The Pittsburgh Penguins repeated a familiar script from their playoffs from one year ago. Last year, eliminating the Washington Capitals in the second round, Pittsburgh entered the Eastern Conference Finals and played the first game with a lesser intensity or sense of urgency. They would lose to Tampa Bay that night and put themselves in an early series hole that took a seven game battle to overcome.
The scenario played out again in similar fashion as Ottawa played their game to a ‘T” and stole home ice away for the Canadian capital club. Bobby Ryan would collect a loose puck at his own blue line after Justin Schultz became pinned on the near boards.
Ryan would find another gear through the neutral zone, out race Olli Maatta and get to the slot in front of Marc Andre Fleury before placing a beautiful backhand over the far, blocker side to put the Penguins behind in a series for the first time this post season.
Besides the Senators being opportunistic and stingy, the two stories from this game were the Penguins inability to capitalize on many power play opportunities. Included in those opportunities was an extended 5 on 3 chance that saw Patric Hornqvist hit the far post from the slot. Pittsburgh would have the first four opportunities with the man advantage and fail to register many chances at all.
The other story in this game was Sens goalie Craig Anderson. Anderson was huge and became stronger and stronger as the game progressed. After surviving the power plays against and getting help from his cross-bar, most notably by Jake Guentzel early in the game. Anderson settled in and denied every chance with ease.
Anderson would finish with 27 saves on 28 shots.
Limiting any rebounds was the biggest reason for Anderson’s success. Pittsburgh did a poor job of getting to the tough areas in front and creating any havoc, but kudos to Ottawa for packing the D in and making sure any rebounds that did occur were swept away harmlessly.
J-G Pageau would get the scoring started as he would be the beneficiary of a poor puck reversal by Ron Hainsey and Brian Dumoulin behind Fleury. Bobby Ryan would find Pageau in front, alone and at 14:32 of the first, Ottawa had the lead.
Pittsburgh would nearly equalize the game seconds before the end of the period, but Justin Schultz was denied from in tight.
Pittsburgh would outshoot the Sens 8-6 through 20 minutes. A low shot total for having so many chances with an extra guy.
Pens played 5:50 of opening 20 minutes on power play and trail. Big opportunity missed. Having a lead vs. trapping team = gold.
— Bob Grove (@bobgrove91) May 14, 2017
The second period was largely uneventful as the teams traded failed power play chances. Ottawa did manage to put a puck past Fleury after jamming away at his glove, but the refs quickly waived it off and used a very quick video review to confirm the call. No protesting came from the Ottawa side even if the puck went in before the whistle had blown.
It was determined that the act of blowing the play dead was occurring and the game remained 1-0.
Ottawa would then hold the Penguins to 4 shots in a 17 minute span that included the midway point of the middle period and into the third. Any time the Penguins look like they had life, it was because of Matt Cullen’s line. While that is not a knock on them by any means, you look to the Crosby or Malkin line to carry the workload in these situations.
Crosby would only have two shots for the game and largely be held in check on the evening. Malkin would often look off good shot attempts to pass the puck wide to a winger, even if he had gained hard areas in the slot.
Sorry, 71 needs to shoot in those situations and not defer to Chris Kunitz, as was often the case.
Another adjustment that could be made going forward is to put Sid and Geno together in even strength situations, this is one area I feel Coach Sullivan has not utilized enough in his stint as Pens coach so far. That’s not saying he needs to full on abuse that power. But, on a night when the offense is clearly stagnant or the team needs a boost, it could prove to be a difference maker.
The third period would also find the Penguins killing off an early shorthanded chance as Chad Ruhwedel went off for hooking at 1:22.
Pittsburgh continued to be denied time and time again, and time was ticking away. Hornqvist finally showed a glimpse of his warrior mentality when he delivered a crushing hit along the far boards, but outside of that, he too lacked the intensity displayed in round two. In fact, I cannot think of a time where he was in Anderson’s grill, mixing it up all night.
Finally though, the Pens would break through. The source of the rush that tied the game was very unexpected. Ron Hainsey would chase a puck in deep at the side of Anderson. He would find Kunitz at the near point, and from there Kunitz would direct a low shot towards Anderson. Evgeni Malkin would find himself just in front and get enough of the puck to redirect it between the legs and tie the game.
Ron Hainsey has more career ECF points than Alexander Ovechkin.
— Nick (@PensNation_Nick) May 14, 2017
The goal would wake up the crowd and get the juices going. But on this night….it was not to be.
Ottawa would continue their stellar play in overtime for this playoff season. Six of their nine post-season wins have come in extra time.
Game two is Monday night and the Penguins will need to be better in terms of playing in front of Anderson. Making him uncomfortable and tipping pucks will be a key going forward. Especially if Ottawa is determined to protect the high danger areas with five skaters. Pittsburgh will also need to consistently gain speed through the neutral zone. They did a decent job the first 5-7 minutes of the game, but lost it from there.
Obviously the power play MUST improve. Having five chances in this game should have resulted in two goals, especially considering they had :45 seconds on a two-man advantage. If Anderson is going to continue to play this well, special teams will be vital.
Game two will be Monday night from PPG Paints Arena and I will be back for your coverage of that one as well.
Enjoy your Mother’s Day and thanks for reading.
Lets Go Pens!