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Saturday, April 30, 2016

Game 2 Preview: at Washington Capitals - April 30, 2016

2:30:00 PM 0


Pittsburgh Penguins (4-2) vs Washington Capitals (5-2)
April 30, 2016 @ 8:00 PM - Verizon Center
TV: NBC
Washington Leads Series 1-0

It was predicted to be a tight, back and forth series between the Penguins and Capitals heading into the series, and Game 1 certainly didn't do anything to change that viewpoint as the Capitals took the upper hand in the series with a 4-3 OT win. While Game 2 is not necessarily a must-win game for the Pens, they'll certainly be in a much better position stealing the home-ice advantage and taking a 1-1 series back to Pittsburgh instead of falling into an 0-2 hole. To do so, they'll need a more consistent effort from their defense than they received in the last game, as Washington managed to take advantage of some Penguins turnovers and miscues.

Neither team played close to a perfect game as the play was sloppy at times as the Pens and Caps traded stretches of pinning the other team in their own zone. Matt Murray at times was great, stoning Alexander Ovechkin on a pair of breakaways and standing tall in net, but also had some rookie mistakes like when allowing Oshie's goal to put the Caps up 3-2. Still, Murray showed enough to throughout the game and against the Rangers to suggest that Pittsburgh isn't going to have a noticeable disadvantage in net.

What the Pens need to do is continue to push the advantage their forward depth provides them. Carl Hagelin (+12 Corsi), Phil Kessel (+11), and Nick Bonino (+7) were key in driving play as the Capitals focused on the Crosby and Malkin lines, and they were effective on the scoresheet as well with a combined 1 goal and 4 assists. However, their strong play was offset by the normally effective 4th line as Matt Cullen (-15), Bryan Rust (-15), and Tom Kuhnhackl (-12) struggled in Game 1. The Penguins are at their best when they're able to roll all four lines, and a strong showing by the 4th line allows Pittsburgh to further wear down the Capitals 

Projected Lines



Notes

- Chris Kunitz is questionable for tonight's game after taking a puck to the head during the overtime period in Game 1, while Beau Bennett is not a candidate to return to the lineup if Kunitz is unable to go.

- No team ever wants to go down in a series, but the Penguins have historically had success coming from behind against Washington. They've won 6 of 7 previous postseason meetings, including coming back from 2-0 and 3-1 deficits in 1992, a 3-1 deficit in 1995, a 2-0 deficit in 1996, and a 2-0 deficit in 2009. In fact, the Pens have beaten the Capitals in each of the three seasons the franchise has won the Stanley Cup. That said, the past 25 years have no bearing on the outcome of this series.
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What'sa Maatta with Olli? by @Medina_Marie17

12:00:00 PM 0
I am not one to throw religion around and I am definitely not one to preach to anyone. Believe and follow what and who you want in a peaceful manner without throwing it in peoples faces, that's usually my take. But I am sure many of you have heard the phrase "God only gives us what he knows we can handle"

Apparently God must think Olli Maatta is some sort of super human (although I thought Pascal Dupuis already filled that role). Since his rookie season, which was phenomenal, the kid has faced more than any twenty-one year old should.

Season ending injury...check
Cancer battle...check
More injury...check
Required Military Service to the Finnish Army...begins this summer
Struggling to find himself, his feet and his game once again....in progress and getting worse.

His struggles are well documented. These setbacks have taken Maatta off the ice for just about as much time as he has been on it.

Since being thrown back in the line up paired with Kris Letang, Maatta has been skating like a zombie wearing cement skates. He is lost out there and 2-3 strides behind everyone else on the ice. Hustle is non-existent and he just looks disengaged.

The sky is the limit for Olli when he is healthy which the management showed confidence in when they extended his contract for 6 years. So what is wrong? What has happened to our Prince?

Some writers seem to think Maatta is playing hurt. The idea is not entirely of base. The slow skating and overall movement and reaction timing could be due to nursing a nagging pain. I don't buy it. Not one bit. I know it is typical "hockey culture" to be as tough as nails and play through the pain, any pain, at any time but Mike Sullivan has made it quite clear with other player's injuries that they will not receive one minute of ice time until they are at 97% or above and fully cleared by doctors. This leads me to believe the "playing hurt" line is nothing more...just a line.  

The Penguins fended off the Rangers well enough with Olli in the line up but this is not the Rangers. This is the Washington Capitals. The best team in the league in the regular season. Juggernauts on the ice. You have to be physically tough as well as mentally strong and stable. You can't be on the ice looking as if you are lost in the woods.

Maata is not only slow in skating and in reaction time, he is making questionable decisions when he makes them at all. His indecisiveness has led to him becoming the turn over king (which T.J. Oshie was more than happy to capitalize on). If you look in his eyes, the lights are on but no one is home. So let's call a spade a spade....the kid is EXHAUSTED! He is TIRED! He can't keep up with the pace and I am not the only one who thinks so according to one of my trusted sources and friends.

Now before you crucify me, hear me out. He hasn't played a full season since 2013-14. He plays paired up with Letang which takes a lot of energy to begin with but when you are already trying to keep your head on straight and keep up with one of the fastest skaters in the NHL all while trying to not get injured again is enough to drive anyone insane. I am tired just thinking about it. He also has the anticipation of his required military service on his mind (I know, it's Finland, but it is still is a lot to take in. Military is Military). His conditioning is all off. He does not have the endurance to handle the amount of ice time that is being asked of him right now, if at all, this season.

Letang is comfortable paired with him and we all know is Letang is a man of habit (aka OCD). But when a team is in Round 2 of the playoffs, what an individual wants has to be put aside for the betterment of the team. Olli Maatta has become a liability on defence and my suggestion to Head Coach Mike Sullivan would be to start exploring some other avenues. Look how well they were doing without Maata in the line up. You had Daley paired with Letang and Schultz with Cole and the "shut down" pair of Dumoulin and Lovejoy.

I am okay with doing this again. At least Schultz was scoring and making plays. Give Pouliot another chance if a left-handed shot is needed. I am sure he would love an excuse to dump Oshie on his patootie. A change is needed, and it is needed now. What was displayed against the Caps in the first game was nothing short of a mess defence wise and it has to be better if they Pens want to move on. The tough call has to be made, put Maatta in the press box. Who knows, he might be okay with it if it means a better outcome for the team.  

Whatever it is that needs done, just do it. Olli, you are a sweetheart and I have no doubt you will rebound from this next season when you have some time to get yourself back to form. It's time to get him off the ice before he either A) gets hurt worse or B) the series get out of control.
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Friday, April 29, 2016

Time to Change Gears on the Blue Line by @BrianK_PI

2:08:00 PM 0


The Penguins defensemen did not have one of their better games this season in Pittsburgh's 4-3 OT loss to the Capitals last night. Olli Maatta continued to look immobile on the ice and clearly is still struggling with an injury that limits his effectiveness. Trevor Daley and Brian Dumoulin had a rough game as well and found themselves split up before the end of the night. Kris Letang was his normal superhuman self, logging 34:02 in the contest, but Ben Lovejoy managed only 14:48 in a game that lasted nearly 70 minutes despite the struggles of the defensemen around him. Credit has to go the Washington players who were able to maintain zone time for large stretches of the game and put the Pens' blue liners in a position to look bad, but the team needs more out of their defense.

