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Game 2 Recap: Nothing easy. Pens grind out win to even series

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Despite Carey Price’s best efforts, the Pittsburgh Penguins score twice and hand on for dear life, winning 3-1 to even their five game series with the Montreal Canadiens

Montreal Canadiens v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images

Lineups

Coach Mike Sullivan didn’t talk about any specific lineup changes because it turns out he didn’t make any. Same personnel and lines to start, down to Matt Murray in goal again for the Penguins.

The Canadiens, as winners of Game 1, don’t change up la formation either.

First period

A decent back-and-forth start, but it’s the Penguins who strike first. Jake Guentzel skates the puck into the zone and pulls up, seeing Sidney Crosby wide open. Great pass from Guentzel and Crosby makes no mistakes snapping a quick shot five-hole by Carey Price to get Pittsburgh on the board just 4:25 into the game.

The Pens get the first power play of the game as the Canadiens get caught with too many men on the ice. We get an adjustment with Patric Hornqvist added to the top power play group and he wreaks havoc in front of the net. They don’t score but get a lot of zone time, traffic in front and five shots on goal in the power play.

Montreal gets their first power play soon after when Marcus Pettersson is nabbed for holding. The Pens kill goes to work then the Habs even if up when Joel Armia goes to the box.

At 4v4 it gets a little wild, Jared McCann knocks the Pens’ net off one post and on the follow-on the refs review to see if the puck went in. It didn’t, so they can’t give a goal anyways but Brian Dumoulin is called for a holding penalty as well leading to a 4v3 power play for MTL.

As the penalties cycle through, Montreal AGAIN gets caught with too many men on the ice. The Pens get a long 5v4 out of it but look a lot more disjointed and don’t even get setup in the offensive zone.

Shots end up 14-7 Pittsburgh. In many ways it was a lot like Game 1’s start (which was 16-8 SOG edge), right down to Evgeni Malkin peppering the net early (5 SOG in the first period alone tonight!). Big difference is the swing in score, it was 1-0 MTL in Game 1, it’s 1-0 Pens in this one and Pittsburgh won’t have to play from behind in the playoffs for seemingly the first time since 2018.

Second period

Matt Murray makes his best stop early in the period when Jonathan Drouin centers a pass for Armia who lifts the puck from right in front.

Bryan Rust goes the box for roughing in a post-whistle scrum, the Pens kill it off. Armia gets called again and the Pens’ power play goes back to work. They get the puck to the net, Hornqvist and Kris Letang are hackin’ and whackin’ but can’t get it past Price.

Armia gets the hat trick (of minor penalties) when he collides with Justin Schultz. Big scrum afterwards sends Malkin and Shea Weber off together for roughing. Montreal keeps playing with fire Ben Chariot does what he does (hits someone away from the puck) and it’s not called, then Paul Byron gets called for slashing the stick out of Rust’s hands.

And it’s the dreaded 5v3 power play for 26 seconds. Pittsburgh calls their timeout to draw up a play and give their top players a chance to catch their breath. The plans don’t work, and another opportunity is squandered by an ineffective power play.

Pens keep pushing for another goal, great shift by the Malkin line, a turnover caused by Rust nearly results in a goal but Price stones him.

Shots in the second are 15-6 Pens, due mainly to the excessive PP time from Pittsburgh 5v5 shots in the second were 8-6 PIT. It’s an overall 29-13 shot advantage overall for Pittsburgh (though just 12-11 PIT at 5v5)

Third period

Just 14 seconds in, Montreal gets a 2-on-1, makes a cross-ice pass but Murray makes a big stop of Tomas Tatar.

Pittsburgh is put back on their heels more at the start of this period than most other times. The Habs get the first five shots of the third period.

The Pens kinda hanging on, sitting back in their 1-2-2 as time bleeds away.

A rare chance generated by the third line, McCann feeds Patrick Marleau who hits Price and the post with a shot.

Murray makes another save, and Sheary chips the puck past a player and is off on another odd-man rush. Sheary almost mishandles the puck but recovers and hits Zucker with a pass and he’s got an empty net to punch by Price to give the Pens some room. 2-0.

Montreal doesn’t go away, they strike with 2:10 left to make it a 2-1 game. Murray can’t handle the rebound of a point shot and Jesperi Kotkaniemi is behind the Pens’ defense and able to slam it by Murray on the rebound.

The Habs pull Price, Hornqvist misses a long range backhander at the empty net. Guentzel eventually steers one into the open net for a 3-1 final score.

Some thoughts

  • Through two periods of hockey there are 40 minutes. Pittsburgh was on a power play for 9:20 of that 40 minutes, nearly one quarter of the total game. That’s a good thing in the sense that, hey at least the refs are calling penalties and the Pens are forcing MTL to the box! That’s a bad thing in the obvious that 0-for-5 and failing to score and pull away makes for a more stressful finish.
  • Scoring chances were there, in all situations it was 29-9 PIT after two periods. Total xGF was 3.52-0.74. Yet real scored was 1-0 at that point. Have to give Price a lot of credit for playing at a very high level.
  • Series got very chippy with several post-whistle scrums. Starting to feel a little more like playoffs, even though they’re playing in a neutral city with no crowd in what still is a very weird situation.
  • Two post-whistle penalties for Pittsburgh in this one, one by Malkin (a coincidental with Weber, but it took Geno off the ice for an ensuing 5v3) and one by Rust. Probably could stand to be a bit more disciplined even though the team is generally doing well at not letting Montreal get too far under their skin.
  • Getting shots from the point had to have been a point of emphasis (no pun intended) for the Pens in this one. John Marino had 6 SOG himself, Schultz and Letang each had 3. Never a bad idea to throw rubber on target and try to get bodies to the front and see what happens. You could see it in the Natural Stat trick heat map for shot location through two periods (all strengths)
  • Nice job by Sheary to end up with two assists on the night, including what ended up as the game winning play. The Pens need production out of him and he provided it.
  • Murray didn’t have a lot of steady work but did exactly what the Pens needed. Made a few saves on a couple of tricky chances early. Held firm in the 3rd when the team was giving up more. One rebound cost him the shutout. Stopping 26/27 while going up against a dominant goalie is the type of effort needed though, and Murray served it up by keeping the Habs off the board for the first 58 minutes.
  • And now a best of five series essentially becomes a best of three. The Pens have to feel pretty good about this one, Montreal is hanging around, being annoying and getting quality goaltending but Pittsburgh is doing pretty much what they want (besides finishing)...And the power play? Well we’ll save that for later.

Things we were watching for

In the game preview, we highlighted three items to watch, let’s see how it shaped out.

#1 Making life harder on Price

—The Pens did this, no doubt. Price was sterling though and standing on his head again. Any talk of his pedestrian regular season performance is out the window, Price is playing at a level where he can single-handedly hold his team in any game. He’s done it twice now, but he can’t score goals himself.

#2 Not playing from behind

—This one worked! An early Crosby goal made sure the Pens wouldn’t start behind the 8-ball, as they have so many times in the 2019 playoff sweep and in Game 1 on Saturday night. Playoff hockey is a much different beast when down 1-0 or 2-0 in a game, being out in front is a much more comfortable spot to be in.

#3 Second pair battles

Guentzel and Crosby spread the ice with a couple of cross-ice passes in the first and exploited Montreal’s second pair. Brett Kulak then got caught up ice for the Pens’ late second goal. Didn’t think Pettersson had a very smooth game, he was battling, Marino looked smooth. MTL’s second pair was great in the first game, but on ice and out of position for both goals of consquence against in this defensive effort.