It will not go down in Pittsburgh Penguins history as the most exciting regular-season game there ever was. Generations will not speak of the Penguins vs. Dallas Stars, but the win was in some aspects as impressive as the seven-spot wins the Penguins earned last weekend. The Penguins held to their system for three periods, played a collective five-man game, and got some help from the goalposts to beat Dallas 4-2 Friday night at PPG Paints Arena.
In the second period, Dallas earned boos from the Penguins fans as they stared into the Penguins rigid 1-2-2 neutral zone trap without moving. And the Penguins were disciplined enough to hold form. It was the Penguins’ fourth line with Sam Lafferty, Joseph Blandisi, and Adam Johnson which held form.
The Penguins did struggle to find a rhythm or sustained offensive push until later in the second period, but they also gave up a few Grade-A chances, too.
“We did a pretty good job most of the night defending pretty hard. We limited the chances, but in that second period, they got a couple of them in flurries,” said Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan.
“Matt (Murray) came up big for us. That’s what he does,” Sullivan concluded.
Murray was very good for the Pittsburgh Penguins. He also got a little help from his red iron buddies, including a sequence in the second period in which Denis Gurianov snapped a wrister off the post. The puck ricocheted directly to Dallas Stars center Tyler Seguin, but Seguin whipped it into Murray instead of the mostly open net.
‘We were playing really good hockey. We’re all supporting each other all over the ice,” said Patric Hornqvist.
The Penguins haven’t won five in a row, they’ve done it without half of their top-nine forwards, and they’ve done it in ways which buck recent trends. The Penguins adopted and held to their systems in 2015-16 after head coach Mike Sullivan took over. However, they haven’t been a systematic team except for spurts such as last March. The current crop of Penguins forwards are holding form without breaking ranks to apply individual efforts.
Kris Letang also scored a goal scorer’s goal, which uplifted the Penguins.
The Penguins defense is also markedly better. It isn’t perfect, but it’s better. The heat map against Dallas tells a good story. Notice the Penguins’ heat in front of the Dallas net but the lack of Dallas heat in front of the Penguins net. Map courtesy of NaturalStatTrick.com.
Teams that can keep the heat out of their kitchen tend to put points on the scoreboard. They may have seemed to lack flow or rhythm, but defenseman Kris Letang had an alternate take.
“Maybe it seems like that, but at the end of the day, it’s just a grind,” Letang said.
Pittsburgh Penguins Report Card
Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel: A
What the Penguins dynamic duo is doing despite a lack of secondary scoring is impressive. Guentzel was a little bit snake bit in the second period. On one shift, a goal eluded three times despite great chances.
No analysis is possible. They do whatever they must to get chances. Guentzel has raised his game, too. He is blocking shots, going to the net, and playing a complete game.
Little nugget for subscribers–The Penguins internally worried about Phil Kessel’s on-ice influence on the young Guentzel, and the team made sure to push Guentzel in proper directions.
Pittsburgh Penguins Defense: B+
It just makes a difference now that the Penguins have three pairs, which can skate the puck. The warts are there, just as they are with most teams, but when the Penguins forwards help out in their own zone, the game moves well for the team.
Jack Johnson-John Marino remains a good pair. Marino is noticeably settling in to being an NHL player. The adrenaline from being “new” is wearing off, and his game is finding his true level. He’s a young player and will make a few mistakes, as he did Friday night, including getting caught in the neutral zone on Roope Hintz’ breakaway goal. However, the chemistry with Johnson is also elevating Johnson’s game, and the Penguins are better for it.
Even Pettersson-Schultz is finding a comfort level in the defensive zone. If there is a Penguins pairing which is susceptible to being trapped, it’s them, but they noticeably worked harder in their zone Friday night. Schultz and Pettersson are individually trying to take the body more often. Their offensive and puck skills aren’t in question. The better Dallas chances came against this pair in the second period, but the pair created more than they yielded.
Jared McCann-Patric Hornqvist: B
The grade was a massive improvement from the few games before McCann’s single-game injury absence when the duo with Dominik Kahun had a Corsi rating in single digits (meaning over 90% of the shot attempts when they were on the ice were against them, not for them).
Friday night, Hornqvist and McCann were over a 50% Corsi. McCann scored the first Penguins goal, and it was set up by Hornqvist outworking a pair of defenders near the net and poking the loose puck towards the point.