Random thoughts and nuggets still churning around the day after a big playoff win
#1: Now that the dust has settled, it's clear Mike Sullivan managed to keep everyone in the dark on his goalie situation for Game 1. To the outside world it sure looked like Marc-Andre Fleury was about to return, even on gameday during the morning skate, Fleury went to the goal the starter usually plays from (the net the home team defends twice) then he left the skate as the first goalie off. 99% of the time that is an indication of which goalie will start.
Yet, as Jeff Zatkoff said after the game, Fleury and goalie coach Mike Bales texted JZ on Tuesday night to let him know that MAF wouldn't be playing Game 1 and it was Zatkoff's crease. But the Pens shielded that information all the way up until it was Zatkoff leading the team out on the ice for pregame warmup.
Did it change the game? Well, probably no - the Rangers seemed to smell the blood in the water and racked up a 12-3 shot advantage early in the game. But, luckily, Zatkoff was mentally prepared and capable enough to keep them off the board.
Going forward, expect the unexpected as far as a Fleury return. We won't know for sure until he actually takes the ice for the game.
#2: Conor Sheary played really well last night and scored a point, which is nothing new for this time of the year. Over the last 2 seasons in Wilkes-Barre, Sheary appeared in 23 AHL playoff games and has 23 points (11 goals + 12 assists). Injuries have opened the door and Sheary has taken advantage of the opportunities that he's gotten, especially with the 11 forward / 7 defenseman alignment. Playing like that is going to mean that sometimes Sidney Crosby will double-shift and Sheary will get some time with first liners.
That's how Sheary got his assist last night on Patric Hornqvist's first goal. It won't be a major part of the team, but it certainly is an interesting little wrinkle that will be in effect for as long as the Penguins play 11F/7D.
#3: And that could be a while before that changes. Of the injured forwards (Evgeni Malkin , Bryan Rust, Beau Bennett ) none are looking like an imminent to return to the lineup, though the team still has outside hope that Rust and Malkin are progressing and could potentially play at some point well later in the series. Playing 11F vs 7D basically means getting Justin Schultz into the game over Tom Sestito. Will take that all day, every day.
#4: I saw some asking why the Penguins wouldn't call up a forward to round out the typical 12F/6D, with guys like Dominik Simon, Josh Archibald, Kael Mouillierat being possibilities. Keep in mind that the Penguins have already called up a ton of players who started the season in WB/S (Rust, Sheary, Scott Wilson, Kevin Porter, Tom Kuhnhackl, Oskar Sundqvist ). All the depth for call-ups have been called up, it's just unfortunate that some of them have gotten injured as well. The Penguins are better off using NHL options and experience until hopefully reinforcements trickle back in.
#5: One reinforcement mentioned is Malkin, with the age old question, where to play him? It doesn't seem wise to break up the Carl Hagelin - Nick Bonino - Phil Kessel line, yet Malkin should play with skill and there isn't a ton of skill depth for him.
Here's an idea not talked about too much: play Malkin as Crosby's LW. It spares Malkin's arm/elbow having to take faceoffs, and it also helps Crosby by giving him a guy who can carry the puck up the ice, easing his burden there. And it would bump a 38-year old Chris Kunitz down a role and potentially keep him fresh for power play's and later in the playoffs. It doesn't have to be set in stone, that experiment would obviously be subject to changed based on performance by all, but it has a lot of positives on the surface.
#6: Ben Lovejoy was pretty good last night, has he done enough for the coaches to think he's a top-6 defenseman right now? How would you feel about a potential Ian Cole - Lovejoy third pairing? Doesn't seem ideal, but might be able to scoot by and get the job done for what they need in terms of having capable guys for the penalty kills, especially if each team is going to get 5 PP chances per game like last night. Which they probably won't, but who knows with NHL officiating.
#7: It's probably nothing, and way easy to read into things in playoff time but it was nice to see the television cameras cut to Fleury and Matt Murray sitting together in the press box and sharing a light-hearted conversation. That's the first appearance of Murray, and just personally it's nice to see someone who's suffered a head injury to be in a noisy arena and not buried away in a dark, quiet room, so hopefully he's doing well and is feeling better soon, beyond just availability to play hockey but as a person.
#8: Two seasons ago Tom Kuhnhackl spent 16 games in the ECHL. Last night he played almost 16 minutes in an NHL playoff game, scoring a huge short-handed goal to make the score 3-1 Penguins and would eventually end up as the game winner. That's a remarkable progression for Kuhnhackl, who unlike some of his fellow minor league call-ups isn't the fastest or jump out for any one skill like that, but certainly seems to be a heady, useful NHL level player. It took quite a while for the 2010 draft pick to develop to this point, but slow and steady wins the race.
#9: Trevor Daley was one of the Pens most visible players as well. At 24:40 played, he was only 30 seconds behind Letang (and Daley's 17:18 played at ES actually led all Pittsburgh players). Daley also had 4 shots on goal and 8 total shot attempts, it seemed like the puck was on his stick quite a bit in the offensive zone. The playoffs are a veteran's time to shine and Daley certainly did last night, he had a big-time game.
#10: Finally, congrats to Patric Hornqvist for becoming the 10th player since 1988 in Penguins history to record a hat-trick, and the first since Malkin in 2014. Not bad company to be in. And how about that game on 5/11/1996, when Mario AND Jagr each had a hat-trick against this Ranger team. Those guys were something special.