RECAP 40: Hanks Shanked

The Penguins welcomed in the new year in The Big Apple, though they missed the Times Square party by two days which is sad for any of the players who enjoy wearing adult diapers for 17 hours. There is this beautiful thing going on in Pittsburgh right now, following the Steelers missing the playoffs the media is finding a scapegoat while the Penguins are flying unscathed. Is this a coincidence? Would it be a good look for media outlets that demanded change a month ago go back on their words now that the Penguins have won 7 in a row? The ole Bait N’ Switch when things don’t turn out your way, you just gotta love it.

Faceoffs are often talked about but their importance is rarely understood. Mike Sullivan has used his plethora of centers to his advantage, often bringing a second one out just for a faceoff opportunity and it seems to be working.

Hello Mr. Murray, my goaltender.

Crosby has recorded a point in 17 of 27 games in MSG, not bad.

Spoiler Alert: He did

The biggest news for the Penguins coming into this game was the return of Bryan Rust, which made the rest of the lineup as follows:

Rust has been plagued throughout his career with nagging lower-body injuries so it is a great sign seeing him back so early, and now we hope this isn’t something that will linger.

Following the opening faceoff the building fell quiet, mostly because it was empty. Three minutes in Sidney Crosby took a tripping penalty and the Rangers were heading for an early powerplay, an excellent opportunity to get an early lead. The Penguins 3rd best penalty kill unit got the job done and we returned to lopsided 5v5 hockey. The Rangers pretty much carried play in the first but Matt Murray wasn’t having it, it wasn’t until Mats Zuccarello took a penalty 13 minutes in that the Penguins started to get some decent looks at Hank Williams.

The powerplay was not successful but the Penguins actually managed to have possession for a few seconds so there is that. Once 5v5 play continued the Rangers continued getting good looks while the Penguins continued looking like Asian tourists in New York City. Somehow the horn would sound signaling the end of the frame and the game was still tied, that somehow was Matt Murray.

The Penguins PR did not put up an end of period stats graphic because they wanted to showcase Evgeni Malkin honoring victims of a gas explosion in his hometown.

The Rangers PR team didn’t put up an infographic with stats because they aren’t as good as the Penguins PR team.

After the game NBCSN interviewed Zach Aston-Reese and he gave us an inside look at the Penguins locker room following the first period. ZAR said that Sullivan walked into the room and said “that has to be our worst period if we are going to win.” This seems so simple, but so many coaches miss this point. I’ve had coaches that enter the room screaming at us Letterkenny style. I’ve had coaches enter the room that couldn’t tell us the score because they didn’t care. One of my best coaches, known for his longwinded explanations, once came into the room after the first period and said “clean this shit up” and left. A man of a million words gave us four, and it lit that fire. Mike Sullivan did the same thing to the Penguins last night. Pushing the right buttons is not as easy as it seems, but when it’s done right the response is there.

Six minutes into a period that looked completely different than the first, Kris Letang was busy getting busy in the offensive zone. After Letang caused some confusion behind the net, Matt Cullen received the puck and wisely saw that ZAR was being covered by the ghost of Shattenkirk. Remember when Shattenkirk was a big deal that one time? Anyways, Cullen to ZAR out front, peace:

ZACH ASTON-REESE (6) Assisted by CULLEN (5) @ 6:29

Shattenkirk had his stick tied up with Letang behind the net which opened up the passing lane to ZAR. I’m not trying to get too excited here, but Aston-Reese is starting to score a lot of Hornqvist style goals. His whole family was in attendance too, in case you didn’t hear ZAR is from Staten Island, something that was only mentioned 46 times.

Following the goal, the Penguins went back to their roots, and suddenly it felt like the game should just end because there was no hope for the Rangers. The Penguins have this swagger in their game and when it is going it is impossible to deny. Ranger attempt after attempt was shut down by the Pens and turned into scoring chances the other way. Almost five minutes after the first goal, Guentzel picked up a puck near the point and went for a deflection, which technically he received thanks to Marc Staal:

JAKE GUENTZEL (17) Assisted by CROSBY (31) & PETTERSSON (8) @ 11:11

This gif gives you such a great view and a good teaching point. If you look at the frozen image that starts the gif you can see Guentzel has almost a foot of net to aim for on his right. The majority of young players would aim this shot for that open net. A smart player knows that there are two issues with that, first, the timing would have to be right for the puck to get through without being blocked and second, Henrik Lundqvist’s glove is responsible for that side of the net. Instead of taking the bait Guentzel goes for the deflection thanks to the beautiful positioning of Bryan Rust, and it’s 2-0.

One minute after the goal it was the Kris Letang show. Letang picks the pocket of a Ranger at the blue line, dances in and goes Elf on the Shelf over Hank’s glove.

KRIS LETANG (9) @ 12:20

A right-handed shot putting this puck top corner far side is some sexy stuff. Letang matches last years goal total with this marker, and is on pace to challenge his career-high 16 goals he scored in 2015-16. This play cannot receive enough admiration, thanks Letang.

26 seconds after the Pens went up by three the Rangers got on the board when Ryan Strome deflected a puck from the point that Murray didn’t have a chance of seeing until it went in. The funny thing is, when Murray was going through his rough patch he wasn’t confident and dropping down on every shot from the point, had he done that here he would’ve stopped it. He also would’ve missed the puck had he done that and it not been deflected. Seeing Murray standing on this goal is actually a very good sign.

