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Penguins Throttle Predators 4-1 – Pittsburgh Penguins – PenguinPoop Blog

Penguins Throttle Predators 4-1

Go back in time with me to the night of October 30, 1974. Considered on the downside of a brilliant boxing career, 32-year-old Muhammad Ali faced heavyweight champ George Foreman, a murderous puncher who’d kayoed 37 of 40 professional opponents.

Few gave Ali a chance against the powerful Foreman, undefeated and seven years his junior. Those who did felt the ex-champ needed to stay on his toes. Yet at the opening bell, Ali confounded the experts—not to mention his corner—by backing into the ropes and inviting Foreman to hit him.

For seven rounds Big George hammered away while Ali deftly slipped, blocked and parried many of his thunderous blows. Toward the end of the eighth round—Foreman exhausted from all the punching—could barely lift his massive arms.

Then Ali came off the ropes. With stunning speed and precision, he landed a crisp left-right combination, buckling Foreman’s knees. Down went Big George.

So what’s with the long-winded boxing analogy?

I keep expecting our Penguins to snap back to last spring’s form, when they overwhelmed foes with a lethal dose of skill, speed and pressure. Kind of like a youthful Ali used to do before age and attrition caught up with him.

Instead, the Pens keep reverting to an odd, bend-but-not-break style as they did during last night’s scintillating 4-1 triumph over Nashville. They allow their opponent to take the early initiative, then…WHAM…they respond in devastating, counter-punch fashion. Wholly reminiscent of Ali’s “rope-a-dope” tactic.

It’s a trend likely born out of necessity rather than choice. Like the aging Ali, the Pens don’t seem to have the legs at this stage to mount a sustained attack—at least not for a prolonged stretch of time. Not after logging a grueling 221 games and counting, including the pre- and postseason, over the past 21 months. Talk about putting some hard miles on your hockey odometer!

Then there’s the not-so-little matter of the opposition, hungry as a pack of ravenous wolves and willing to do pretty much whatever it takes to dethrone the defending champs, even if it means straying beyond the boundaries of fair and gentlemanly play.

Yet the Pens have become so good at this hybrid game. They’ll take a punch (or lots of punches) early, secure in the knowledge that ultra-cool goalie Matt Murray and their gritty, undervalued defense will somehow weather the storm. Then they pounce when the opportunity presents itself, often with devastating effect.

In other words, they’ve mastered the art of turning it on at precisely the right time.

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Such was the case in Game Two. Nashville came at us hard, piling up 18 first-period shots on goal (32 over the first 40 minutes). They grabbed the early lead on a dazzling tally by speedy Pontus Aberg, who swept around Olli Maatta, sliced through the crease and lifted the puck over a prone and helpless Murray.

Stressed to the limit, you could feel the Pens’ mainspring was about to snap. Then rookie sensation Jake Guentzel chipped the puck through the tiniest of openings between Pekka Rinne’s body and arm at 16:36 of the first period to sway the momentum. At the other end of the ice Murray—shrugging off the game-opening goal with typical equanimity—made a brilliant stop on Scott Sissons in the closing seconds of the frame to keep the score knotted at 1-1.

“Muzz” continued to sparkle in the second period. Six minutes in he snared Filip Forsberg’s 2-on-1 sizzler as casually as if he were picking berries on a Sunday afternoon. Midway through he flashed the leather again, snatching Roman Josi’s blast from the top of the left circle.

Cue the Pens’ explosion. Seconds after the faceoff to begin the third period, Bryan Rust flew down the right side of the Preds’ zone and fired. The puck thudded off Rinne’s pads and onto the waiting stick of Guentzel, who wired it home.

Three minutes later Phil Kessel delivered one of his patently hard passes from a sharp angle. The puck nipped Scott Wilson’s stick blade and deflected off a backtracking Vernon Fiddler, squirting through Rinne’s exposed five-hole.