The current lineup has resulted from Maatta's return from injury and Sullivan's desire to play a more conservative, defensively oriented game at the start of the Rangers series with Jeff Zatkoff in goal. It's time to change gears on the blue line and return to a lineup that better reflects Pittsburgh's aggressive, attacking style. Regardless of how the Pens fill out the bottom of their lineup on defense, they're not going to be able to defend well enough in their own end to keep the Caps off the scoreboard if they spend too much time there. They need to ice a lineup that is going to keep the puck pinned in the offensive zone as much as possible.

As commendable that it is that Olli Maatta is able to battle through his injury, it doesn't do the team much good if he's a liability in his own zone by allowing prime scoring chances to materialize because he can't move well enough to prevent them. The team can't cut his ice time much further as it is as he's already 4th on the defense with an average TOI of 18:42, but at the very least they need to remove him as Kris Letang's designated partner and play him in a more sheltered role. Trevor Daley began to develop good chemistry with Letang while Maatta was injured; Mike Sullivan should go back to what was working.

And what was working was having players in the lineup who were able to help drive play away from the Pittsburgh goal. Nothing from the regular season suggested that Ian Cole and Ben Lovejoy would form an effective pairing, and there's no reason to continue play them together other than a desire to simultaneously limit both of their ice time, because they've been bad in the postseason. Perhaps the only defenseman with whom Lovejoy was able to have any success this year was Brian Dumoulin - the pair had a 53.2 CF% while together as opposed to Lovejoy's 47.7 CF% with the rest of his defensive partners. If Lovejoy is going to maintain his spot in the lineup, it'd certainly make sense to play him with the one player who can actually allow the pairing to be competent.

On the flip side, Ian Cole has easily looked his best this season when paired with Justin Schultz. It doesn't matter if it's Schultz, Cole, Lovejoy, or Pouliot on the ice if they're getting pinned in by one of the Capitals top two lines - it's going to be a defensive mismatch. What Schultz does bring to the table is a good offensive skill set that could help turn plays in Pittsburgh's favor and give them a better opportunity to cash in while the puck is in Washington's zone. And that doesn't even bring up Derrick Pouliot, a player who has been sheltered past any reasonable justification. In 22 games played this season, Pouliot has a score-adjusted 58.9 CF%. He's a guy that could come in and immediately help the Penguins start forcing play towards the other end of the ice, and his play in his own end certainly isn't going to be more detrimental than what Pittsburgh is currently icing.

There's a reason why the Pens went to their current pairings after icing a very different look as they won 14 of 16 games to end the regular season. It's important not to read too much into any one game, but when they watch the game tape on this one they should recognize issues that have been present since the Rangers series started. The mismatched lines lack chemistry and don't put the team's defense in the best position to succeed. If Sullivan was willing to try the current look because he believed it gave the team their best chance for success against the Rangers, he needs to remember that the Capitals are an entirely different team. The team's forwards showed in Game 1 that they were a deeper unit than Washington's group and can be the difference in the series if put in the position to do so - the Pens need to make sure they're playing an optimal blue line that best allows that to happen.
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Game 1 Recap: Caps Prevail 4-3 in OT

7:30:00 AM 0


In a tight start to what's expected to be a tight series, the Penguins had no answer for T.J. Oshie as the winger netted a hat trick in powering the Capitals to a 4-3 overtime win in Game 1. It was an up and down night for Matt Murray, who at times looked like a polished veteran and others like the 21-year-old netminder he is. Murray finished with 31 saves on 35 shots, but it wasn't enough to give the Pens the W. Ben Lovejoy, Nick Bonino, and Evgeni Malkin scored for Pittsburgh, and they'll return to the ice Saturday hoping to steal home ice away from Washington and avoid heading home in a 0-2 hole.

The Penguins got early sustained pressure in the Washington zone, first with the Crosby line then with the Malkin line winning the faceoff and Chris Kunitz ringing a shot off the post. It would be a fast paced start to the game in Pittsburgh's favor, but a Matt Cullen tripping penalty on Evgeny Kuznetsov would send the Capitals' power play onto the ice for the first time in the series. Washington showed why they have one of the most feared units in the league, and they generated several good scoring chances with the man advantage, but Matt Murray was the team's best penalty killer and was excellent in making sure to turn the Caps aside. It would just be delaying the inevitable, as the ice started to tilt in Washington's favor, and they managed to open the scoring midway through the 1st period. Jason Chimera would put a shot on net through traffic on an odd-man rush, and Murray would leave the rebound right off the crease where an uncovered Andre Burakovsky was able to put it home as Brian Dumoulin wiped out in front of the net and made it difficult for his goaltender to recover.

Washington would continue to carry play until Burakovsky was whistled for boarding Matt Cullen with 5 minutes left in the period, sending the Penguins to the power play. Pittsburgh had a couple good looks, but like Murray at the other end Braden Holtby was able to snuff out the chances the Pens were able to generate. Pittsburgh would generate some pressure in the closing seconds of the period, but the teams would head to the locker room with the score 1-0 Capitals. The Pens would come out for the 2nd period and begin controlling play again, but a Kris Letang interference penalty against T.J. Oshie would put Washington back on the power play. This time, the Penguins' penalty kill would do a much better job preventing the Caps from getting much set up, and they'd kill off the opportunity without much difficulty.

The Penguins would manage to pull even midway through the 2nd period after a great individual play by Nick Bonino. Bonino deked inside the blueline and got Nate Schmidt and Demitri Orlov to collide and take each other out, and after being stopped on the initial shot by Holtby, Ben Lovejoy crashed the net and shot in the rebound to make it 1-1. They wouldn't stop there, as 57 seconds later it was Evgeni Malkin jumping into the play off the bench and ripping a backhanded shot off Holtby's inside shoulder and off the far post and in to give Pittsburgh the shocking 2-1 lead. But that lead wouldn't last long either, as Oshie grabbed the puck in transition and beat Murray glove high from the right circle to pull the teams even again at 2-2.

Moments later, Malkin and Tom Wilson would be sent to the box after Malkin crushed Wilson along the boards. Wilson would get called for cross checking, while Malkin picked up the penalty for embellishment. The teams would take the ice 4-on-4, but neither was able to take advantage of the extra ice and they'd return to 5-on-5. They'd take the 2-2 score into the second intermission, and both teams would start the 3rd period looking to get the go ahead goal. It would be Oshie adding his second of the game minutes into the third period when he grabbed a loose puck and slipped it five hole on Murray.

Moments after the goal, Tom Wilson would ramp up the dirty play when he gave Conor Sheary a late knee-on-knee hit in the neutral zone, but it went unnoticed by the refs. Pittsburgh would get a call not long after when Kuznetsov was sent off for hooking Malkin, but it was short-lived after Phil Kessel was sent off for tripping 14 seconds later when Jay Beagle's stride caught Kessel's stick in the blade of his skate. Pittsburgh would get a couple chances on the ensuing 4-on-4, and while they wouldn't convert it seemed to be only a matter of time against a Capitals team that was only playing with 5 defensemen. And they'd get the equalizer midway through the 3rd period when Nick Bonino took a Carl Hagelin in the slot and had his shot deflected by the Washington defender past Holtby.

