Even though Game 2 on Thursday night against the New York Rangers did not go the Pittsburgh Penguins’ way, they still did exactly what you want to see a team do when it opens a playoff series on the road: Get a split and reclaim home-ice advantage.
The Penguins were able to accomplish that, and given the context and lineup situation that is probably the best anybody could ask for right now. They are down their top two goalies, two top-six forwards, and a top-four defender. That is a lot, and they are still at least tied in the series as it shifts back home to Pittsburgh on Saturday and Monday.
Here are a few things to like (and not like) so far through the first two games of the series.
What to like
The Sidney Crosby line. This is the line doing all of the damage right now offensively, and the trio of Crosby, Jake Guentzel, and Bryan Rust has been absolutely sensational. Not only by scoring all but one of the Penguins’ six goals so far, but by completely carrying the play when they are on the ice. With Gerrard Gallant showing no interest in line matching right now that could be something the Penguins exploit in Games 3 and 4 on home ice.
Louis Domingue is holding his own. I am not going to say that he was great on Thursday, but he was not terrible, and he at least helped get them through the first game of the series by stopping all 17 shots he faced in double and triple overtime. You really can not ask for more from your third string goalie.
The scoring chances are there. At this point we get tired of hearing this, especially after doing this for the past couple of postseasons and not getting the results, but the chances are there. A lot of them. Via Natural Stat Trick, the Penguins already have more than 13 expected goals through the first two games of the series, a number that is nearly double the next closest team (nobody else is over 8.2 expected goals). They are also averaging more than 4.8 expected goals per 60 minutes, over one additional expected goal per 60 minutes than the next closest team (the Edmonton Oilers). They are mostly carrying the play and creating what is by far the best chances. Yeah, you want to see goals more consistently, and goals from more than one line, but you have to create chances before you can score goals. The process remains there.
They got the opening games split. They simply took care of what they needed to do in that regard.
What not to like
They are facing a significant disadvantage in goal. This is connected to the latter point above. Despite all of the chances and expected goals they have only scored six goals in the two games, mainly because Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin has been dominant. As expected. He was always going to be an advantage for the Rangers in this series even if Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith were in the lineup. With it being Louis Domingue and Alex D’Orio suiting up for the Penguins it is a massive advantage. That is going to be a problem.
The special teams. Both the power play and penalty kill have been a problem through the first two games. Outside of the 5-on-3 in Game 1, the power play has not been much of a threat and allowed a shorthanded goal, while the penalty kill has allowed the Rangers to take advantage of its few opportunities. I expect the power play to be inconsistent at this point, but the penalty kill has to be more impactful. You can win without much on the power play. It is nearly impossible to win without productive penalty killing in the playoffs.
Depth scoring. This problem again. It kinda goes back to the first part with the play of Igor Shesterkin and the Rangers’ goaltending, but the Penguins only have one goal over these first two games without Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel, or Bryan Rust on the ice. That was Evgeni Malkin’s game-winning goal in triple overtime in Game 1 of the series. You can not win in the playoffs with a one-line team. Somebody else is going to have to find a way to beat Shesterkin for the Penguins to have a chance.
The injury situation. It is simply taking its toll. Rickard Rakell and Jason Zucker are significant absences at forward. Brian Dumoulin may not have had a great season, but he is still a player the Penguins count on a lot. The goalie situation is far from ideal. It is really difficult to win with that many key players out of the lineup. They need to get some of them back over the next couple of games here.