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The crowd was still celebrating when Evgeni Malkin tipped the puck away from Sissons along the boards and scampered up ice. “Geno” beat the shell-shocked Rinne with a blistering top-shelf drive that caught the corner of the post and crossbar and went in.

Three goals in 3:18; two in 15 seconds. Exit Rinne and enter Juuse Saros, soon to be victimized by Patric Hornqvist. While the marker was rightfully disallowed due to an offside play, the damage was done.

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Holding the Preds to a lone scoring chance over the final 20 minutes, the Pens gave a clinic on how to protect a lead. Electing to play hit men Cody McLeod and Austin Watson, Nashville coach Peter Laviolette virtually ran up the white flag of surrender in the closing moments. McLeod promptly drew an interference penalty with two minutes remaining.

So much for terror tactics.

Puckpourri

Nashville dominated in most statistical categories, including shot attempts (71-41), shots on goal (38-27), hits (41-35) and faceoffs (44-33). The Pens were 0-for-7 on the power play, the Predators 0-for-4.

With a playoff-leading 12 goals, Guentzel established a new postseason record for American-born rookies, eclipsing the mark he shared with Jeremy Roenick. Jake earned star-of-the-game honors.

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Murray, the No. 2 star, stopped 37 of 38 shots. Malkin, named No. 3 star, fought P.K. Subban at 12:14 of the third period.

Chris Kunitz continued his hot hand, collecting two assists. The feisty winger has two goals and five assists (seven points) in his past three games. Carter Rowney led the team with a game-high seven hits.

*Be sure to check out Rick Buker’s books,
 
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18 Comments

  1. the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
    June 1, 2017 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

    Just saw that Shero has had several teams already ask about trades for the first pick with one team already making an offer. Wonder who already made an offer?

    • Jim's Gravatar Jim
      June 1, 2017 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

      Hey Coach.
      There is a report that Vancouver is making a pitch but as I understand nothing can be done until the Cup is awarded as Bettman and company have to sign off on any trade in the end. My source said they need a young star center to help move in to the future. The Sedins are getting long in the tooth.Edmonton, Winnipeg and Calgary all have young super stars in waiting and Vancouver needs to do something soon.
      Florida was mentioned as well to be interested in making a pitch to NJD.
      Comment later about last night.
      Jim

  2. June 1, 2017 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    Hey Rick,

    Love the Ali comparison. It will be interesting to see if the Pens can do that on the Predators home turf with the ruckus crowd. Speaking from personal experience, that place is loud.

    Some game thoughts:

    Sullivan’s line changes were awesome. It may be time to sit Sheary again. It would seem that he has great hustle whens he comes back after being benched then drops back into complacency after a few games.

    The should call Guentzel “Timex” takes a licking but keeps on ticking. This guy takes hard hits every game and keeps going on. Beau Bennett he is not.

    Malkin/Subban fight at first seemed stupid of Malkin, but then having Subban sit the rest of the game was quite genius. Pens didn’t need to put up with his cheap shots the rest of the way.

    The thing that hurt the Penguins the most was faceoffs, I was starting to wonder if a team ever went the whole game without winning one. Nashville has a guy that goes face first into the face off circle almost every time. Cullen clocked him and the guy tried to bye a high stick call. It did stop their faceoff domination and showed the value of experience.

    It will be interesting to see how the Penguins fare with Laviolette getting final match-ups. I remember with Philly he was huge into match-ups. I think Sully mixing up the lines really screwed Laviolette up.

    2 more wins!

    • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
      June 1, 2017 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

      Hey Phil,

      I would love to see Sheary thrive; it would be a great David/Goliath story, but I have to agree with you. It may not be a question of him being complacent though, it could be a bit of recoverying from the beating he takes. I am not saying it is, I am just looking for an explanation.

      Excellent observation on the Malkin/Subban waltz.

      The Pens really do need to work on their FOs. It was a sore spot thru the regular season. They did start the PO well, but seem to be losing steam here at the end.

