|This is their bread and butter...right in front of the goalie.|
It is clear that being without Patric Hornqvist and Chris Kunitz leaves the Penguins without much of an answer in regards to net front presence. They are the kind of players that will plant themselves in front of the goal mouth to deflect or redirect a puck past a net minder. They are the ones going for the rebounds and second (or third) attempts. They will also do some of the dirty work. Neither Kunitz nor Hornqvist shy away from banging bodies, chirping opponents, or getting into the scrum along the boards to free up a shot or stick up for one of their star centermen.
Head Coach Mike Sullivan has tried many a combination, at even strength and on the power play, but it seems nothing is really gelling together. He has slotted in everyone from Nick Bonino, Matt Cullen, Eric Fehr, and even Conor Sheary in hopes of having some kind of spark in the absence of these character players.
Nothing has really worked.
On the power play is where their absence is felt the most. Being that "net front presence" is what helps the Penguins power play units be so productive. The booming "one-timer" shots are great if you can get a shooting lane open and someone to screen the goalie at the right moment. More often than not, however, that power play goal is going to come from a rebound off one of those shots.
|Hat trick, Hornqvist (2/29/2016)|
Photo Credit: Penguins Pinterest
Since Novemeber 19, the Penguins have scored no power play goals. Against the Devils, without both key players, the Penguins went 0-5 on the man advantage and had to go into a shoot out to decide the game.
The team is weathering the storm as best they can. In comparison, they are in far better shape than they were this time last season when even their own front office began to wonder if the team would even make it to the end of the season with a winning record, let alone make the playoffs. The Penguins now sit in second place in the division behind the NY Rangers, and are third in the conference (behind the Rangers and Montreal Canadians). Those are not bad spots to be in but the inconsistency of play still lingers and is quite concerning when you have teams like the Capitals and Hurricanes nipping at the blades. Hope is on the horizon though as word came out Saturday November 26, that Hornqvist was back to practicing with the team and taking contact!
Another welcome development is that there was full team attendance at the morning practice on November 29 including injured Chris Kunitz who just days before was still listed as week-to-week. It seems the band will be back together once again very soon.
Though this could be Kunitz's final season with the team, missing him in the line up is hard enough to deal with. He brings something indescribable to whatever line he plays on. Without him and Hornqvist at the same time can, sometimes, spell trouble.
|Fending off Bolts is tough, but Kunitz is tougher|
HCMS also made it known that Kunitz would not be back in the line up but that Kunitz was feeling better. As December looms, we are all anxious to see the change in moral that will surely come once one of them (or both) are back on the ice.