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Greg Thornberry The Hockey Writers

Published on Thursday, April 14, 2016

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Pittsburgh Penguins Playing Mind Games

The Pittsburgh Penguins seem to be going to great lengths to mess with our heads lately.

The emotional roller coaster surrounding the Penguins’ goalie situation took a drastic turn prior to their 5 to 2 victory on Wednesday, as Jeff Zatkoff unexpectedly started against the New York Rangers. Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan never actually said that Marc-Andre Fleury would start the game, but optimism may have gotten the best of us as the sight of Zatkoff leading his team onto the ice shocked nearly everyone.

Sullivan called Fleury a game-time decision leading up to the puck drop, when in reality the decision had been made the day before.

The so-called “gamesmanship” took a new level when Zatkoff and Fleury were the only two goalies to see any action during the morning skate. Recently recalled Tristan Jarry was the backup netminder after only being a spectator earlier in the day. It would have been interesting if Jarry had to see any playing time.

Dana Heinze Gets Into the Action

It is common for Penguins’ equipment manager Dana Heinze to Tweet out pictures of his team’s locker room, as well as player jerseys and equipment. On Wednesday, Heinze started his normal routine by sending out jersey photos. Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist, Kris Letang, Fleury. Seeing Fleury’s jersey among the pictures was a positive sign. Then Heinze sent out a picture of Evgeni Malkin’s jersey.

A person could almost hear a collective “wait…what?” come from the Penguins’ Twitter following. People even started to speculate that Malkin was going to play.

Then came pictures of jerseys belonging to Matt Murray, Tristan Jarry, and Jeff Zatkoff along with other players that were not expected to play. Bring on the conspiracy theories.

We will never know if Heinze was part of some grand scheme to throw us off of the scent of the true starting lineup, but he sure did get people confused. Maybe that was his point.

Quite the comedian, isn’t he?

Quick Hits

Crosby Makes a Statement

If there was a Penguins’ player that needed to make a statement in Game 1, it was Sidney Crosby. With only 3 goals in his last 18 playoff games, he needed to come out of the gate flying. Crosby didn’t disappoint as he scored a beautiful goal on a breakaway.

Like the rest of the team, Crosby’s possession numbers were relatively poor with a Corsi For plus/minus of -7. But given his goal and overall play, I still give him high marks for the game.

Tom Kuhnhackl Continues to Impress

How valuable has Kuhnhackl been this year? He scored a shorthanded goal Wednesday against the Rangers, and was a factor all game long.

While he was not credited with a blocked shot during the contest, that has been his forte of late. It would have been easy for the 24-year-old player to be overwhelmed during his time in with the Penguins, but that has not been the case.

The product of Germany will be a valuable depth player for the team going forward, and a cost-effective one at that.

Zatkoff’s Agent Must be Happy

With the emergence of Murray, Zatkoff has been largely an afterthought for the last few weeks. He is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, and regardless of his play he will not likely be returning to Pittsburgh.

But there is much reason to be happy for the Penguins’ third netminder, as his strong play yesterday will likely raise his value on the open market. He definitely showed up against the Rangers, and that can only be good for the Penguins, and for Zatkoff’s next contract.

Not a Good Night for Fancy Stats

During the last few months of the regular season, the Penguins were the darlings of the analytics community. Last night, not so much. Pittsburgh struggled badly with puck possession as witnessed by their Corsi For plus/minus.

The Penguins had no players that had a positive differential, with Brian Dumoulin being the only player to break even. The worst numbers belonged to Phil Kessel and Olli Maatta who both sat at a -11.

Now that the first game is out of the way, one would imagine that the numbers will be drastically different going forward.

Until next time.


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