In what can only be described as calling penalties by a roulette wheel, Conor Sheary was ridden into the boards nowhere near the puck with no call only to see a questionable penalty on the other end after Lovejoy stepped up on Burakovsky in front of the net. Pittsburgh would do a great job killing off the first half of the penalty in the Washington zone, and the Capitals would nearly get the go ahead goal after gaining the zone when a Matt Niskanen shot hit the post and laid in the crease before getting swept aside. Ovechkin would get another breakaway with three and a half minutes remaining in regulation, but Murray made a great play to get his right pad out and deny the Russian sniper.

The clock would run out on the 3rd period with the score still tied 3-3, and the teams would head to sudden death overtime to declare a winner. And it would be all Capitals to start the overtime period as Washington was able to hem the Penguins deep in their own zone for much of the early action. The Pens would be able to withstand the pressure, and the two teams would play back and forth hockey until T.J. Oshie scored his third goal of the game on a wraparound that just trickled across the goal line. The play would be reviewed, and while at first the reviews seemed to show the puck staying out the definitive view from the left boards clearly showed the puck crossing the line.


The Penguins got off to a fast start before watching the Capitals roar back, but Pittsburgh would begin to pull ahead in possession starting with the 2nd period and ended the night with a scored-adjusted 51.3 CF%. It was a bit of a sloppy game for both teams, but there was enough for both sides to take away from the game to think that they can win this series. The Pens will need to make sure they're not blowing assignments in the defensive zone or turning the puck over in a vulnerable position. They'll get a chance to try for a better outcome Saturday night in Game 2.
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Thursday, April 28, 2016

Game 1 Preview: at Washington Capitals - April 28, 2016

3:41:00 PM 0


Pittsburgh Penguins (4-1) vs Washington Capitals (4-2)
April 28, 2016 @ 8:00 PM - Verizon Center
TV: NBC Sports Network

The Penguins have one series down with three left in their quest to win the franchise a fourth Stanley Cup, and to do so they'll have to move past a familiar opponent they haven't faced in a postseason series since they won their 3rd Cup in 2009. The Washington Capitals ran away with the Presidents' Trophy this season, finishing with 120 points, but they looked vulnerable down the stretch with nothing to play for. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, dominated their opposition in winning 14 of their final 16 regular season games. After a slow start against the Rangers with Jeff Zatkoff in goal, the Pens rebounded nicely with Matt Murray in net and chased Henrik Lundqvist in their final two wins. The Capitals meanwhile had little difficulty in snuffing out the Philadelphia offense, allowing just 6 goals (with one an ENG) in their 6 games series.

One of the big reasons behind that was the play of goaltender Braden Holtby, who was recently named a finalist for the 2015-16 Vezina Trophy along with Ben Bishop and Jonathan Quick. After managing a 0.922 SV% and 2.20 GAA with a league high 48 wins, Holtby turned it up a notch against the Flyers in the first round with a 0.968 SV% and 0.84 GAA. However, he'll face arguably the hottest offense in the league in the second round, and the Penguins have averaged just shy of 4 goals per game over their last 25 games spanning the regular season and the first round series against New York. They've also had success against Holtby this year, limiting the goalie to a 0.913 SV% and 2.90 GAA in 5 meetings this season, including scoring a combined 9 goals over their past two contests.

If the Pens can continue to score on Holtby it will go a long way towards helping them prevail in the series, because the opposing offense is no slouch either. The Capitals were 2nd in the league this year with a 3.02 goals per game average, and they also had the NHL's 5th best power play at 21.9%. Alexander Ovechkin led the league with 50 goals, while Evgeny Kuznetsov led the team, and placed 9th in the NHL, with 77 points. Nicklas Backstrom gives Washington a trio of players who hit the 70 point mark this year along with Kuzentsov and Ovechkin (71 points), and they Caps also have other talented players like Justin Williams (52 points) and T.J. Oshie (51 points) who can create offense in the top 6. It was a bit of a mixed bag for the Washington top 6 against the Flyers, as Backstrom (2g, 5a), Ovechkin (3g, 2a) and Oshie (1g, 3a) were able to find success against Philly while the second line of Kuznetsov (1g), Williams (2a), and Andre Burakovsky (0 pts) were largely held in check. The Capitals offense was held in check for the most part, scoring just 14 goals (2.33 G/gm) in the first round.

They'll need to be better in the second round as it's unlikely that Washington will be able to have the same success preventing the Penguins from scoring. Part of the reason why is that it's not a particularly deep or strong blue line for the Capitals. John Carlson is one of the better offensive defensemen in the league with 39 points in 56 regular season games this year, but the talent level falls off quickly after him. Matt Niskanen and Karl Azner have formed an effect pairing, but Brooks Orpik has been a drain on Washington's possession, Taylor Chorney is a bit player who's bounced around the NHL and AHL looking for a home, and Dmirty Orlov and Nate Schmidt are relatively green players who will see their ice time sheltered against the strong Pittsburgh forward group.

Projected Lines


Notes

 - Alexander Ovechkin was held without a point in all 5 regular season games between the two teams this season, a result the Pens would surely like to see continue in the playoffs.

- Conor Sheary missed the previous two practices, but there doesn't seem to be a concern over his availability for Game 1.
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Radio:PI Penguins/Capitals Series Preview with @CourtneyCSN

12:00:00 PM 0
Radio:PI Post Game takes to the airwaves after every post season match up for your immediate thoughts and opinions on each and every game.





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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Series Preview: Washington Capitals - 2016 Eastern Conference Semifinals

3:30:00 PM 0


The Washington Capitals won the Presidents' Trophy with 120 points this season, but they may very well be an underdog in the Eastern Conference Semifinals against a red-hot Pittsburgh Penguins team. It'll be the first time the NHL has gotten a Crosby vs Ovechkin showdown in the postseason since 2009, when the Pens defeated the Capitals in 7 games en route to the franchise's 3rd Stanley Cup championship. Due to the divisional brackets, the Eastern Conference's two best teams won't battle to represent the conference in the Stanley Cup Finals but rather to face the winner of the Lightning-Islanders series for that right.

Possession


The Penguins have been an entirely different team under Mike Sullivan than they were under Mike Johnston, and they've steadily become a more and more dominant puck possession team as time progressed. The Rangers were able to control play at times in the first round, though a combination of a conservative gameplan with Jeff Zatkoff in net in Games 1 and 2 and building big leads in Games 4 and 5 likely helped contribute to that. The Capitals were an above average possession team during the regular season, ranking 10th in the league with a 52.0 SACF%, but they've begun to hit their stride late in the year and ousted the Flyers in 6 games while posting a 54.3 SACF%.

