If I told you the Penguins were going to take four out of six points in their first three games on the road trip how many people thought the four were coming from Anaheim and Los Angeles?
But that is exactly what has happened. The Penguins eked out a 1-0 victory against the defending Stanley Cup champions in overtime on Luc Robataille's statue night.
Pretty sweet statue. I love the color they were able to include in it.
This was a goaltending duel and one that Marc-Andre Fleury won. This was easily Fleury's best performance of the year. He now has 9 shutouts which still leads the league.
The Kings will be happy to move on from the Penguins. Marc-Andre Fleury did not allow a single goal in either contest against Los Angeles this year, 67 shots 67 saves.
Not to be outdone Matt Murray is still on his incredible shutout streak down in WB/S. He now has four shutouts in a row and is closing in on an AHL record
Murray, 20, has not allowed a goal in 245 minutes and 22 seconds. The American Hockey League record for longest shutout streak is 268:17, set by Barry Brust of the Abbotsford Heat in 2012. The second-longest streak belongs to Hockey Hall of Famer Johnny Bower, who went 249:51 without allowing a goal with the Cleveland Barons in 1957.
Possession in this game was close but for whatever reason the amount of shots the Penguins physically put on net was lower. The Kings out shot the Penguin 31-18.
Evgeni Malkin continues to chug along with quality play however his point streak has come to an end.
Sidney Crosby was dazzling on occasion as Drew Doughty found out multiple times.
Patric Hornqvist scored the game winning goal out in front which was a direct result of him working like a bulldog down low. The main man on the play was a savvy Paul Martin understanding that he could be smart aggressive pinching in on an unsuspecting Kings player. It is an anticipatory play that not all defenseman would be comfortable making in a 4 on 4 situation. But when you see the ice as well as Martin does it makes those decisions easier. This kept the play alive and the puck happened to find Hornqvist's stick for the game winning shot.
Not everything was roses. The power play setup still leaves a lot to be desired from both a personnel and X's and O's standpoint.
Derrick Pouliot and David Perron are both better options than Chris Kunitz right now on the power play.
The first unit could go one of two ways:
There is your personnel fix.
As for the X's and O's it comes down to the power play being static. It isn't all that difficult for the penalty killers to stay in their shooting AND passing lanes when nobody is moving. The Penguins may have the man advantage but they are never creating any 2 on 1's in dangerous areas. A lot of that has to do with a lack of movement from players after they pass the puck off.
For example. Lately when the Penguins pass the puck from half wall to goal line the player just stays on the half wall.
I have some slides that can visualize what I am talking about. I made these slides a few years ago and the setup in these slides are based on having right handed shots running it from the left half wall. Obviously this works exactly the same for left handed players on the other side IE: Sid and Geno.
Here is the starting position.
You have the defenseman or the low guy as passing options. We are going to use option 1 in this example.
Instead of staying on the half wall the player cuts to the net for a give and go. This opens up two options, both of which are fine. The first option is the ideal one, the half wall player cuts and gets a return pass as he cuts to the net on the give and go. This has a low success rate because the low PK defender will usually follow him, but that has its positive benefits too. By cutting to the net this frees up the entire half wall of player traffic. You now have a wide open pass to your defenseman. We will take option 2 here.
Once the pass is made up top the defenseman can then walk the blue line quickly with the intent of finding a shooting lane. Letang, Malkin, and Pouliot are all capable of executing this successfully. You already have a built in screen in front of the net because of the guy that originally cut to the net. As well as the other forward who is already in the area.
The top PK forward has two options if the defenseman is walking the blue line hard. He can sell out and get in the shooting lane forcing a pass back to the half wall or he will fall behind opening up the shot. Falling behind gives you a great opportunity to fire the puck and that is good. In fact my favorite option in this entire power play setup is the point man just walking the blue line letting a quality wrist shot go while letting the two forwards in front do their thing. This plays into my insistence on creating shot volume.
This setup has given the point man a situation where he has created a 2 on 1. Reading the penalty killer will dictate what he can do with the puck. The point man has three legit options.
For this example we are going to assume the penalty killer did get into the shooting lane opening up a return pass to the half wall. The original player who was on the goal line should have been following his pass and skating up to the half wall spot as an outlet. I am going to show some options that come out of option 'B'.
This player can now one time the pass, look for the weak side defenseman on an East/West pass, or kick the puck back down low (this player will usually be either Sid or Geno). The low PK man will now have to rotate up so that this player isn't given free passage. This creates a 2 on 1 down low as the guy to the side of the net can sneak out as an available outlet.
That penalty killing defender who was originally lower now has to chase back down giving the low forward time to make a pass while attacking the net. The lone PK defender in front will either have to slide up towards the slot man (Hornqvist/Perron) or take away the cross crease pass to a guy like Letang busting down low. Hypothetically speaking one of those two options should be open and a guy like Sid or Geno can certainly figure out which one that is.
For this example I'll let the Penguins make the fancier of two plays because they do like that sort of thing. Here is Kris Letang performing what is a legit version of the 'Ryan Whitney play'.
It isn't complicated but if you rinse and repeat those progressions you will force the PK units hand and they will have to move outside of their comfort zones thus freeing up passing and shooting lanes. When you are the team with the extra attacker you need to be the one dictating where you want those 2 on 1's to be. Standing still won't do it. You can see what movement can do in those slides.
Hockey isn't like basketball and drawing up plays like this don't go exactly to plan but conceptually this is something that works at all levels of hockey, especially the level where you have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on the same power play.
The Penguins have more than enough talent but they need to combine that with some simple old fashioned X's and O's.
Get moving, get scoring.
The Penguins finish up their Western road trip with a visit to San Jose on Monday night. Should be another fun game with the talent that the Sharks boast.
Thanks for reading!
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