Too much Rust for the Capitals
The Pittsburgh Penguins haven’t been playing a lot of hockey lately, but neither have the Washington Capitals. Today was their first game in over a week for Washington and it showed. There was just too much Rust, both the noun and the adjective. Bryan Rust scored twice, added an assist, and had seven shots on goal. His linemates Sidney Crosby (1G, 1A) and Jake Guentzel (1G, 2A) got in on the action as well.
The Penguins top line for the Penguins has been the team’s best since Rust was promoted to join Crosby and Guentzel.
The team desperately needs this right now with Malkin having and up and mostly down season. Speaking of which…
Evgeni Malkin had a rough go of things. He had a four game point streak heading into the game and was overall playing better, but this wasn’t a continuation of the improved play. There will be a lot of attention paid to his huge gaffe on the Backstrom goal when he lost the puck battle in front of Jarry, but that is down on my list. I thought he backchecked to get in a good spot and made a physical blunder. The inability to create offense and scoring chances is more problematic for me.
Jason Zucker doesn’t get off the hook either. The team invested a chunk of assets to acquire him to be a solid top six winger. He has certainly shown he can be in the past, but his 2020-21 season has been underwhelming. He has an xGF% of ~45% and he needs to be better than that. He has been better than that.
Two rare occurrences happened today. The Penguins scored a power play goal and they earned a two goal lead. The Penguins have scored on the power play this year, but today was the first time in 13 games they actually held a two goal lead. It didn’t last long, but having it meant they stayed in the lead. After the empty net barrage we saw the first three goal lead.
The power play looked functional. It looked the most functional when Sidney Crosby was down near the goal line and away from the left side. They earned a lot of good looks and even had some east-west passing lanes to exploit. Crosby sauced a great pass to Guentzel on the back door that was thwarted with a nice save. The goal came off of a faceoff and it was Kris Letang doing the basics properly. He had his head up, moving across the blue line, and kept the puck in a passing position. The result was the Rust goal down low. Simple execution and attention to the basics can go a long way.
The other thing I like about the power play goal sequence is Sidney Crosby intentionally winning the faceoff to the inside because he probably noticed how far off the Capitals were from Guentzel. It turns into an easy chip back up to the point and leads to the possession.
The Penguins got some depth scoring from Brandon Tanev and Zach Aston Reese (ENG). It is always a bonus when it happens. The line is very effective in what they do. They are able to waste a lot of time off of the clock with their territorial play. Goals don’t always come out of it, but you need players on your depth chart to be able to eat minutes. It would be better if they weren’t doing it in a third line role and they were the fourth line. The biggest thing Burke/Hextall have to do is find a functional third line so this line isn’t expected to pick up an offensive load that isn’t fair to them.
Mark Jankowski stinks. Get somebody else in there.
Jarry was .903. It was enough today. He will continue to look for some traction this season. I'm not sure if he was even supposed to get the start today. It was right before the game when the announcement Maxime Lagace would be promoted to backup status today. No word yet on Casey DeSmith and why he was unable to dress today (update: he was sick, non-COVID)
Today we saw some of the positives Mike Matheson can bring. His give and go at the offensive blue line with Sidney Crosby opened up time and space for the nicest goal of the game
Matheson isn’t going to make great choices coming out of his own end. If the Penguins can encourage their defensemen to join the play like this there will be times you can get some positives out of what is a less than ideal situation with his contract.
An update on long pants hockey
Thanks for reading!