Scoring Offense/Defense


Like possession, the Penguins have been a different team offensively under Sullivan, and they've seen their scoring increase steadily to the point where they're just shy of a 4.0 goal per game average over their past 25 games, and they've been trending in the right direction towards preventing goals too in recent times. Though the Capitals are allowing a similar number of goals as the Pens, their offense has been steadily trending downwards recently to the point where they barely have a positive goal differential.

Shooting/Save Percentages




Like in scoring defense, the Pens and Capitals have posted a similar save percentage, but like with goal scoring Washington has been trending downwards with their shooting percentage while Pittsburgh has continued to improve under Mike Sullivan. It's a series that could come down to who's able to do a better job putting the puck in the net, and recent results would favor the Penguins. 

Season Series Results

October 27, 2015: PIT 3 - WSH 1
December 14, 2015 - WSH 4 - PIT 1
March 1, 2016 - WSH 3 - PIT 2
March 20, 2016 - PIT 6 - WSH 2
April 7, 2016 - PIT 4 - WSH 3 OT


Washington might have won the Presidents' Trophy, but Pittsburgh won the seasons series by taking 3 of 5 games against their division rival. The Capitals beat the Pens in Mike Sullivan's first game as head coach, and they also were the last team to beat Matt Murray when they come back from a 2-0 hole against a tired Pens team in the beginning of March, but the Penguins have managed to find success on the scoresheet and driving play that not many teams have seen against the Caps this year.

Projected Lines



Marc-Andre Fleury is still feeling the effects of the concussion he suffered off a James Neal shot March 31st against Nashville, but the way Matt Murray is playing in net he can take his time getting healthy. After dominating the AHL over the past two seasons, Murray is continuing his strong play at the NHL level. He posted a 0.930 SV% and 2.00 GAA in 13 starts during the regular season, and he was even better against the Rangers in the first round with a 0.955 SV% and 1.33 GAA to shut the door on New York's season with 3 consecutive wins to clinch the series for Pittsburgh. He won't carry the better postseason numbers into the second round though, as Braden Holtby completely shut down the Flyers in the first round, allowing only 5 goals in the 6 games played en route to a 0.968 SV% and 0.84 GAA. Though he cooled after a start to the season that had some wondering if he could find himself in the Hart Trophy conversation, Holtby still finished the regular season with a 0.922 SV% and 2.20 GAA, numbers that combined with his 48 wins for the Presidents' Trophy winner will likely see him earn a Vezina Trophy nomination.

He wouldn't be the only award winner on the Capitals, as Alexander Ovechkin has already wrapped up his 4th straight Rocket Richard Trophy, and 6th overall, with 50 goals during the regular season. It's the 7th time Ovechkin has reached that mark in his career, and it makes for a strong top line that also includes Nicklas Backstrom (20g, 50a) and T.J. Oshie (26g, 25a). The 2nd line is no slouch either as Evgeny Kuznetsov led the team in scoring with 77 points, and the 3rd line saw Jason Chimera (20 goals) and Marcus Johansson (17 goals) pitch in good secondary scoring from the bottom 6.

Washington will also see some offense from their blue line, and they're led by John Carlson. Despite missing 26 games with a lower body injury, Carlson led the Capitals' defensemen with 39 points in 56 games. If the rest of the Washington blue line looks familiar, it's because they've spent a decent bit of time in black and gold. Brooks Orpik had been a career Penguin before signing with the Caps during the 2014 offseason, and while his best days are comfortably behind him he's still called upon to play significant minutes for Washington. He'll be questionable to start the series though after taking an awkward hit into the boards from the Flyers' Ryan White in the first round. Matt Niskanen spent three full seasons with the Pens after coming over from Dallas in the James Neal and signed during the same 2014 offseason as Orpik after Pittsburgh couldn't find the cap space to keep him. Taylor Chornay has found a niche on the Washington blueline after a surprising stretch run with the Penguins last year, appearing in 55 games after only seeing action in 68 NHL games the previous 6 years combined.

Not all the familiar faces play for the Capitals though. Eric Fehr signed a 3 year, $2 million AAV with Pittsburgh in the offseason after 10 seasons in Washington. Offseason elbow surgery put Fehr behind the 8 ball this season, as well as a knee injury after the All Star break, limiting him to 55 games (8g, 6a), but Fehr has begun to find his stride in recent weeks and will enter the series as the RW on Evgeni Malkin's line. The Penguins can roll four lines that match what the Capitals can do at forward, they have a defense that is a good fit for their desire to aggressively attack the other team's zone, and Matt Murray is starting to show that he can out-duel anyone in the league. They'll look to increase Caps fans' anxiety and send their top seeded team to another early tee time.
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Pens Sign Lukas Bengtsson to 2-Year ELC by @_MAF29

2:12:00 PM 0
On Wednesday, April 27th, 2016, the Pittsburgh Penguins signed defenseman Lukas Bengtsson to a 2-year entry level contract.

What he's done and where he's been can be found on the Pittsburgh Penguins website.



The type of player he is, is ultimately in line with the Penguins' current philosophy, as Josh Khalfin (@Josh_Khalfin on Twitter) told me.

First and foremost, Bengtsson is an excellent skater, something that is key to his game. The 5'10" defenseman is known for being able to start and sustain controlled breakouts due to his crisp passing, and his very high as well as noticeable hockey IQ aid him in these efforts. He isn't the best along the boards or being able to stay on the puck while being checked, but the right defense partner can act as a check for this unbalanced disadvantage, ultimately offsetting it. Winning puck battles and giving the puck to Bengtsson is a very reliable strategy to start breakouts, and should be used as much as possible of the possibility is there.

In terms of the powerplay, Bengtsson is a natural quarterback. His knack for finding one-time opportunities is uncanny, and gets himself open rather easily for these situations. He likes to pinch on the powerplay when able, and forces the D back. A natural fit for Pittsburgh's system, as previously said.

Lukas Bengtsson isn't a top-tier defenseman, but is in the 4th/5th range that can provide depth and actively sustain offensive pressure.

Thanks for reading, and give @Josh_Khalfin a follow on Twitter!
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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Mind of Marc-Andre by @LCJS

1:30:00 PM 0
3/31/16: Marc-Andre Fleury's mask comes off trying to make a save on James Neal. A previous Neal shot had caused the mask to break and possibly cause Fleury's concussion. (Photo: Post-Gazette)
James Neal has played a role in the Pens postseason THIS season, and while it hasn't been devastating for the team, it has been devastating for the Pens top netminder. Marc-Andre Fleury has been out for 26 days (at press time) and while he has practiced there is no hint of a return to the lineup.

It's sad, as Fleury is well-regarded by teammates and fan. He even stars in the recent television commercial for UPMC, introducing the wider world to his wife and daughter.

Then James Neal happened.

*cues up Shattered by the Rolling Stones*
"Ain't you hungry for success, success, success, success? Does it matter? (Shattered)
Does it matter?"
Sha-doobie, Rob Rossi - who caught so much flak for daring to ask if Fleury should possibly be thinking about his family at a time when, um, anyone else would be. Hindsight has showed us all there was no reason to rush MAF back.

