Can it Last? Penguins have an impactful 3rd line this week
The Pittsburgh Penguins have rattled off two straight wins, a 5-4 come from behind win Tuesday night vs the Sabres and then a 3-1 win over the Senators Thursday night.
Tuesday’s win kind of summed up the Penguins season.
Very sloppy play for long stretches, frustrating goals allowed at in-opportune times (early and late in periods) but with their high-end talent, when the Penguins feel motivated to play, they can turn it on out of nowhere especially against bad teams.
Thursday’s win was more of a playoff style low scoring game with great goaltending from Matt Murray this team has been so accustomed to winning the last two seasons.
In a game where the Senators and Penguins each created just 5 high danger scoring chances during 5 vs 5 play, Pittsburgh got a deflection goal from Patric Hornqvist (7) and a tip-in/deflection goal from Jake Guentzel (6) in the slot on a Brian Dumoulin shot from 59 ft out. Pittsburgh then added an empty goal from Riley Sheahan with 31 seconds left in regulation.
A positive trend for the Penguins continued vs the Senators in goals coming from 35 ft or less. Pittsburgh is third in the NHL with a goal distance of around 33 ft.
— The biggest development for the Penguins last two games is the third line winger play.
The Penguins are built where they need their third line wingers to create offensively and be factors, to off-set a less skilled group of bottom-6 centers in Riley Sheahan/Greg McKegg/Carter Rowney.
The level of play from Conor Sheary and Patric Hornqvist has been tremendous the last two games.
Vs Buffalo Sheary and Hornqvist were impacting the game in every facet. Sheary was on the ice for 20 shot attempts, 3 against, Hornqvist 16/2 and Riley Sheahan (20/4) had his finest game as a Penguin.
What was such a rarity for the Penguins 20+ games in now, was how Pittsburgh’s third line fared against Buffalo’s best line.
When Sheahan and Sheary were on the ice together, Pittsburgh controlled 100% of their shot attempts (8/0) against Jack Eichel.
The smarts of Hornqvist and Sheahan as fore-checkers saw the line punish Buffalo’s lower caliber defensemen, notably Jake McCabe and Taylor Fedun where the Penguins third line was at 80% when driving possession against that pairing, including a 17/4 edge in shot attempts when out against McCabe.
The Sabres are a team that wants to play with a quick pace under Phil Housley but they don’t have the D to play that style and that was a matchup where Sheahan’s hockey IQ was able to see him impact a game positively in the offensive end as Buffalo’s D lacks quick precise passes out of their own end.
Against the Senators was another matchup against a team that sits back and plays more of a patience style and they’re not a team that hounds you with speed.
It saw Sheary be able to use his speed really well again and Hornqvist was excellent again on the forecheck and around the net. Sheahan had a second straight game where he had stretches of offensive zone time, where previous games he has often been one and done in the offensive zone.
For Pittsburgh’s third line to become a serious factor this season on a consistent basis, it starts with the wingers being able to carry the line.
The last two games that played out in a big way with Sheary providing the speed/high-level ability to possess the puck on zone entries and Patric Hornqvist doing Patric Hornqvist things below the dots.
With Riley Sheahan, some of the hockey smarts shined vs the Sabres and Senators where he can be someone who can have some value to a team like the Penguins as the 4th line center.
For him to prove he can be the answer to the third line center situation, he needs to show he can adapt his game against teams that play a fast skating game, type of teams the East is littered with. So far the results have been very poor against those type of teams from his time with the Red Wings to his stint with the Penguins so far.
Coming off two pretty good performances vs Sabres and Senators, Saturday’s game vs a highly skilled Chicago team will be a good evaluation test for Sheahan and the step forward the third line took the last two games. Want the Full Story? Get "Inside Access"