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Game 1: PENGUINS – RANGERS X’s & O’s

Sidney Crosby (1 goal, 2 assists) and Patric Hornqvist (3 goals, 1 assist) combined for seven points and predictably it was a Penguins 5-2 Game 1 win.

“Regardless of their goalie, what stings is we talked about doing a better job against their top line and we didn’t do it,” Rangers center Derek Stepan said via The Record.

If the Rangers want to hang their hat on anything, I’m sure there’s someone in their analytic department who will point out to the coaching staff that Crosby and Hornqvist did have a poor night in driving possession.

Crosby posted a 41.1 CF% (16 CF/23 CA), Hornqvist 47%.

The key area to watch in Game 1 was how the Rangers matched up against Crosby defensively with Ryan McDonagh out.

Not surprising, Keith Yandle and Kevin Klein were most successful against Crosby, similar to the regular season meetings.

At even strength, the Penguins controlled just 24% (4 CF/13CA) of their shot attempts when Crosby was on the ice against Yandle and 35% vs Klein. The Yandle-Klein pairing projected to be the best option in defending Crosby and it was.

The pairing Crosby and his linemates projected to be able to exploit was the Marc Staal – Dan Girardi pairing, notably Girardi.

That also played out in Game 1.

Pittsburgh’s first two goals of the game, both even strength goals, were situations where the Penguins either won a foot race or got behind the Rangers D.

Both situations were the Penguins getting behind Dan Girardi.

One luxury for the short-term of not having 12 forwards to dress who can actually play in all three zones, is it gives the coaching staff more opportunities to let Sidney Crosby get a shift here and there in centering the fourth line to keep the Rangers off-guard.

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With under a minute to play in the first period, Conor Sheary got a shift with Crosby and Hornqvist.

Hornqvist makes a simple cross-ice dump to Girardi’s side and Sheary who was one of the best forwards on the ice, wins the foot race by blowing past Girardi to setup Hornqvist for the late first period goal.

This was the scouting report coming in for the Penguins. Get the puck behind the Rangers slow footed d-men like Girardi.

While Crosby was very much in the negative in driving possession against the likes of Yandle-Klein, among others, he had a quality 75 Shot Attempt For % when on the ice against Girardi 5 v 5, including 2 goals for – 0 against when on the ice against Girardi.

Crosby’s breakaway goal with a 1:04 left in the second period was a combination of things the Penguins do so well now.

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The play up the wall started with Crosby going hard at Girardi at the point in forcing a quick shot to the net and Pittsburgh’s ability to pack middle has become a staple for them defensively [hide], 22 blocked shot tonight, and it was leading up to this goal as Hornqvist blocks Girardi’s shot attempt in collapsing to the middle and also a precursor of how the Penguins are always thinking up the ice, Crosby doesn’t just stop and turn back to the d-zone after pressuring Girardi up high.

As Crosby doesn’t take himself out of position, Girardi is toast once Hornqvist blocks the shot and Crosby darts up the ice.

The Rangers had a good game plan and executed it. They just didn’t finish and got burned by favorable matchups from Pittsburgh like Crosby being out against Girardi who played over 17 minutes.

This is going to continue to be a problem for them unless Henrik Lundqvist is fine and can bail them out.

Schultz Starting to be Faded Out

The Penguins dressed seven defenseman for the first time under Mike Sullivan. “It was Olli’s first game back in a while,” Sullivan said of the reasoning. “It gives more options as far as on the back end for Jacques Martin, when he’s looking for certain matchups. We have some guys that we use on the power play. It gave me some flexibility up front as far as moving other guys in with that front line.”

What played out was Justin Schultz being faded out and that is likely to now continue based on the matchup which line a Cole-Schultz will be matched up with.

Schultz played just 5:52 in the game and only 4:22 at even strength. Ben Lovejoy by comparison played 16:16 and was relieved on heavily on the penalty kill, seeing 3:58 of ice time, second among Penguins’ d-men.

What carried over from the previous meeting was Eric Staal causing the Penguins D-men, notably Ian Cole and Justin Schultz trouble with his size and strength along the wall and below the dots. This pairing also showed same kind issues against the Capitals in defending Washington’s size.

Schultz in under five minutes of ice 5 v 5, was on the ice for 3 shot attempts and 11 against. The Rangers drove possession in 100% of their shot attempts (5/0) when Eric Staal was out against Schultz and 77% (10/3) when Staal was on the ice against Ian Cole.

Better Quality

Mike Sullivan expressed some concern about the Rangers dominant possession numbers in Game 1, not only a +19 5 v 5 shot attempt advantage, also a +10 scoring chance advantage.

“They were shooting the puck from everywhere,” Sullivan said.

The Rangers side of things is they didn’t create enough quality opportunities, especially with traffic in front.

“We need to generate a little better quality offensive looks,” Alain Vigneault said.

Credit has to go to the Penguins packing the middle, which has improved Pittsburgh’s ability to box out in front. [/hide]