Marc-Andre the Giant

Fleury is currently working through his second concussion of the year. I say "working through" because there is no other way to describe the process of dealing with a concussion. This is especially true for a player at a position that relies on his senses for so much of his success.

While Fleury still knows how to make saves and fundamentally where to set up, he's more than likely lacking the 6th sense, the gut instinct that tells him, "I need to stay low so that I can cross quickly in case there is a pass, because I can see that OTHER guy out of my periphery and I can SENSE that the shooter is actually going to pass."

A forward playing through a concussion may shoot wide more often, or perhaps mistime a pass causing a turnover.  A goalie, however, would be playing Russian Roulette - as each little mistake potentially leads to the goal horn blaring... and he certainly doesn't need that ringing in his head.

Current Status: Practicing


Fleury is still dipping his toe in the water, seemingly not ready to swim. So long as his senses remain murky, he would be very detrimental in the starting line up.

Matt Murray, who has dealt with his own concussion, has been stellar in replacement. There is no need to reason to push Fleury or rush him back.

All that's left for the fan to do is wish MAF well and hope that everything turns out OK for a young man with his future still in front of him.
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Crowns and Clowns Playoff Edition: Penguins Vs. Rangers by @Medina_MarieC

11:00:00 AM 0

Hello and welcome to Castle de 'Quin's special edition(s) of Crowns and Clowns where we break down the Bests and Worsts of the entire playoff series.

As if we couldn't get enough of them in March, the Penguins had to do battle with the Rangers in the opening round and it started with drama, and more drama, and did I mention drama? From not knowing who was starting where, who is injured and who isn't, to playing the "Who's In Net" game every other day, the fact that the Penguins are now moving on to the next round is a sigh of relief. After having a (beautiful spring) day to let my brain and battery recharge, let's dive into Crowns and Clowns: Playoff Edition.

CROWNS

High King: There is no way to chose JUST ONE stand out of this series. To beat the Rangers, it takes an entire team effort. That is exactly what the Penguins put on the ice. There isn't much more that can be said- this team is continuing to beat the odds and turn the tides in their favour. Veteran stars are back up to form (including those no one would have expected) and a new crop is rising as fast as Carl Hagelin's feet. Smart, hard, exciting hockey- what a time to be a Penguins fan. Great series, boys. The Princess could not be prouder of her Black (and Yellow) Knights.


Prince: You give him whatever nick name you want, but to me, he is Bryan Rust- The Tasmanian Devil (aka Taz). He was basically the "underdog" of the Wilkes- Barre/ Scranton call-ups. Some said he wouldn't make that much of a stir. They called me "crazy" when I talked about the potential I saw in him.

WELL WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO SAY NOW?

 I am just going to leave these following examples and try to keep the "I told you so" at a minimum.

Tie-Breaker Goal:

That pass from Daley though. 🔥https://t.co/zjs957yI6j
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) April 23, 2016


2nd Goal:

Bryan Rust's 2nd goal of the night capped off a HUGE 2nd period for the @penguins. #StanleyCup https://t.co/9jbacVMdBg
— NBCSN (@NBCSN) April 23, 2016




Add in an assist on the Matt Cullen goal and being the FIRST Rookie in Penguins history to record at least three points in a playoff game (yes, that's right...not even Sid or Mario can claim that honor) and what do you have- you have Happy Taz in a Viking Helmet.



Experience the #Pens locker room following their Game 5 win.https://t.co/eGbo3Pb608
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) April 23, 2016



Arch Duke: Once again I find myself having to add another nobility title. It's a nice problem to have. So, remind me, how does the phrase go? "Don't tick off the bear or he will eat you?" Something like that? Well, in this case when you tick off the Russian Bear, Evgeni Malkin, he won't eat you, per say. Just any hope a team would have of moving on to the next round. The Power Play is once again on the up-swing and the only thing that can be said is "THANK YOU HOCKEY GOD for giving back our Geno!" I questioned it- I will 100% admit it. I questioned putting him back in the line-up and that is why I write and not coach. I am so sorry, Geno, for ever doubting you and your greatness (which are displayed below).



Duke: Size is no measure for impact. Dynamite comes in small amounts too, and it still goes BOOM! You need look no further for that example than Mr. Conor Sheary. The kid is electric. Now on a line with Sidney Crosby, he has done nothing if not flourish even more. His confidence is sky-high, his shot is a laser, and his celly puts doubters to shame.

"Are you not entertained?"

Yes, Conor, we are indeed!



CLOWNS

The Bozo: Bozo's can come in many forms. They need not only be players. Fans can fall into the category as well. Case and point- Hat Girl! Yes, for lack of something better to call her, Hat Girl has taken the #1 spot for the series. She not only spent money on a brand new Penguins hat (thanks for the, I'm sure, unintentional support of their marketing sales), she also bought puffy paints to deface it with. Alas, her money and (not fully thought out) plan was all for not, as the Rangers were eliminated in glorious fashion and those of us outside watched, in half horror/ half glee, as she threw the hat in the trash and stomped her way to the closest bar to drink away her sorrows. It's okay, Hat Girl, we have been there. The feeling will pass in time, but it does not save you from being immortalized as Bozo of the Series.







The Simpleton: Oh our dear, sweet Prince, Olli Maatta. What is wrong?! It seems our Finnish flame has lost his feet. For some reason, even with Letang, he seems kind of lost and a step behind everyone else. He is playing alright generally speaking but something just still seems off about our blonde beau (and I don't mean Bennett). Is it a lack of conditioning due to not playing much? Is it the anticipation of his upcoming stint in the Finnish Army? Please be okay, Olli, because I really didn't want to put you on this list.








The Jester: Being confident is important in anything competitive. You have to know you can do what is being asked of you. However, being over-confident to the point to where its cocky can usually lead to ones undoing. Mr. Lundqvist....you are indeed an Elite goalie. You have garnered much respect throughout the NHL and the hockey world and that respect does not go away even though you find yourself here. In fact, you may be more respected for taking the series loss like a man. This does not excuse the fact that you are a DRAMA QUEEN on the ice and thus will have to change your game strategy (or grow a thicker skin) for next season. Your weakness has been exposed and exploited and you have no one to blame but your own team. They call you the King. You may be in New York City, but this is our domain, our kingdom, and MY Castle De 'Quin. Bow down, sir, because you have been dethroned.


An exciting end to the season, and an even more exciting first round series. Our band of ice brother continue on to do battle with yet another fierce foe, the Washington Capitals. What will the next series hold for us? I am expecting a long series and a battle royale. A final celebration before we close out the series:


— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) April 23, 2016


Rest up everyone, because round two is right around the corner.
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Monday, April 25, 2016

Series Recap: New York Rangers - 2016 Eastern Conference Q'Finals

1:30:00 PM 0


After being eliminated by the Rangers in each of the previous two postseasons, the Penguins were looking to turn the tables as they entered the 2016 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals as the heavy favorites against New York. Despite Pittsburgh threatening to make it a competitive series through the first two games, the Pens received a boost when Matt Murray returned from injury, and the talent discrepancy between the two teams was too much for the Rangers to overcome, with the Pens taking the series 4-1 in 5 games. Here's how the Penguins went about moving on to the next round:

Pittsburgh's Stars Showed Up

The Penguins got great production from their star players throughout the series, and it was the biggest names leading the way. Sidney Crosby led the team with 8 points (3g, 5a) in the series, while Evgeni Malkin posted the higher points per game average as he contributed 7 points (2g, 5a) in the final four games. Phil Kessel had a dominant series, positing 3 goals and 3 assists with some great passing to set up Pittsburgh goals. Patric Hornqvist had a Game 1 hat trick en route to 3 goals and 2 assists, and while Kris Letang was a bit quieter in the series, he still managed 5 points (1g, 4a) while averaging a team high 27:17 per game.

