‘Dominating’ is really the only word that can be used to describe the Penguins’ play against the New York Rangers. At times you almost start to feel bad for the Rangers…almost.
Since Penguins’ coach Mike Sullivan got his system established, many have rejoiced at the return to the old style of Pittsburgh hockey. I disagree. I cannot remember a Penguins’ team that operated with such skill, structure, and confidence in a complete package.
If there is a team that I could compare this version of the Penguins to, it would be the Soviet Red Army team of the 70’s and 80’s. I am by no means an expert on the Soviet team’s system, but the games that I have watched, and the their reputation for playing like an unstoppable machine are reflective of what is going on in Pittsburgh.
Sullivan Makes Intriguing Lineup Changes
Put me on the record as saying that I absolutely love the changes to the forward lines made prior to Game 4. Conor Sheary, for all of his impact, has been underutilized. Now that he has been moved the top line with Sidney Crosby and Patric Hornqvist, he will get a chance to really show what he is made of. Sheary, is fast, has a great hockey IQ, and his skill set meshes very well with Crosby and Hornqvist. The trio combined for 4 points on the night, with Sheary and Hornqvist recording goals.
Sheary goal pic.twitter.com/PCkotZx9dH
— Stephanie (@myregularface) April 21, 2016
Hornqvist also had a monster night all over the ice, but especially in front of the Rangers’net. He was credited with only two hits during the game, but it seemed like he was in someones face all night long.
Daily xG Chart – PIT vs. NYR 2016-04-22 pic.twitter.com/R5coFQkJwq
— DTM About Heart (@DTMAboutHeart) April 22, 2016
The Penguins had a significant amount of shots and quality scoring chances from directly in front of both of the New York netminders, and the majority of them were from Hornqvist.
Evgeni Malkin’s line got a great new makeover with Chris Kunitz and Eric Fehr, but Malkin really stole the show. The Russian had 2 goals and 4 points in only 12:56 of ice time compared to Crosby’s 19:05. It still does not appear that Malkin is 100 percent, but 90 percent of Geno is still better than almost everyone else.
— Sean Tierney (@SeanTierneyTss) April 22, 2016
The Penguins are a possession driven team right now, with the only negative last night being the line of Matt Cullen, Bryan Rust, and Tom Kuhnhackl. I am not overly concerned about this, as Pittsburgh seems to be doing everything else right, and the Cullen line had the lowest amount of offensive-zone starts for either team.
The Penguins’ Trap
At least a portion of the Penguins’ system was reminiscent of the 1990’s New Jersey Devils. For much of the game, Pittsburgh clogged the neutral zone and prevented the Rangers from getting quality zone entries. Their speed and skill allowed them to convert the center-ice disruption into scoring chances, while frustrating New York into many mistakes.
Something to watch for. Pens are playing a DEEP 1-2-2 tonight. Their defensemen are sitting way back. Rangers won’t have luck with dump ins.
— Jesse Marshall (@jmarshfof) April 21, 2016
That 1-2-2 being so deep also makes it difficult to carry the puck because the Pens forwards are so pesky in the NZ.
— Jesse Marshall (@jmarshfof) April 21, 2016
This goes along with my comparison to the Soviet team with their structure. For so long the Penguins were a one-dimensional team driven by it’s stars. They lacked the depth, speed, and discipline to execute a system like the one that they are running right now.
Sullivan created the culture, and general manager Jim Rutherford gave him the tools to compliment what he already had to create the on-ice product that we have now. It truly is something to behold.
- What more can be said about Matt Murray? He isn’t playing like a 21-year-old goalie with his amazing composure. When Marc-Andre Fleury returns, the starting job should be his again, but Murray’s play should give the Penguins a lot of confidence in the present, and the future.
- Despite the poor possession numbers, I don’t hate how Ben Lovejoy and Ian Cole are playing right now. They have both made some decent plays, and made some mistakes. In my mind, Justin Schultz should be playing, and maybe even Derrick Pouliot, but why mess with success?
- I don’t know how the NHL is recording turnovers, but it feels like Phil Kessel has had a ton of giveaways. Some of them have nearly resulted in a Rangers’ goal. He needs to buy into the system a little more, because eventually he is going to cost the Penguins a game.
What the Penguins are doing right now is incredible. Typically when I watch a game I sit with a pen and notebook and write down points that I want to cover later. I had to keep reminding myself during Game 4 to take notes, as what Pittsburgh was doing was so completely enthralling.
Until next time.
Greg is a Pittsburgh Penguins writer for ‘The Hockey Writers’.
He is a Pittsburgh area native who has written for multiple Penguins news and opinion sites. In addition to hockey writing, he is also an experienced YouTube creator.
Greg started with THW in 2015 as a Blue Jackets writer, and spent time as a Fantasy Hockey analyst.