Malkin a run to the top of the division
Penguins and Capitals did not disappoint. It rarely does. The Penguins completed a come from behind victory to take the two points and draw them within four of the division lead. The comeback was ferociously quick. The Penguins scored three times in less than two minutes to erase a two goal deficit. The top line, namely Sidney Crosby, saved the Penguins from what otherwise was a poorly played game on their behalf. This had a 2017 playoff feel.
The game also included two points by Evgeni Malkin. This is significant because it means he has hit the 1,000 point mark for his career. He is the 88th player to do this. If my math is correct 88 is less than the number 100…
Malkin is a superstar and one of the best players of this era. He’s insanely fun to watch and I’m happy I’ve seen nearly all 1,000 points he has put up.
Alexander Ovechkin also hit a milestone. He is now at 1,200 points. He too is a legend and it was appropriate for the Penguins to give him his due respect by honoring that achievement. Even if there were some petulant fans who couldn’t do the same.
As for the barrage of second period goals…
Jared McCann’s speed and tenacity got things going for the Penguins. He swooped behind Evgeny Kuznetsov to steal the puck and create the 2v1 opportunity with Jake Guentzel. McCann has been a nice fit for the top line and one would think he’s proven an extended look there even if he mixes in a subpar game or two.
Justin Schultz was able to pull off a very effective Murphy Dump to spring Sidney Crosby for a breakaway.
It was great recognition of time and space while being creative in accessing it. I have no idea what Braden Holtby was doing. It isn’t like Sidney Crosby was going to bowl him over. If he had just held his ground he probably would have saved the puck.
It was one of the few times Schultz could make an impact on the game. His pairing with Jack Johnson is not going great. The duo lost the shot share 24-9 last night. The Johnson-Schultz pair has a CF% of 43.85% in their 217 minutes together. This neuters why Schultz is an important part of the team. If he’s consistently playing out of his own end then he can’t make contributions that facilitate offense as much as he potentially can. The reason the Penguins were able to get him for a third round pick is because he was misused in Edmonton. The Penguins are currently misusing him at the moment. Get that anchor off of him.
This brings me to my next gripe about the defense pairings which is Brian Dumoulin playing with a career AHl’er and it shows. The Dumoulin-Trotman duo is at a CF% of 44.0. This would make sense if the Penguins wanted to preserve their pairings because Letang was “day-to-day” but we know “day-to-day” with the Penguins actually means week-to-week. This was the eighth game the two have played together. These are eight pretty important games. It is past the point of trying to preserve the other pairings at the expense of rolling out this disfunctional pair. Brian Dumoulin is a very good complimentary player. I have no problem with complimentary players making 4M when they are able to rise to the occasion when their quality of teammate rises as well. At the same time you can’t pretend Dumoulin can drive a pair. He can’t. He and Ron Hainsey were obliterated on a nightly basis and this Trotman experiment is suffering the same fate. Put Dumoulin with Schultz until Letang gets back.
One pairing that doesn’t deserve any criticism right now is Marcus Pettersson and Erik Gudbranson. Gudbranson was the only Penguins player to finish with a positive shot share last night. That is the most impressive takeaway from last night’s game. The Tom Wilson nonsense doesn’t win you hockey games. Being able to drive play when nobody else on your team was means a hell of a lot more. I have no idea what the shelf life is with Gudbranson driving play like this, but it’s certainly helping the team. Tom Wilson is not going to change what he does. He is not afraid of Erik Gudbranson. You are just poking the bear at this point. Wilson has been docile for his most recent stretch of play. The Penguins making him a big deal every damn time they play only causes him to rise to the occasion of being a dirt bag. He lives for it. The reason Gudbranson tackled him is because Wilson blew up his partner and was going to after Guentzel. He knew Gudbranson was right next to him. He. Does. Not. Care.
Erik Gudbranson and Marcus Pettersson have 55.15% of the shot attempts in their 96 minutes together. Erik Gudbranson and Elias Pettersson were 46.65% in their 196 minutes together. Try to make sense of that. Just for old times sake Gudbranson and Brandon Sutter were 37.32% together.
The split power play approach didn’t last too long, it never does. The team played to defend instead of score and they still gave up some decent chances. When they went back to the proper personnel unit the Penguins utilized space down low instead of force feeding the puck into pressure up high. They took their 2v1’s where the penalty killers gave them. It opened things up and there was success. It’s a big reason why they won. It’s always a victory when you can outplay Washington’s special teams because their power play is legit.
There is no good way to attack the Capitals power play. When you shadow Ovechkin the quartet of Backstrom, Carlson, Kuznetsov, and Oshie are content to not force things to Ovechkin. They take their time and space and work the goal line hard and free up Carlson one-timers. They will lull the PK to that side by doing it over and over again until that moment where Ovechkin is actually open. It’s a real pain in the ass and I love Washington’s discipline in not forcing things. They take their 2v1’s where they are given.
Matt Murray gave up a real clunker on Jakub Vrana’s second goal, but he finished the game with a .927 save percentage. He had to. Pittsburgh was outshot 41-30.
Speaking of Jakub Vrana do the Capitals win the Stanley Cup last year if injuries didn’t force Barry Trotz to play him in the lineup? He’s a 2.5 5v5 points per 60 player and scored his 20th and 21st goal last night. Very good player.
Phil Kessel had a goal and an assist last night. He has six points in his last six games.
Jared McCann might be the Alexander Ovechkin of empty net goals. It was his fourth empty net goal with the Pittsburgh Penguins and he’s now only one away from the league lead of five which Zach Hyman and Sebastian Aho share. McCann is a great candidate to play in those situations because of his speed and he’s made the most of it. I’d much rather have him out there, even as a center, than someone like Matt Cullen.
The Eichel-less Sabres are up next tomorrow.
Thanks for reading!