The Role Players Did Too

If the stars led the way, then it was the role players who followed their lead. 16 Pittsburgh skaters found the stat sheet in the series, and their depth was a big part of beating New York in 5 games. Conor Sheary (2g, 1a) might be playing himself into a full time spot in the top 6, as his speed and nifty puck skills made him a player the Rangers had to focus on when he stepped on the ice. Matt Cullen (2g, 1a) continues to be a force on the bottom line after a strong regular season, and Bryan Rust (2g, 1a) returned from injury to be one of the key offensive drivers in Game 5's rout. Matt Murray was phenomenal in his three starts, posting a 0.955 SV% and 1.33 GAA and alleviating any concerns about the Pens' net moving forward.

Henrik Lundqvist Couldn't Hide New York's Flaws

The Rangers were a flawed team entering the postseason, and not even Henrik Lundqvist could patch all the holes. New York was just 20th in the league with a 48.2 SACF% during the regular season while also topping the league with a 102.3 PDO at even strength, suggesting they received more than their fair share of luck throughout the regular season. The Eric Staal trade added a struggling player to a struggling bottom 6, and the team's defensemen have taken a step back from where they were when the team played for the Stanley Cup. It was the Rangers, not the Penguins, who were the top heavy team ripe to have their lack of depth exploited, and while Lundqvist threatened to steal a win New York didn't deserve in Game 3, he ultimately couldn't, and Pittsburgh would chase him from the net in both Games 4 and 5 to end the series.

One-Sided Special Teams

While the Pens were 5th in the league at 84.4% on the penalty kill, their power play was hot and cold throughout the year, leaving them 16th in the league at 18.4% with the man advantage. New York wasn't good either up a man or down one, as they were 14th on the power play (18.6%) and just 26th on the penalty kill (78.2%). Pittsburgh didn't have much difficulty shutting down a mediocre Rangers power play, finishing the series 17-for-19 (89.5%) when down a man, but the return of Evgeni Malkin helped the Pens jump start a power play that had faltered down the stretch. The Penguins went 8-for-21 (38.1%) with the man advantage, scoring timely goals that further put a bad Rangers team into a hole at even strength.

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WBS First Round Recap by @jfoo1654

11:00:00 AM 0
Providence Journal


The "underdog" Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins finished off their first round sweep of the heavily favored Providence Bruins on a Jake Guentzel 2OT goal, and behind a team record 59 saves from the Cinderella Story known as Casey DeSmith. The two rookies played like seasoned veterans, as they led the way for the Penguins throughout the first round match up. Guentzel totaled 3 goals and 7 points to lead all scorers in the series, and DeSmith was outstanding all the way posting a 2.45 Goals Against Average, and a .930 Save Percentage.

Coming into the series, the Penguins had a few unknowns, such as who their starting goaltender would be. Tristan Jarry was sent down from Pittsburgh on the morning of game 1, and arrived in time for the morning skate, but Head Coach Clark Donatelli wouldn't show his hand, until Casey DeSmith led the team out for the opener. The decision was scrutinized by some as DeSmith had only played a handful of games for the Penguins in the regular season, and at times he was as low as 3rd on the ECHL's Wheeling Nailers depth chart. So the fact that DeSmith not only played, but excelled, surprised more than a few hockey fans in Northeaster Pa. After each game the same question would be asked of Donatelli, "Who will start in Goal?," and each time he stuck with the hot young goalie who is writing a storybook ending to his first professional season. He frustrated the skilled offensive talent of the Bruins, making highlight reel saves time and again, while the Penguins were scoring relatively easily at the other end of the ice. As WBS prepares for the Atlantic Division Finals, I'm sure the same questions will continue to be asked of Donatelli, but at this point I think Casey DeSmith has answered it for his head coach. You can expect to see #1 between the pipes for game 1.

DeSmith Robs Former Penguin Max Talbot
Most people surrounding this series, expected the Bruins to win this series and rightfully so seeing as they were the best team in the AHL after Christmas. Providence boasted a ton of young explosive offensive players who put up huge numbers throughout the regular season. Frank Vatrano had 36 goals in 36 games as a rookie in his first pro season. The Penguins on the other hand were reeling down the stretch and came into the series largely overlooked. As people kept saying that the Pens couldn't match the skill and speed of the P-Bruins, WBS used the underdog role as fuel to motivate themselves. It's true, the Penguins didn't have the speed and skill to match the Bruins, but what they did have was loads of playoff experience and a much more physical team from top to bottom. It took only the first few shifts of the series to figure out what the Penguins gameplan was; to pound the young, skilled Bruins into submission. WBS consistently dumped pucks in behind the Bruin defense, and then hammered on those defensmen time and time again. A rugged forecheck forced turnover after turnover, and the physically imposing Penguins won every wall battle behind the Bruin Goalie. This resulted in multiple easy tap in goals, in which Providence Goalie Jeremy Smith had absolutely no chance to stop. In fact, Carter Rowney's game 1 overtime winner was scored in that exact fashion.

Carter Rowney celebrates his Game 1 OT winner

Another common theme coming into this matchup, was that Daniel Sprong wouldn't make much of an impact on this series, certainly not a big enough impact to tip the scaled in the Penguins favor. After game 1 it appeared that maybe Sprong wouldn't be able to adjust to the AHL quickly enough to leave his imprint on the series. He skated on a line with Tom Sestito and Teddy Blueger, and only had one shift between the 3rd period and Overtime. He wasn't able to generate more than a few harmless shots from the perimeter. He began game 2 skating on the same line, but he did manage to find himself on the team's second PP unit. He had the puck on his stick on the PP early in Game 2, when he turned a puck over to Providence forward Noel Acciari who buried his shorthanded chance to give the Bruins an early lead. Rather than stuff his young sniper on the bench, Clark Donatelli opted to put him back out there, only this time on the top line with Dustin Jeffrey and Kael Mouillierat. On Sprong's very first shift with the top line, he took a centering feed from Mouillierat and deposited the puck in the net for his first career AHL goal, and it tied game 2 at 2 apiece. The kid wasn't done yet; midway through OT he knocked a floating pass from Mouillierat out of midair and past Jeremy Smith. The rookie jumped into the glass in celebration as he put his team ahead 2-0 in the best of five series. You can hear Sprong comment on his Game 2 performance here.