The 6,000 in attendance started to get their hopes up following the goal and the Rangers had a little push, it was cute but Murray didn’t care. Around the 15 minute mark, Dominik Simon made a really nice play in the neutral zone to catch a flying puck, bring it to his stick and make a pass while shielding a defender. That puck then went from Hornqvist to Malkin along the blue line, and from Geno back to Simon in front of the net.

DOMINIK SIMON (5) Assisted by MALKIN (29) & HORNQVIST (9) @ 15:45

During the offseason Sidney Crosby caught some attention when he said that Simon has one of the highest hockey IQs on the team. There were multiple times during this game where I caught myself admiring small plays Simon made, and this one is the cherry on top. This play started in the defensive zone when Pettersson challenged a Ranger which resulted in the puck popping up into the air. Simon grabbed it, dropped it, and handed it to Hornqvist before most of us could say “puck.” After bringing the puck to his stick Simon protects the puck long enough to get it to Hornqvist:

That is next level stuff, and would’ve been a good play alone had it ended there but instead Simon got on his horse and the Rangers were puck watching

Hornqvist continues to drive in the direction he is skating which pulls two defenders, and Simon doesn’t break stride. Had Hornqvist turned towards the net this play doesn’t happen, but the veteran knows to head to the corner and it opens up the seas for Geno:

That is Mike Sullivan era hockey baby.

Lundqvist and the Rangers would manage to hold the Pens off the board in the remaining four minutes as the period would end 4-1.

The broadcast crew wasn’t even finished questioning the decision by Mike Sullivan’s younger brother David Quinn for leaving Lundqvist in the net when Evgeni Malkin earned Pittsburgh a meatball.

EVGENI MALKIN (13) Assisted by HORNQVIST (10) & SIMON (10) @ 1:03

When Geno gets the stick on the puck at the very end of this play it results in the goal. He could’ve given up on the play and Lundqvist’s poke check would’ve worked. Instead, Malkin doesn’t give up and gets just enough to change the motion of the puck, another veteran play leading to a Penguins goal. You know Geno wanted to score for his hometown, good for him.

19 seconds later the second pairing was caught being stupid and Pavel Buchnevich scored for the Rangers. Here is how you give up preventable goals, it starts with great positioning (the big black circle is the puck, duh hehehe BBC)

Riikola has the pass to the front covered, Maatta has the cross-ice feed covered, Kessel is adding pressure from behind and Brassard has the center of the zone taken care of. This is beautiful. As the puck goes behind the goal Riikola decides to chase, something that drives coaches nuts but isn’t the killer of this play.

Riikola took the puck carrier, and though he can’t score from behind the net he also has no play to Riikola’s former assignment so this is a wash for now. Olli Maatta on the other hand is actively moving away from his assignment, why???

In three seconds the Pens went from perfect positioning to two defenders behind their own net. Riikola’s man ends up scoring the goal, but the pass never happens if Olli Maatta holds his ground.

Fortunately for the Pens the Rangers had no intentions of adding to their goal total and instead decided to take a penalty. The powerplay wasn’t looking so hot, then Kris Letang made a beaut of a pass to spring Pearson.

TANNER PEARSON (5) Assisted by LETANG (26) & GUENTZEL (19) @ 4:40 PPG

We tried to tell you when the trade happened that Pearson is not afraid to shoot the puck, Lundqvist should’ve read up on that. This whole play starts thanks to Norris Candidate Kris Letang:

Letang with a perfect blue line to blue line laser to the backhand of Pearson that even Antonio Brown wouldn’t complain about. The Pens score their sixth of the game, at least one Pittsburgh team can score a touchdown in January.

The goal pretty much folded the Rangers, they pulled Lundqvist, again. The Penguins spent the rest of the game circle jerking with the Rags and time slowly ticked away. After going almost 7 minutes without a shot, not that you need a shot when leading by 5, the first line got to work behind the goal. Guentzel fired the first shot from a bad angle leading to a rebound that somehow sat in the slot for what seemed like ten minutes before Crosby picked it up and fired it home.

SIDNEY CROSBY (19) @ 13:56

https://twitter.com/penguins/status/1080654500808065024

This play seems so simple but is actually a great example of how quick Sid’s hands are. He goes backhand – forehand – the heel of the stick – forehand shot between the defender’s legs in close like that. This was Crosby’s 430th career goal, putting him just 9 behind Jaromir Jagr for second all-time in Penguins history.

The Penguins would not score again, neither would the Rangers. Time clicked down and the horn would sound for the

DEUCE BITCHES


THOUGHTS:

  • The Pens improve to 9-1-0 in their last ten and are still without the services of Justin Schultz
  • Matt Murray with a .933 save percentage was the reason the Penguins got out of the first period tied. For as much shit as Murray caught in the beginning of the season there isn’t enough reciprocal praise heading his way now, not that I expected there to be but it would be nice to see
  • Excellent bench management during a blowout by Sullivan, all skaters received over 12 minutes and no skater received over 20. Only Letang and Dumoulin went over the 20 minute mark for defenders.
  • I missed this last recap, but Kessel’s goal last game was his 100th as a Penguin in just 285 games
  • With two more points in this game Kris Letang passed Erik Karlsson for 6th in the League in points among defensemen. Letang now has 35 points in 38 games, and is 3 points behind the three-way tie for third in the League between Chabot, Giordano, and Carlson.
  • Letang is 4th in the League in average TOI per game at 25:58. None of the players above Letang in average TOI have more points than he does… what a year he is treating us to.
  • Thanks for reading everyone! See you tomorrow for the Winnipeg gameday!!