The Pittsburgh Penguins have often been criticized for playing down to the level of their opponent, which leads to sloppy play and bad habits on the ice. Never a great recipe for a team with Stanley Cup desires.
Saturday night against the Buffalo Sabres, Penguins just had a 1-0 lead on a Chris Kunitz goal and weren't exactly demonstrating their superiority on the ice until Blake Comeau scored his third of the season 11:54 into the second period.
Minutes later on the team's first power play of the night, Patric Hornqvist scored his sixth goal setup by a quick tic-tac-toe by Kunitz and Evgeni Malkin.
Once Comeau scored, it seemed to re-energize the Penguins as the Sabres were getting a little more physical. Another too many men on the ice penalty against an opponent led to the beautiful Hornqvist goal, it was game over for the Sabres as the Penguins ramped up their intensity.
After the game, Sidney Crosby said "As much as you look at tests against top teams, you also look when it might be easy to let up a bit. You have to understand they will come in here and work. You can't let a team come in here at home and outwork you. I thought we did a good job at that, got a lead, and built off of that."
Head Coach Mike Johnston trying to pick out a negative on his team tonight, "I think you saw early in the game, Buffalo didn't give us anything in the first period. As I mentioned the other night, we have to earn and we didn't earn it. We didn't battle for opportunities in the offensive zone, which tends to draw penalties. As the game went along, you get a call that goes your way."
Lineup Change Due to Maatta's Thyroid Gland Surgery
It was a bit curious that Johnston didn't take advantage of a bad team tonight and try to get defensemen Robert Bortuzzo dressed as a seventh defensemen in order to ease him into action as he's missed all ten games in the regular season due to a lower body injury.
Olli Maatta is expected to miss at least four weeks if his recovery goes as expected.
Malkin and his Muckers
Malkin's best performance in a Penguins uniform wasn't with highly skilled wingers, rather he was sandwiched between Ruslan Fedotenko and Max Talbot on the way to winning the 2009 Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy.
After a few years deferring to James Neal, he's finally back in the saddle as the main shooter. Malkin has been playing well with Pascal Dupuis and Blake Comeau. Both are quick skaters, responsibile on defense, aggressive forecheckers, and don't shy away from the net.
It would be a wise decision by Head Coach Mike Johnston to keep Malkin supported by players like Dupuis and Comeau, occasionally mixing others like Spaling and Downie, in order to keep Malkin in a position that he must produce.
Lethal Power Play
Is there anything left to say about the Penguins and the new power play? They are now clicking at a 41.9% clip ten games into the season. For years, Penguins have desperately need a right-handed shooter to play in the slot and left side of the ice in order to force teams to play an honest penalty-kill alignment.
The acquisition of Hornqvist by General Manager Jim Rutherford and power play coaching by Assistant Coach Rick Tocchet has this team deadly on the man advantage.
How good is the power play? Penguins have scored 18 goals on the power play while Sabres (12) and Florida Panthers (14) have less total goals.
Improving Penalty Kill
The Penguins started the season giving up 6 short-handed goals in 15 opportunities, now they've killed 26 straight penalties to jump up to 9th in the NHL at 85.4%. It will be interesting to see how the loss of Maatta effects the penalty-kill as he averaged 3:02 per game . Last year, Bortuzzo averaged just 1:18 per game.
During the Dan Bylsma era (2009-2010 to 2013-14), NHL teams averaged -2.83 CORSI short-handed value, Penguins came in at fifth in the NHL at -2.67. The NHL On-Ice save percentage average 87.40, Penguins were at 88.56%.
I consider Team CORSI short-handed value to be CORSI +/- (divided by) Total SH TOI (divided by) 2.
In the Penguins first 9 games, they were 18th at -2.97, league average was -2.81.