PITTSBURGH, Pa. — In the hustle and bustle of the Penguins locker room, Tom Kuhnhackl didn’t have to deal with many reporters, As the national folks scrambled from big name to big name, Pittsburgh Hockey Now joined one other outlet to talk to Kuhnhackl about the series, but mostly the Penguins penalty kill.
The Penguins PK, as Matt Gajtka detailed, could be the Penguins undoing in these Stanley Cup playoffs and against the Flyers.
“(The Flyers) have a dangerous first unit. They have (Claude) Giroux as a quarterback. Gostisbehere for one-timers. They’ve got (Jakub) Voracek back door. And they’ve got (Sean) Couturier and Wayne Simmonds, who are basically two net-front presences,” said Kuhnhackl. “So we have to make sure we take away as many options as we can.”
The Penguins PK was awful at the beginning of the season but rebounded through the middle of the season when Carter Rowney joined the group. The Penguins penalty killing unit soared to well over 80 percent after the new year.
However, things took turn for the worse in the final 25 games. Over the final 14 games, the Penguins allowed a power play goal in all but a few games.
David Bowie sang of pressure. The Penguins are hoping the pressure of the playoffs is the motivating factor which melds their unit like fins steel.
“Especially in the playoffs, I think anybody will do anything to get in the shooting lanes. Help (our) goalie out, help (our) teammates out,” Kuhnhackl said. “Especially in the playoffs (shot blocking) is a huge part of winning.
Bryan Rust, agreed the raised stakes could also elevate the Penguins penalty killing, “Just knowing what’s at stake will keep guys a little more focused and dialed in for the whole PK,” Rust said.
Rust also thought for a moment and put his finger on one of the big problems of the Penguins short-handed unit. “And….(Rust smiled)…limit those mistakes which give guys Grade A (chances).”
Matt Murray and The Crease
The Penguins will need to battle for the front of their net. Kuhnhackl cited Simmonds and Couturier. The Penguins defensemen, notably Jamie Oleksiak and Brian Dumoulin, will need to win those battles.
Dumoulin’s net-front work in late in 2016 was one of the unsung contributions of the first Stanley Cup run. Dumoulin’s work then allowed Matt Murray to see the puck and prevented teams from converting second chances.
The Flyers would be wise to push the Penguins blue line corps in this area. Oleksiak has proven to be a mountain in front. The Simmonds-Oleksiak battle could be worth the price of admission in Round One. Dumoulin will need to hold up his end of the bargain.
Murray has struggled and the Penguins must do everything they can for their goaltender. To re-quote Kuhnhackl, “anybody would do anything.”
And they may have to do so. After all, it is the Stanley Cup, Part 3.