Penguins’ 5-on-5 Play Should Have Led to a Better Result vs. Rangers

The Pittsburgh Penguins have officially entered the offseason after their Game 7 loss to the New York Rangers on Sunday, May 15. The Penguins had a 3-1 series lead, and it looked like they were going to pull off a huge upset. They had a two-goal lead in Games 5 and 6 and were leading in Game 7 for most of the third period and yet still could not find a way to win. At five-on-five, the Penguins’ easily dominated the Rangers, so what exactly went wrong? 

Penguins’ Injuries

Injuries plagued the Penguins all through the regular season, and the first round of the playoffs proved to be no different. First-string goalie Tristan Jarry suffered an injury to his foot on April 14 against the New York Islanders, so he was unable to be much of a factor in the series. During the second overtime of Game 1 backup goalie Casey DeSmith left the game with a lower-body injury and was replaced by third-string goalie Louis Domingue, who would remain between the pipes for the next five games. 

Domingue had only played in two previous games for the Penguins this season. However, he has played in a total of 150 NHL games. His career save percentage is a .905, which is not great, but it’s also not terrible. He has proven over his career that he is capable of a lot more than he gave in his five starts during the series. 

Related: Sidney Crosby Has Been a Force the Rangers Cannot Contain

Forward Rickard Rakell left the ice in Game 1 after a high hit by Rangers’ defenseman Ryan Lindgren. Rakell was not able to return until Game 7, but he was not at 100 percent and proved to be a non-factor. Captain Sidney Crosby left the ice in Game 5 after taking a hard hit from Rangers’ defenseman Jacob Trouba and was unable to return until Game 7. 

Penguins’ Special Teams

There is no question that the Penguins outplayed the Rangers at five-on-five. In the first six games of the series, the Penguins recorded 53 percent of the shot attempts and 66 percent of the high-danger scoring opportunities. However, special teams play a huge role in the game, and the Penguins’ special teams simply could not deliver. 

Sidney Crosby Pittsburgh Penguins
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Pittsburgh had one of the best penalty kills in the league during the regular season, but they were unable to carry that success over to the playoffs. The Rangers’ power play was able to win Game 5 with an early third-period goal and scored two goals on the power play in the Game 6 victory. 

The Penguins’ power play also struggled throughout the first round of the playoffs. Game 5 opened with a two-minute 5-on-3 advantage for the Penguins, but they were unable to come away with a single goal. They were also given another 5-on-3 advantage during the second period in Game 6 and did not even register a shot on goal. Even when the power play was able to score goals, it was the second unit finding the most success. You simply can not win games without your special teams performing at a high level, and the Penguins will need to focus on that during the offseason.

Penguins’ Bright Spots

The Penguins’ playoff performance was not all bad, and they definitely have some positive things to build on in the offseason. Jake Guentzel had a total of eight goals during the first round of the playoffs and can easily be classified as one of their top players. He finished the regular season with 40 goals and 84 points. The biggest question mark for fans right now is what will the future hold for defenseman Kris Letang and forward Evgeni Malkin. One thing is for sure, the Penguins will have a busy offseason as they make adjustments and prepare for next year. 

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