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Thursday, April 26, 2018

Script flipped: Penguins ride road, penalty kill success en route to series victory




 The Pittsburgh Penguins have flipped the much-maligned, “switch” this postseason.

Looking disinterested and lackadaisical while meandering an 82-game schedule, the Penguins appear reengaged as they work towards their third consecutive Stanley Cup.



The Pittsburgh Penguins were one of the best teams on home-ice in the National Hockey League this season. Their 30 wins in their own building rank second behind only Winnipeg, who won 32 games on their home sheet.

Conversely, the Penguins ranked near the bottom of the league when they were on the road. Pittsburgh’s 17 road wins placed them just ahead of Colorado (15) for the least amount of road wins for any playoff-qualifying team.

That record away from PPG Paints Arena underscored the importance of securing home ice for the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

But when the first round concluded, it was on Claude Giroux coming to shake Sidney Crosby’s hand at Wells Fargo Center, rather than their own building.

The Penguins went just 1-2 on home-ice in the first round, winning all three games road games in Philadelphia including a series clinching 8-5 victory Sunday afternoon.

If you ask head coach Mike Sullivan, he doesn’t devise a game plan based on whether the team is at home or on the road.

The Penguins generated 26.5 scoring chances per game at five-on-five on home ice in the regular season compared to just 22 in the regular season—according to NaturalStatTrick.com

Throughout the first round, the Penguins averaged 23.3 scoring chances per game at five-on-five at home and 19 on the road.

Those numbers mimic their regular season statistics.

So what changed for the Penguins?

For starters, their shooting percentage has soared dramatically. After all, facing Brian Elliot can do that for a team.

As a team, the Penguins shooting percentage hovered around seven percent (7.28 SH% at home, 7.17 SH% on the road) throughout the season.

Though it’s a small sample size, those numbers jumped to 11.54 SH% through three games at home and a whopping 20.00 SH% on the road.

It’s also easy to look at the outpouring of goals (7, 5, 5 and 8) coupled with the porous Flyers goaltending and notice the spike.

Elliot posted just a .856 save percentage and mind boggling 4.75 GAA. Michal Neuvirth didn’t fare much better, with a .847 save percentage and 4.40 GAA.

The Penguins’ stars are surging. Sidney Crosby rolled up 13 points in the six-game series against the Flyers. Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin each notching five points during the same span and Kris Letang putting up seven.

If it sounds like I’m forgetting about Jake Guentzel, it’s because I saved him for last.

Guentzel exploded against the Flyers, as evidence by his four-goal outburst in the series clinching 8-5 win in Game 6. All four of his goals were scored in consecutive fashion and in a span of just 13:52. Jake Guentzel became just the second player in playoff history to score four conseuctive goals in a playoff game according to the Elias Sports Bureau. 
With 13-points (6-7-13) in six playoff games, Guentzel now has 34 career points in 31 career playoff games. Those are numbers that put him on the verge of bonnafide playoff superstar.

Further augmenting the Penguins’ altered postseason reality is the penalty kill. After trudging through the regular season at a numbing 80-percent clip.

In the six games against the Flyers, the Penguins killed off 90.5 percent (19-for-21) of penalties, including 15 straight kills to end the series.

They’ll need to continue that success against a Capitals power play that went 9-for-27 for the series and scored at least one power-play goal in all six games against Columbus.

We’ve heard about the “switch” that the Penguins have known they can flip; they’ll have to continue to do so against a familiar face.

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