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Off-day thoughts: Geno breakout, Scary Carey, and yes, that darn power play

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What we’re thinking in between Games 2 and 3 of the Penguins/Canadiens series

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

#1: This story of the Penguins / Canadiens series through two games has been one of pulling teeth. A stubborn, outmatched Montreal team hanging tough, mostly credit to an other-worldly performance by their goaltender.

Just look at some of the following stats:

Shots on goal: 79-62 Pens (54-51 MTL at 5v5)

Scoring chances: 90-50 Pens (60-45 PIT at 5v5)

Scoring chance goals: 4-4 (4-2 MTL at 5v5)

Total xGF - xGA: 9.95 - 4.09

Actual goals: 5-4 PIT (thanks to an empty netter)

xGF%: 70.88% Pittsburgh

***

Those are some remarkable numbers. The Pens have been generating almost endless shots and scoring chances, but so far Carey Price has been up to the task, stopping 74 of 78 shots (.949 save%) over the two games. The quality of his play can’t be under-stated and though hockey is usually a fluid, complicated game composed of many moving pieces, this series so far is close because of one reason, and that reason is Price has been awesome.

#2: But time plus pressure will eventually cause chaos. Price has been tremendous, but can’t win games on his lonesome (luckily for the Penguins). Eventually he will crack, like Sidney Crosby found the five-hole early in the game or Conor Sheary was able to create a cross-ice scoring chance no goalie could laterally cover. Sooner or later, enough scoring chances from quality players like the Pens’ possess will turn into goals.

And when that happens, it could look like Billy Madison where he catches the dodgeball.

One obvious candidate to improve production in the coming games is Evgeni Malkin. Malkin has 15 shots on goal in the two games, highest in the NHL’s brief playoff to-date. When Malkin has been on the ice the Pens have generated 45 scoring chances (and only given up 15). Yet Malkin has not scored a point, in fact has not even been on the ice for any goal, for or against.

That should change much sooner than later with a similar output. And when it does, the Canadiens are in big, big trouble.

#3: Guess who are forwards 10, 11 and 12 in terms of 5v5 icetime through two games for the Pens?

Their “third” line of Patric Hornqvist, Jared McCann and Patrick Marleau. All three are also the only Pens’ forwards to be under 50% Corsi, and in McCann’s case (40.6%), way under.

Marleau is interesting too. He ranks last on the team in ice time. He’s been quiet-to-invisible in the two games. It doesn’t feel like the Pens are in a hurry to mix their lineup around — after all, they stuck with the same personnel after a loss, so coach Mike Sullivan is probably inclined to buy more time for them after a win.

And yet, with a deep reserve bench that includes players like Evan Rodrigues and Sam Lafferty it becomes fair to wonder if those players could provide a shot in the arm or jolt that Marleau has really yet to provide since coming over to Pittsburgh.

Sullivan may be content to have Marleau is a “latter-day Chris Kunitz light scoring veteran presence” role just fine, but the struggles of the third line are standing out. Marleau also has a long games played streak (playoffs doesn’t count) but do the Pens have the nerve to scratch a respected vet who doesn’t ever get scratched? How would that work to manage and balance the chemistry and feeling in the room?

Best case, they just play better and chip in something here and there. And, at the very least as mentioned above, not going down 0-2 at least buys a little more time to see if this group can gel and get going a bit more.

#4: Not too far behind all that Price talk has to come an encouraging note on Matt Murray for his early performance.

“Montreal generated a couple of high-quality chances and Matt made some big saves,” Sullivan said after last night’s game. “For me, that’s what Matt does at this time of year. He makes big saves at key times that help us win games. I thought he did that for us tonight.”

Murray’s done exactly what Sullivan thought and hoped when the coach tabbed the veteran as his playoff starter. In Game 2, Murray had to go save for save with Price while the score remained 1-0 for almost the entirety of the contest. There was almost no margin for error for Murray, and he made no errors stopping 26 out of 27 Montreal shots.

#5: And now after a pleasant thought, an unpleasant subject....The Pens’ power play.

1-for-12 in the series now. A 5v3 situation in each of the first two games that went by the wayside. Along with Price, the failures of the Pittsburgh power play is another reason this isn’t a 2-0 series right now.

But, first things first, let’s take a second to realize 12 power plays in two games is a good thing. The refs are calling these games like an October regular season — heavy on penalizing the hookings and holdings that tend to creep up as players get back in the flow.

Montreal has also made it excessively easy. Phillip Danault took three minor penalties in Game 1. Joel Armia took three penalties in Game 2. The Habs’ took TWO too many men calls in Game 2 including, comically, one where they were on a 5v4 power play. That’s incredibly sloppy and mistakes that NHL teams just don’t and shouldn’t make. You can’t have a guy get called 3x in one game (especially when it’s important PK’ers in Danault and Armia). You can’t have multiple team calls for bad changes. Just can’t.

And yet, the Pens have taken these gifts and thrown them right away. The Habs are basically begging the Pens to send them home with all of these opportunities. Pittsburgh has too kindly allowed Montreal to hang around.

One of the few changes Sullivan did make from Game 1 going into Game 2 was finally putting Hornqvist back on the first power play. It almost worked early on. Just zero in on Hornqvist here.

That’s the kind of stuff, God love ‘em, that Jake Guentzel and Sidney Crosby just aren’t wired to do when they post up down low or in front of the net. Hornqvist is designed to screen the goalie, be a ball of energy, poke at the puck like a maniac while on his back, whatever it takes.

The Mark Recchi led unit still hasn’t quite gotten over the hump of everything else, though. But, on one hand, the Pens’ power play isn’t lacking for chances.

In 21:23 of total power play time they have: 49 shot attempts, 24 shots on goal, 26 scoring chances, 3.86 xGF...And just a 4.17 shooting percentage. (The Pens shot 14.38% in the 2019-20 regular season, if you were curious).

So some of that should regress in a positive way. And, again, a stick tap for Price who is making some incredible saves to hold them back too.

It’s frustrating when the team dickers around in the neutral zone or can’t get setup, and sure, that’s been an issue at times. But the scoring chances are being generated and shots are getting on target, it’s more a matter of execution of beating a good goalie (and maybe getting some luck or a good bounce along the way, like Bryan Rust did with a PPG in game 1).