. I will say that. But their status right now is day-to-day.”