The Bruins had no answer for the physical play
Jake Guentzel had progressively gotten better each game that he played for the Penguins coming out of The University of Nebraska-Omaha, where he was named Team Captain as a Junior and led the team in scoring. He was disappointed that he didn't get a chance to play in the NCAA tournament, so he hoped he could make a long playoff run in Wilkes-Barre. So he took matters into his own hands. Playing on a line with Carter Rowney and Tom Kostopoulos, Guentzel had a goal and 3 points through the first two games of the series, and that line was dominating the Bruins with a mix of speed and punishing physicality. Guentzel would continue his hot streak by opening the scoring in Game 3 less than a minute into the game as he banged home the rebound of a Steve Oleksy point shot. He would also assist on PP goals by Dominik Simon (1) and J.S. Dea (1) and he continued his fearless play along the boards, continuously putting his body in harms way to make a play for his teammates. The Penguins took a 4-1 lead into the 3rd period only to watch the Bruins rally to tied the game with 3:40 left to play. The teams would trade chances throughout the entire first OT, with both goalies making A+ saves to keep the game ongoing. Early in the second OT the Pens would get a PP, that would eventually become a 5 on 3. They couldn't convert and back and forth the chances would go. With just under 8 minutes to go in the second OT, Guentzel and Kostopoulos would get a 2 on 2 rush. Bruins defenseman Brett Bellemore fell down, and TK sent Guentzel in alone with a perfect feed, and Jake would end the series with a snipe that beat Jeremy Smith just under the arm. The Penguins celebrated wildly along the half wall while the Bruins lay on the ice in shock.

Jake Guentzel tallied 7 points in 3 games
Anything can happen in the Calder Cup Playoffs, and the 2016 WBS Penguins are the latest proof. Despite being overlooked by just about everyone picking this series, they showed just how little a paper lineup can mean. This series goes to show that a few players elevating their level (DeSmith Game 1, Sprong Game 2, Guentzel Game 3), a red-hot goalie, and a perfectly executed gameplan can turn a series upside down in the blink of an eye. Now the Pens will wait and see who wins the other Atlantic Division Semi-Final between Portland and Hershey, which is tied at 1 game apiece. They will use this time to heal up the bumps and bruises, and develop yet another gameplan that will give them a chance to do what no one believes they can. WBS has played in 3 CC Finals in its brief history, will this be the year that they finally win it? Time will tell, but one thing is for sure, don't call them "underdogs."
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Sunday, April 24, 2016

Radio: PI Post Game - Penguins vs Rangers Game 5 4/23/16

10:30:00 AM 0


Let us hear two claps and a big Ric Flair WOOOOOO for the Pittsburgh Penguins advancing to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs!

Mike Asti is here to celebrate the first round series win over the Rangers and look forward to what could be to come. Does getting rid of Henrik Lundqvist and company in such impressive fashion make the Eastern Conference Pittsburgh's to lose? What should be done with Fleury, if and when, he returns? With Malkin and Kessel both stepping up their game, are the Pens so loaded offensively they don't even need Crosby to be at his best right now?

Radio: PI and the Pens Initiative airwaves pour one out for the New York Rangers and keep an eye on Lord Stanley.
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Saturday, April 23, 2016

VANQVIST'D: Penguins Dethrone "King Henrik" by @DXTraeger

8:00:00 PM 0
Meme Perfection, courtesy of @LMindish

“King” Henrik Lundqvist was a goaltending enigma for the Pittsburgh Penguins for nearly three years, but the Pens found their formula via a “qvist” of fate.

Henrik Lundqvist’s fellow Swedish countryman, Patric Hornqvist, helped provide the template for frustrating the Swedish goalie by crashing the net and initiating contact, and the Pens “vanqvist’d” their recent playoff nemesis, the New York Rangers, to advance to the second round of the NHL playoffs.

Lundqvist was benched for the second time in consecutive games after surrendering 6 goals in 2 periods during Pittsburgh’s 6-3 rout on Saturday afternoon.

In truth, Lundqvist’s usurping began on March 3rd when “King Henrik” was bowled over by his own teammate, Ryan McDonagh, in a loose puck chase. 

The King Flipped His Sh...ahem, net.
Lundqvist was apparently asked by the referee whether he was okay to continue, and Henrik allowed his teammates to have a scoring chance at the other end of the ice before throwing what can only be described as a fit as the Penguins came roaring back with a scoring opportunity of their own.

The Rangers’ goalie knocked the net off of its mooring, earning a Delay of Game penalty.  The Pens failed to convert on the ensuing power-play, but they would erupt for 3 goals in 2:13 to not only put Pittsburgh up for good, but to chase Lundqvist from the game (he would claim to have back spasms).

The idea of getting inside of the Swedish Chef goalie’s kitchen became evident when the Pens’ Patric Hornqvist set up shop inside of the crease in game 1, eventually scoring 3 goals.  Hornqvist was disruptive enough that another one of Lundqvist’s own teammates (this time Marc Staal) struck him in the face with his stick, leading to Henrik leaving the game.

Lundqvist would play okay in games 2 and 3, but the Penguins’ Eric Fehr virtually ran him in scoring the first goal of game 4, and Carl Hagelin would score from within the crease in game 5 to temporarily tie the contest at 1 before the Pens’ 4 goal explosion in period 2.

Lundqvist's frustration was evident after Hagelin's tally, and it seemed as though Henrik retreated a bit too far into his net on subsequent shot attempts, giving the Penguins slightly better shooting angles, and Pittsburgh's unheralded snipers (Bryan Rust, Conor Sheary) went to work in carving up King Henrik's legacy and opening questions as to whethr or not his reign was, in fact over.

Regardless, Henrik Lundqvist's season is over as his Rangers were exiled from the post-season by a clearly superior Penguins' team.  New York will enter their off-season with a lot of roster questions, especially after surrendering assets to get Eric Staal for the stretch run.
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Game 5 Recap: Moving On! Pens Destroy Rangers 6-3

6:10:00 PM 0

The Penguins have blown 3-1 series leads before, including to the New York Rangers just two years ago. That was what Rangers fans had to pin their hopes on as the teams entered Game 5 with Pittsburgh having a commanding lead in the series. And after a start to the game that brought up made memories for the Pens, there was just too much of a talent advantage for Pittsburgh, and they destroyed the Rangers en route to a 6-3 win and series victory. Bryan Rust had two goals and an assists, both Matt Cullen and Phil Kessel added a goal and an assist each, and Matt Murary made 38 saves on 41 shots to help send Pittsburgh to the second round. Conor Sheary and Carl Hagelin rounded out the scoring for the Pens.

The Penguins enjoyed a quick start in Game 4, but this time it was the Rangers scoring just 1:02 into the contest. Dan Girardi slapped a bouncing puck from the blue line, and Rick Nash deflected the shot from between the hash marks that just barely slipped between Matt Murray's blocker arm and body to give New York the early 1-0 lead. It was all Rangers early controlling the play, but Pittsburgh began to turn the tide, and midway through the 1st period they were able to even the score. Carl Hagelin and Phil Kessel worked a give and go behind the net, and Kessel threaded a pass through the New York crease that Hagelin was able to put behind Henrik Lundqvist.