      Finally, if I was coaching, I would much rather be in Sully’s position of only needing 2 Ws out of 5 than Laviollette needing 4 Ws out of a possible 5; particularly after dropping 2 games even though my team gave their Sunday best and still came up short. A frustration factor may start setting in. I definitely would instruct all players to tap Neal’s stick at every opportuinty right now,

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      June 1, 2017 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

      Thank you, Phil.

      I confess, I was at a loss for how to approach last night’s game. Then Ali-Foreman popped into my head and I went with it.

      Great thoughts and observations, as always … 🙂

      Rick

  3. the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
    June 1, 2017 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    Just wanted to add a shout out to Murray.

    Earlier this year he scribbled his name into the records books with the speed in which he reached the 40 W plateau (I think he was 3rd fastest, can’t remember at the moment).

    Now, I saw a stat this morning showing that he tied Patrick Roy for 2nd fastest to reach the 20 playoff W plateau. (20 in 27 starts)

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      June 1, 2017 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

      Hey Other Rick,

      I second your shout-out to Murray. I thought he was outstanding.

      Rick

    • June 1, 2017 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

      third!

  4. the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
    June 1, 2017 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    Hey Rick,

    I just deleted out most of my post. I am going to just say, 2 more to go.

    And Phil,

    I did note some of what you wrote yesterday about who the weak link is on that tandem.

    Superstition is causing me to delete the rest.

  5. Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
    June 1, 2017 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    Hey Phil,

    A little preemptive comment.

    I’m honestly not trying to belittle Olli Maatta in any way. If it had been Brian Dumoulin or Ian Cole that Aberg went around on the Preds’ goal, I would’ve mentioned them, too. It just happened to be Maatta.

    Actually, I thought Olli settled down after that and played a decent game. All our defensemen did.

    Rick

    • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
      June 1, 2017 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

      Hey Rick,

      I did note that Phil was right on in some of what he said. Adberg did cruise in on Daley’s side, but Daley was nowhere to be found. Maatta came over to cover. Yes, he may have been able to take a better angle to prevent Adberg from swooping across the crease, but Daley was the first to be beaten.

      And as Phil mentioned earlier today on a comment on the old posting, Daley’s ice-time dropped off as the game wore on. Maybe he is hurt as Phil suggests. And Maatta’s beeter play may be due to better pairings.

      However, even if someone wanted to call Maatta the best Pens D man right now, that is hardly a compliment. It may be more a condemnation of the rest of the D.

      • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
        June 1, 2017 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

        Hey all,

        I’ll weigh in one more time on Maatta, then I’ll hold my peace.

        I’m sure if you search hard enough, you can find extenuating circumstances on just about every goal ever scored. Perhaps a forward was out of position, or maybe a defense partner’s blown an assignment. Could be a result of a sloppy line change, too.

        My bottom line…Maatta’s been front-and-center on a number of glaring goals against, especially since the start of the Ottawa series. Frankly, his lack of foot speed is a problem, especially in tight quarters or on bang-bang plays where he has to react quickly to changing situations.

        On the flip side, I’m very impressed with his puck skills. He always has his head up, reads the play extremely well (especially in the offensive zone) and makes crisp, tape-to-tape passes. In fact, with the possible exception of Justin Schultz, he may be the most accurate passer on the Pens’ d. A trait that’s certainly been an asset to our transition game.

        I do wish he could shore things up defensively. Again, some of that is physical…the kid just has heavy feet. Hopefully, he’ll learn to mitigate that and/or play with a partner in the future who can help cover for him.

        I don’t know if he’s ever going to be the All-Star we’d all envisioned. But, as Phil’s duly noted, there are a lot of pluses to his game, too.

        Rick

        PS–I know it’s popular to bash the Pens ‘d.’ But all things considered, I think they’ve done a decent job. And I felt they played very well last night.

        • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
          June 1, 2017 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

          Hey Rick,

          I will agree with you Rick, that on most GA you will find that more than 1 player is guilty of missing an assignment or getting burned by an opponent. So I am not trying to white wash Maatta’s mistakes. I am only acknowledging that he may not be the worst D man on the team.

