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Penguins Report Card: Backchecking, Defensive Effort, & Puck Calling



Pittsburgh Penguins, Casey DeSmith

The Pittsburgh Penguins were defensively stingy as the Buffalo Sabres responded to missing their top two centers (Jack Eichel and Dylan Cozens) by playing tight defense, too. The result was 36 scoreless minutes and only a handful of high-danger scoring chances in that time. Jake Guentzel eventually scored a power-play goal late in the second period, and the decapitated Buffalo squad wasn’t able to crack the Penguins.

The Penguins again used an aggressive attack in the third period to stymie any comeback attempts. The Penguins outshot Buffalo 10-6 in the third period and won 3-0, with two empty-net goals.

Here’s the full story postgame. 

This isn’t a hot streak. This is the Penguins for better and worse.

“When you’re playing so much, it shows. We might not have it every night, but we’ve got to play consistent hockey,” Guentzel said. “That’s the thing we’re trying to be–consistent and be hard to play against.”

Enjoy the FREE PHN+ Preview. We do these report cards after every game. It’s a more detailed analysis that you won’t get anywhere else. Also, please support independent coverage and subscribe to this band of rebels competing with the establishment. I’d sure appreciate your support, HERE. 

Tomorrow morning is our weekly “Off the Record” column, too.

The Pittsburgh Penguins X’s and O’s

The Penguins had to adjust as Buffalo was playing tight for 200 feet. It was an inspired effort from the poor Sabres who showed well, or at least as well as their decimated lineup and spirit would allow. No Eichel, no Cozens, but Buffalo created traffic and obstacles for the Penguins.

The Penguins couldn’t zip through as they did in recent weeks. Instead, the Penguins had to carry the puck through center for controlled zone entries. The Penguins weren’t able to get behind the Buffalo defense because staying in front of the Penguins was clearly their point of emphasis.

Buffalo realized they didn’t have enough offense to win a multi-goal game, so they tightened the screws. It was an otherwise inspired effort; only a power-play goal lit the lamp behind Carter Hutton through 40 minutes.

The Penguins adapted to the tight game. They didn’t play a low-to-high game. Instead, they played an aggressive five-players-low game. More than once, the Penguins defensemen planted their skates at the dots while the forwards cycled in the corners or to the wall.

“It was something they gave us. We knew their forwards would be tight to us. Especially when it goes to the point, they play a man-on-man coverage,” Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin said. “The forwards did a good job of finding us in the high slot for some chances. If we keep getting those, hopefully, we’ll capitalize on a few of those…”

It was a little bit of living dangerously, but a lack of turnovers or boneheaded plays kept the puck in proper possession and a lack of odd-man rushes.

The Penguins allowed only 24 shots, and Casey DeSmith stopped them all.

I saw our friends at AT&T telestrated some of this. In case you were wondering, you can see my first-period tweets. No worries–we don’t regurgitate TV analysis here.

Pittsburgh Penguins Report Card: 

Kasperi Kapanen: A+

It wasn’t his offensive work that earned him an A+ on Saturday night, but it was his defensive work. The next time you’re watching a game, count the number of times Kapanen comes back into the zone to help the defensemen. Or watch how deep Kapanen will go; sometimes, he and Malkin switch responsibilities which frees Malkin to get to the second level of the opponent’s defense. That saves some wear and tear on those tires.

What a combo the Penguins have right now. Kapanen taking some of Malkin’s defensive coverage also adds a speed element that takes away passing lanes, and he’s able to pressure the puck carrier. Malkin does those things, too, but Kapanen’s work deserves special note.

No joke–that’s the stuff Marian Hossa used to do.

Penguins Defensemen: A-

Ya gotta finish a few of those chances, as Dumoulin noted. The Penguins defensemen could have skated out of their zone a little more, especially Matheson, but the game settled into a tight, sweater-on-sweater game, and the Penguins defensemen really didn’t need to push it.

Let’s be honest. It was a depleted Sabres crew, and the risk wasn’t necessary.

Marcus Petterson rebounded from a rough opening 10 minutes to play solidly. Cody Ceci was outstanding; what a find he has been. I seem to remember you were ready to yell at me for defending his acquisition? Bygones.

The crew, en masse, made the right plays, and very few giveaways limited Buffalo’s chances.

Penguins PK: A+

That was a stellar job. The Penguins, especially Teddy Blueger and Brandon Tanev, were attack dogs in the neutral zone. Buffalo could not generate speed through the neutral zone. I’ve often said Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson was probably the best PK point in the East Division. I’m starting to wonder if Tanev is better. The number of created turnovers disrupted plays, and short-handed chances speak volumes.

Penguins Fourth Line: C

They were average to below average. Aside from Jankowski’s empty-net goal, the line generated ONE shot attempt at even strength, according to Natural 

They were good enough defensively, but they should have created a bit more against Buffalo. Lest you had visions of the line coming together and fortifying the Penguins top-12, I’d say watch this game.

Sidney Crosby-Jake Guentzel-Bryan Rust

If you’re new to these parts, we don’t often grade the top line. You can see how devastating they are. Hustle, creativity. Results. Every night. Why waste the space on what you already know?

Bryan Rust is one of the best backcheckers in the league. Forecheck, backcheck, paycheck. Rust is one player well outplaying his paycheck ($3.5 million AAV)

Something to listen for:

I’ve been noticing it more. When Evgeni Malkin and Kasperi Kapanen are on the ice, listen to the yells back and forth. They’re talking (yelling) each other through the shift; they call for the puck, direct movements, and the resulting cohesiveness is something unique.

Now the Pittsburgh Penguins have Boston coming. Let’s see if this train keeps rolling at full speed.

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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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1 year ago

I can’t resist. “Kapanen and Malkin are talking (yelling) to each other through the shift.” But exactly what they understand is unclear. As we learned, unfortunately Kapanen “speak Finland”.

Good call on the Kapanen/Hossa comp. Love watching how explosive #42 plays. This is a scary-fast squad. Is Kasperi the fastest skater on it?