The Philadelphia Flyers set up an encampment area in the Pittsburgh Penguins zone much like General Braddock did in my little hometown of Hermine, Pa. The Flyers bombarded Penguins goaltender Matt Murray with 28 shots in the second period and overwhelmed the Penguins. However, the Penguins treated the barrage like Rocky Balboa did Clubber Lang’s assault in their great rematch.
The Penguins weathered the assault and lit the lamp a few times at 5v5 for a gritty, 4-1 win at the Wells Fargo Center.
For the record, the intro regarding Rocky III was written before Bob Errery mentioned it on the Penguins telecast. Pain.
“They obviously had a good second period. They got a lot of momentum from their power plays,” said Sidney Crosby. “It put us on our heels a bit, but we got some timely goals and timely saves.”
Analyzing what the Penguins were able to do offensively is unique to their matchup with Philadelphia, which gives the Penguins time and space on the rush. The Penguins were not forced to dump-and-chase as much against Philadelphia. They were able to go for the right shots without being too fine.
To wit, while the internet held its breathe in the second period as Philadelphia fired 28 shots on net, the Penguins had more scoring chances, 9-7.
What does that mean? It means the Penguins defensemen–the five remaining d-men after Olli Maatta was injured early in the first period–battled as if their lives depended on it. They protected Matt Murray even as pucks were flying at him like a video game. Jack Johnson out-muscled premier net-front presence Wayne Simmonds. Brian Dumoulin pushed back on Flyers coming to the net, as did Letang, Pettersson and Juuso Riikola.
The Flyers kept shooting, but the shots were from the perimeter and the net-crashers were bodied up which avoided deflections and obtrusive screens.
Glass half empty–the Penguins couldn’t get out of their own zone. Glass half full–the Penguins defensemen won the battle, convincingly.
“I thought our defensemen battled hard in front of (Murray), but Matt was really good,” said Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan.
If Philadelphia wonders how the Penguins escaped with a win, it was the Penguins ability to prevent second chances in front, it was Philadelphia’s allowance of time and space for great Penguins scoring chances, and of course, the inability to beat Penguins goalie Matt Murray until the final minutes of the game.
However, in the first period, the Penguins bugaboo of forwards getting lost in the defensive zone reared it’s head several times. Dominik Simon once and the Crosby line once were culprits for far too good offensive chances. Murray bailed the boys out in the first five minutes of the game, as well.
The specific problem, which New Jersey exploited a couple of weeks ago was the trailing forward. A little drag step, a slight hesitation to lag, and forwards can get open against the Penguins which don’t make good habits of sealing passing lanes or covering the open man.
PENGUINS REPORT CARD
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Matt Murray: A+
50 shots are 50 shots. That was a whale of a performance.
“That’s the kind of game he’s capable of. He’s a real good goalie,” Mike Sullivan said.
Penguins defensemen: A+
Hold the Flyers to one goal with just five defensemen earns the entire unit an A. They fought like honey badgers for loose pucks near the net and physically won the battles in the low zone.
They didn’t get to enough pucks but generally, that is on the forwards especially with as much effort as Philadelphia spent getting to the net.
Now the individual grades:
Kris Letang: A
He played 31 minutes under tough circumstances. He pushed the offense when possible in the first and third periods.
Marcus Pettersson: B-
Pettersson was toasted early in the game, which has been an issue, but he rebounded well. This wasn’t his type of game, but the kid rolled up his sleeves and did the work.
He was on the ice for the worst scoring chance ratio of the group, 3-7. Pettersson played less than 17 minutes, which tells you the coaches were shielding him a little bit from this game.
He wasn’t so hot on the Penguins power play, either.
Jack Johnson: B
I struggled with this one. He had a pair of pucks bounce off his stick at the offensive blue line in the first period. That looked bad. He made a first-period turnover in his over zone when he tried to skate it out but was caught from behind.
However, he was a brick wall on the penalty kill and he beat Wayne Simmonds in front of the Penguins net.
Johnson played over 24 minutes and had an excellent scoring chance ratio, 10-5.
In the end, extra weight was given to playing 24 very hard minutes and winning the physical battles. I know there’s a lot of internet noise on him–everything from cutting him to the Penguins can’t win with him to essentially blaming the losing streak on him. Looking past emotion, these are the games for which the Penguins signed him: Philadelphia, Washington, Columbus.
Brian Dumoulin: A
He was the steady presence and a hard net front battler. He too had a favorable scoring chance ratio, 11-6.
Given the Flyers domination of the second period, the scoring chance ratios are absurd but tell a real story. Dumoulin played 25:02 and his ice bath probably felt pretty good.
Juuso Riikola: B
Riikola was shielded from the madness. LIke Pettersson, he played just 17 minutes. However, he had a 7-1 scoring chance ratio. I could rewatch the game three times and not pick him out many times but he did the job. No turnovers and he covered for Maatta on the in which Maatta was injured.
Penguins Fourth Line: C
Patric Hornqvist wasn’t a welcome addition to the line and Garrett Wilson wasn’t as active from the left side. Not a great night for them.
My eyes told me they were chasing or on the wrong side of the puck. The numbers tell me they did well.
I will be rewatching this game with a sole focus on this line, how it worked, how Bjugstad factored, and how Kessel truly performed on the left wing. My gut says they had standout moments and very forgettable moments.
If I had to grade them, C+. Maybe B-
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