          However, I will disagree with you Rick in that the D isn’t doing that great of a job. I do agree with what the announcer said last night, the Pens D are not mobile. We like to think that we have mobile D, but outside of Letang and he is injured, the Pens D do not skate that well with the puck. The try and move the puck rapidly with passes. Unfortunately, Nsh has scouted the Pens well and have walled off the boards and taken away the breakout passes.

          They also have not been strong on the puck when challenged. They have coughed up the puck with regularity.

          I would suggest that the Pens D try and skate the puck out of their own end, I have seen opportunities where the could have lugged the puck themselves but they also have not been strong on the puck when challenged. They have coughed up the puck with regularity. And recently they haven’t seemed even capable of using the obstruction of their own net to screen off fore checkers when circling behind the net, and even when they appear to have a step on the fore-checkers still get caught from behind.

          For all the talk about the Pens opting for mobile D vs bruising D they haven’t shown much mobility.

          • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
            June 1, 2017 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

            Hey Other Rick,

            I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one.

            I certainly don’t have your fine eye for detail, or your coach’s sensibilities when it comes to breaking down plays and evaluating performance. So I won’t dispute some of your observations.

            I do think our ‘d’ is more mobile than you give them credit for…especially Daley, Dumoulin and Schultz. Hainsey even showed some wheels on a couple of rushes last night. And they’re not afraid to stand in front of a shot.

            On matters of lugging puck and clearing the zone (physical play, too), your points are well taken.

            Mind you, I’m not saying they remind me of Montreal’s Big Three from the ’70s (Lapointe, Robinson and Savard). But I don’t think they’re the Keystone Kops (or the ’83-84 Boys of Winter), either.

            Rick

            • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
              June 1, 2017 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

              We can’t always agree Rick, people would think we are the same person like Clark Kent/Superman or Bruce Wayne/Batman, although I am not sure which would be which.

            • June 1, 2017 at 11:39 pm | Permalink

              I think Daley and Shultz are pretty mobile when healthy. Shultz I believe has a shoulder problem, but he was flying the other night, he just can’t do anything once he gets where he’s going. Daley I think may have come back too soon from his February surgery, that or the Cap’s Wilson’s hit on him re-injured something. The Pens d-corp is just a beat up mess. We expected that after the Caps & jackets though, right?

              I’m with tOR, the D does need to skate with the puck as soon as they get it. Changing to skating with it really changed the game in the last game against the Caps & in the Ottawa series.

              I look at it like this, the Pens are in the finals after going up against the toughest teams in the NHL. As I see it, the defense and goaltending has won as many games for the Pens as the Pens offense has. So, you can’t really say they are a bad group of defense, especially since this is their second year in a row of doing it.

    • June 1, 2017 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

      Hey Rick’s,

      Maatta got flat out beat like a rented mule on that play and I’ve stated my thoughts on that.

      Back to Daley, his knees are completely shot. He had absolutely no left to right movement. I’m guessing we will learn after the season that he is getting shots for them possibly even between periods. I would think that unless rest helps his knees that there is a good chance he will be sat for Streit.

      Rick, you mentioned how Maatta looked settled down later. Sullivan paired him up with Shultz later.

      Another Penguins writer wrote this about the Penguins not bringing back Daley next year “Maatta should return to form, so long as they don’t tie another boat anchor around his neck and expect him, and his numbers, to stay afloat.”

      The boat anchor he is referring to is Daley. This is not to say that Daley is not giving it his all.

      • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
        June 1, 2017 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

        Hey Phil,

        I’ve been so focused on Maatta, I hadn’t really noticed the downturn in Daley’s play. Nor did I realize his wheels are as bad as they apparently are.

        I guess Sullivan doesn’t have full confidence in Streit or Ruhwedel, or we’d see ’em.

        Anyways, thanks for filling me in. And thanks, as always, for your great behind-the-scenes work on the site!

        Rick


            

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