Currently, the most dominating conversation surrounding the Pittsburgh Penguins is which goaltender will get the nod in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference Final matchup versus the Ottawa Senators. The Senators hung four goals on Marc-Andre Fleury in the first 13 minutes of Game 3, eventually leading to Matt Murray finishing the contest and playing well in relief. Fleury was given his own net at practice on Thursday, usually indicative of being the starter. However, Murray was provided his own net and left the ice first during Pittsburgh’s short morning skate today. There’s no telling what direction Mike Sullivan is going with his decision until he speaks with the media Friday afternoon.
And honestly, it’s a pretty small decision considering they can win with either of those individuals between the pipes.
The biggest concern in Pittsburgh should be the Penguins’ inability to score goals as of late. Injuries have impacted them greatly, but a team that boasts the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel should be able to generate some offense. However, they’ve failed to score more than two goals in six straight games dating back to their series against the Washington Capitals. That isn’t going to win you a championship, no matter who mans the crease.
It Isn’t About the Trap
Ottawa slows the game down to a crawl with their style of hockey. Their approach has certainly stymied the Penguins’ offense but it isn’t necessarily their 1-3-1 trap that’s doing it. Pittsburgh is finding ways through the neutral zone and generating offensive zone time.
The Penguins lead Ottawa in puck possession time by roughly 13 minutes with 59-minutes and 35 seconds. The Senators have controlled the puck for 46-minutes and 11 seconds. When looking at offensive zone time specifically, Pittsburgh has 23-minutes and 28-seconds compared to Ottawa’s 14-minutes and 12-seconds. They only have three goals so far but they’ve controlled play since the early goings…
Two games into the PIT/OTT series, high danger chances are 24-9 for the Penguins.
— Andrew Berkshire (@AndrewBerkshire) May 17, 2017
Ottawa’s success is coming from their defensive zone structure and their ability to collapse, eliminating shooting and passing lanes and keeping second-chance opportunities to a minimum. Craig Anderson has faced only 13 rebound shots throughout the postseason, according to Corsica.Hockey. The closest remaining goaltender is Pekka Rinne at 22 and to put that number into perspective, Fleury has faced 43.
While the Senators are spending a lot of time in their defensive zone, they’re doing a great job of defending while there.
The Importance of Hornqvist
Hockey analysts use the term ‘simplify’ quite often. Sometimes, it’s a generalization when there simply isn’t a better answer to a question. In this case, though, it’s legitimately how the Penguins will have to approach the rest of this series.
The Penguins need to create chaos in and around the crease. They’re getting pucks behind Ottawa’s defensemen but nowhere near enough shots on goal. You know that guy sitting next to you at PPG Paints Arena who keeps yelling… “SHOOT!”? He’s right. Pittsburgh needs pucks on net and traffic. They have to make Anderson uncomfortable and use the collapsing Senators to their advantage. That’s why an individual like Patric Hornqvist is extremely important and severely missed right now.
Hornqvist getting healthy enough to return will go a long way in helping the Penguins claw their way back into this series. He wore a track suit and skated with other injured players this morning, so that likely won’t happen for Game 4. Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel finding their scoring touch around the crease is equally important. The Penguins don’t necessarily need major adjustments to beat an unmatched Senators team that has locked things down defensively through three games. They’re dictating play more in this series than they have throughout the rest of the postseason.
Now, they just need to find ways to finish.