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Greg Thornberry The Hockey Writers

Published on Tuesday, May 10, 2016





Penguins: Let’s Not Fool Ourselves

You didn’t think it was going to be that easy, did you?

The Pittsburgh Penguins rolled over the New York Rangers in Rd. 1. But the Washington Capitals are not the Rangers. Despite the 3-1 lead that the Penguins had over Washington, we all had to know that the series was far from over. The Capitals were the best team in the NHL during the regular season, and they were not going to go down easily.

A wide range of theories and emotions came from the Penguins’ Game 5 loss on Saturday. No, there is absolutely no reason to panic at this point, but let’s be honest, if you follow the Penguins, things are not all sunshine and rainbows. There are reasons to be concerned.

The Headliners

This series was billed as a clash of the stars, namely Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. Perhaps Evgeni Malkin and Ovechkin, depending on who you talk to.

For most of the first three games of this series, Ovechkin seemed to be playing like a kid practicing slapshots in his driveway. He pretty much just stood at the top of the left circle waiting for one-timers. In Game 5 he was anything but one-dimensional.

Forget the score sheet, or the advanced statistics, Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie have been more impactful than Crosby or Malkin. The Capitals’ stars have had more of an impact on the outcome of games than the Penguins’ stars.

This cannot continue. If Pittsburgh is to close out this series, their biggest names need to take control.

What’s the Deal with Patric Hornqvist?

Hornqvist only took two shifts in the third period in Game 5. Coach Mike Sullivan denied that it was due to an injury, or a benching, but rather a part of game maneuvering.

Hornqvist is a huge part of the Penguins offense, and one of their few players that are truly physical. If you look at a shot generation chart from any game, you will almost always see Hornqvist’s impact in front of the opposition net. The Swedish product is particularly valuable against a Washington team that is trying to pound Pittsburgh into submission.

All NHL coaches play games with injury updates during the playoffs, and Sullivan has proven himself to be a master at this. Either way, the Penguins need Hornqvist to be at the top of his game, or they will be lacking a valuable asset.

Goalie Drama

Braden Holtby has been solid all series. But he certainly hasn’t looked like a Vezina Trophy favorite … that is until his stellar performance in Game 5.

Pittsburgh played a solid game that they could have easily won, but Holtby was the true difference maker here. On more than one occasion, the Capitals netminder absolutely robbed what should have been a goal. The final score was 3-1 in favor of Washington, but without Holtby’s outstanding saves, it could have easily been 4-3 with the Penguins winning.

For the Penguins, Matt Murray has been sensational. But there are still some that are calling for Marc-Andre Fleury to be reinserted into the lineup. Sullivan squashed any chance of that happening before Game 6 by naming Murray the starter.

The right decision has been made. The job should be Murray’s until he plays himself out of the role.

The moral of the story is to temper your expectations. I am seeing too many people taking their stances to an extreme. Either they are in full-fledged panic mode, or they are too nonchalant about the Penguins situation. Pittsburgh still controls the series, and I firmly believe that they will close it out in Game 6. But as I have mentioned, don’t get too comfortable, as anything can happen.

Until next time.


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