It wouldn't last for long though as a series of bad bounces gave the Rangers the lead again. Kessel got his stick on a Rangers pass that redirected through Murray's five hole and off the far post, where it bounced back into play, went off Patrick Hornqvist's skate as he tried to stop, an fluttered over Murray's pads and into the net. Moments later, the Pens would be on the power play for the first time in the game after Brady Skjei boarded Eric Fehr in the neutral zone, and again it would be a quick goal in response when Phil Kessel fired a shot from the right circle that deflected off the butt end of Lundqvist's stick into the upper left corner of the net.

New York would get a chance to retake the lead again minutes later on a play where Evgeni Malkin was called for tripping Eric Staal, though Staal easily could have been whistled for an embellishment penalty as he went down without much resistance. The Pens had shut down the Rangers' power play through the first four games, holding New York to a 1-for-16 conversion rate, and it was no different at the start of Game 5. A Rick Nash slash against Kris Letang, and a Letang slash in retaliation, gave the teams two minutes of 4-on-4 action.

It was a period that would see the Rangers control the shot attempts by an 18-11 margin, but their reward for getting the jump on the superior possession team was just a 2-2 tie game heading into the intermission. It was a result that was certain not to hold up over the rest of the game, and even the tie wouldn't hold up when Trevor Daley made a great shot fake a little over 5 minutes into the 2nd period. Instead of taking the slap shot, Daley found Bryan Rust on the right post, and a lunging Henrik Lundqvist couldn't get over to stop Rust from burying the puck and giving the Penguins the 3-2 lead. Midway through the period, the Pens would continue to increase their hold on the game and the series. Rust forced a turnover in the New York zone, and Matt Cullen jumped on the puck and sent shot from the left hash marks past Lundqvist on the far side, increasing the Pittsburgh lead further to 4-2.

The Penguins would get their second power play of the game moments later with a chance to sink a dagger into the Rangers, but their red-hot man advantage wasn't able to capitalize on the opportunity. Conor Sheary would get called for high sticking Lundqvist, but a futile Rangers power play continued to let New York down. In a microcosm of the series as a hole, Rick Nash would ring a one timer off the post in the Pittsburgh end, and the Penguins would go down the ice, where Sidney Crosby would find Conor Sheary coming late into the zone. Sheary blew the shot high past Lundqvist glove side, and if the three goal lead wasn't enough heading into the second intermission, Bryan Rust took a Malkin pass on a 2-on-1 and beat Lundqvist in the final minute for his second goal of the game to give the Pens the 6-2 lead.

It speaks volumes that the Penguins managed to chase Lundqvist in an elimination game for the second consecutive contest, but they did just that as Antti Raanta came out in goal for the start of the 3rd period. The Rangers would get a goal from Chris Kreider after he deflected a Raphael Diaz shot on the power play 5 minutes into the period after Murray was called for a questionable tripping penalty.


The Rangers stormed out of the gate in controlling possession, but they weren't able to keep it up as Pittsburgh turned the tables building a 6-2 advantage through two periods. The Pens would then play the 3rd period to protect the four goal lead, and it netted them a score-adjusted 42.0 CF% on the game. Overall, it was the Penguins' depth that proved to be too much for the Rangers to handle. Pittsburgh now waits on the winner of the Washington/Philadelphia series to see if they'll be opening round two at home or traveling to Washington.
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Game 5 Preview: vs New York Rangers - April 23, 2016

12:30:00 PM 0


Pittsburgh Penguins (3-1) vs New York Rangers (1-3)
April 23, 2016 @ 3:00 PM - Consol Energy Center
TV: NBC
Pittsburgh Leads Series 3-1

The Pens played New York Rangers hockey for Games 1 and 2, earning a 1-1 series split heading into the two game stand at Madison Square Garden. They got back to playing Pittsburgh Penguins hockey starting in Game 3, leaving the Rangers like many of their other opponents over the past month of the regular season - utterly and thoroughly dominated. The Penguins can clinch their first round series and get past their postseason nemesis with a win today to punch their ticket to the Eastern Conference Semifinals. They'll most likely face the Washington Capitals if they get there, though the Caps are halfway through blowing a 3-0 series lead to the Philadelphia Flyers in impressive fashion.

The Penguins also got to Henrik Lundqvist in impressive fashion in Game 4 after struggling to solve the New York netminder through the first three games. Eric Fehr opened the scoring 1:09 into the game, and Pittsburgh scored 4 goals on their first 18 shots to chase him from the net. New York has little chance to extend the series if Lundqvist can't be the brick wall they need on the back end, and they'll also have a tough time of it if Matt Murray continues to play at the level he has. Matt Murray has stopped 47 of 48 shots he's faced against the Rangers with the lone goal allowed coming on a shorthanded odd-man rush. His presence in goal has allowed the Pens to return to the aggressive team that dominated the closing stretch of the season, and he's been more than capable of turning away good scoring chances coming his way.

The Pens are difficult enough to beat at even strength, but if they can continue to maintain their production on special teams they could be unstoppable. The New York Rangers are 1-for-16 (6.3%) on the power play in the series, which isn't particularly surprising given that Pittsburgh was 5th in the league with a 84.4 PK% during the regular season, but an up and down Pens power play is clicking on all cylinders. They've gone 7-for-19 (36.8%) with the man advantage through the first four games, and having Evgeni Malkin back in the lineup certainly helps. Malkin is still shaking off the rust after playing in only 9 of 34 games after the All Star Game, but that hasn't stopped him from holding a share of the team's scoring lead with Sidney Crosby with 6 points despite missing Game 1.

At the end of the series, the story is shaping up to be that the Pens stars are outshining the Rangers stars, that the Penguins depth players are outplaying the Rangers depth players, and the Pittsburgh special teams are thoroughly outplaying New York's. Pittsburgh came into the series as the heavy favorites, and save for controlling possession in the first two games as the Pens compensated for having Jeff Zatkoff in net the Rangers haven't been able to do any of the things they needed to stage an upset. Unless something changes in a hurry, they'll have a long offseason to think about what they can do better the next time.

Projected Lines



Notes

- In Game 3, Matt Murray was the youngest Pens goaltender to start a playoff game, and in Game 4 he became the first Pittsburgh rookie to pitch a postseason shutout.

- Sidney Crosby (46 goals) and Evgeni Malkin (44 goals) continue to move up the postseason goal scoring list for the Pittsburgh Penguins with Crosby now tied for 3rd in team history with Kevin Stevens while Malkin is in striking distance of catching the former winger. Both will have a long way to go in order to catch Jaromir Jagr (65 goals) and Mario Lemieux (76 goals) for most in franchise history.
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Friday, April 22, 2016

Mighty Murray's Moment by @Nick422

7:00:00 PM 0
This isn't how it is for most 21 year olds.  Most of them are in college, studying, partying, trying to get by working at a part time job they'll later roll their eyes about.  For Matt Murray, things are a little bit different.  For Matt Murray, an entire city is on his shoulders.  And you'd never guess it from his reaction.


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