Some report cards are easy to write. Others are tougher to put together than an IKEA dresser with instructions written in Swedish. The grades from the Penguins 6-5 OT win over the Edmonton Oilers are going to be controversial. From Sidney Crosby’s greatness to Daniel Sprong’s pine time and the Jack Johnson social media mob complete with figurative pitchforks and torches, it was a wild game. And it was everything a Penguins vs. Edmonton Oilers, Crosby vs. Connor McDavid, and battle between a pair of franchises with 1980’s firewagon hockey in their blood, should be.
Tuesday night was a showcase of the entertaining hockey which built the sport before clutch-and-grab hockey suffocated the life from the sport 20 years ago. And, of course, the game featured the best two players in the game, Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid.
What a shame the bumbling NHL scheduling didn’t feature the game Saturday night. Millions should have seen the showdown and Crosby’s performance.
Crosby, Patric Hornqvist, and Jamie Oleksiak each had two goals for the Penguins. McDavid scored for Edmonton. Leon Draisaitl marked a pair, as did Alex Chaisson.
Penguins Analysis & Report Card
Team Effort: C-
The Penguins never tightened up. Never played as a five-man unit. And the Penguins never earned sustained momentum. They did what they needed to do; they converted chances and relied on individual efforts.
The Penguins team effort was graded on the curve because of the large scheduling gap, and they won. If they lost, that grade would dip to a D.
“Structure” is what the Penguins coaches want from this line. Instead, Tuesday the line had a great start but went south from there. Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel were on loose pucks and had jump in their skates, at least for the first seven minutes.
After the initial jump, the line looked like office staff at 4 p.m. Friday before a holiday weekend. They were flat-footed. Their gaps were so large on a pair of Edmonton goals, the forwards were barely on the TV screen. H-M-K was on the ice for two of the three even-strength Edmonton goals. And their inattention to details or defensive responsibility were glaring.
The line did redeem itself, as it often does. Jamie Oleksiak’s first goal was the culmination of a beautiful rush with Swiss watch precision-passing.
Penguins PK: C
The Penguins were a step behind the Edmonton power play. The Oilers drilled the Penguins (get it?) for 10 shots and two goals on five power-play opportunities (7:09).
A three-on-two rush, which was essentially a four-on-two is rare and it’s a sign of a mistake. The Oilers buried their chance it nearly cost the Penguins the game.
Daniel Sprong: F
Sprong appears to be headed for the press box, or worse. He skated just one shift after the first minute of the second period. Alex Chaisson blasted Sprong with a reverse check from the wall, Sprong recovered but looped away from his man. Chaisson had a clean shot on Murray and was then uncontested for a wide-open rebound shot.
Chaisson scored. Sprong sat. Every player gets checked. But Sprong was lost after the check. It’s mind-boggling that a player beyond the juniors level, or even mite level, struggles with such simple aspects. That’s not schematic. It’s simple hockey sense.
Watch Sprong bounce and chase. Maybe watch a couple of times. Then watch Jack Johnson in front.
Jack Johnson: C-
Having watched the play above, social media inexplicably blamed Johnson, who covered his man.
Chaisson’s second goal was the result of disorganized neutral zone coverage. Johnson did have his man covered and it’s a stretch to lay responsibility on him when the Penguins forwards allowed a headman pass to get through. Again, social media went crazy. The Penguins forwards were nearly non-existent and it is hard to blame either defenseman.
And the result:
I’ve included the preceding to show how ridiculous and scapegoating the social media backlash became. Unfortunately, some media joined, too.
Johnson could have played a tighter game. He allowed the Oilers rush to get at him. After being on the receiving end of the Oilers blitz, he was on his heels for much of the game. But avoid the groupthink.
Jamie Oleksiak: A
Score two goals, get an A.
Oleksiak also tied Edmonton defenseman Adam Larsson with a game-high five hits. The “big rig” defenseman had a 58 percent Corsi rating but was even on high danger scoring chances. Most importantly, Oleksiak was on the ice for three goals for and directly factored into two of them.
The right side agrees with Oleksiak. In the last two games since being moved to the right-side with Olli Maatta on the left, Oleksiak has played very well. He’s at his best when his game is simple and he has done a good job of staying within the game and not trying to do too much. When Cam Talbot kicked a rebound to the top of the zone, Oleksiak stepped into it. He hasn’t make ill-advised pinches or committed turnovers.
Matt Murray: B
Murray made 41 saves including a handful of Grade A saves on scoring chances. He could have made more saves and the McDavid power-play goal was a bit soft as it trickled through the six-hole. However, Murray was good enough.
His stats don’t look good but he was solid.
Sidney Crosby: A++
Crosby drew McDavid and had a Corsi rating above 62 percent. The “old man’ shut down the new kid at 5v5 play and…that overtime goal. Just brilliant.
Pittsburgh, enjoy this player and person while you can. Do not take it for granted. Someday, the dark ages of rebuilding will return. Soak it in now.