Game 4 Analysis: Penguins Show Game 7 type mentality with 200 ft Game
Penguins – Capitals was a true toss-up heading into the series and what shouldn’t be a surprise to many, the series is even at 2-2 after four games and now a best-of-3 in what feels like is going to be a seven game series.
The Pittsburgh Penguins avoided a fourth straight home loss with a 3-1 win over the Capitals in Game 4.
Jake Guentzel had 2 goals as his sensational play continues, Matt Murray stopped 20 of 21 shots and Evgeni Malkin broke a 1-1 tie with a power play goal with 2:29 left in the second period in diving to stuff a puck just past the goal-line for a Penguins 2-1 lead.
This series has been about as evenly matched as it could get as all four games have pretty much been 50-50 games, but what Game 4 showed from the Penguins was the defending champs flexing those championship muscles in that they played with a Game 7 type mentality in all three zones to do what it takes to secure a victory.
Outside of Guentzel’s empty-netter, both Penguin goals were playoff type goals in getting to the dirty areas, converting off bounces that went their way because of being in the right spots.
Most impressive from the Penguins was the defensive mentality they possessed.
It was one of those performances from the Penguins where they were elite in tracking the puck through the neutral zone that gave the Capitals big guns little time and space.
Alex Ovechkin was held without a shot, the Capitals managed just 21 shots, the lowest amount of shots they’ve had in a playoff game since the 2016 postseason.
Pittsburgh held Washington to three shots on goal in the third period.
Possession numbers were near even at even strength, Pittsburgh 52%, Washington 48%, but the key stat on how suffocating the Penguins were with their forwards committed to defending and tracking the puck defensively was a Penguins 10-3 edge in high danger chances.
FORWARDS PLAYER REPORTS
— It was another day at the office for Jake Guentzel with 2 goals in the win, giving him 10 goals and 21 points in the postseason. How special of a run is Guentzel on?
Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier in 1988 are the last two players to reach 20 points in 10 or fewer postseason games.
Guentzel hockey IQ in what continues to stand out and what makes him so productive when the lights shine brightest at playoff time. He’s not the most talented player out there by any means but he’s one of the smartest in what has made him such a strong fit with Sidney Crosby.
He thinks the game at an elite level that constantly puts him in the right spots.
“I just think [Jake] is a real good hockey player. He’s competitive, I think he embraces the important moments,” Mike Sullivan said of Guentzel following the Penguins win.
What drove the Penguins being above 50% in possession as a team was the top-line of Jake Guentzel – Sidney Crosby – Dominik Simon.
The line drove possession at a 68% clip, while every other Penguins line was below 47%.
When Mike Sullivan elevated Simon to Crosby’s line in Game 4, it was an obvious ‘what is the coaching staff doing’ moment.
The move paid off for one night with Simon picking up an assist on Guentzel’s goal and Simon was 70% (21/9) in possession and Pittsburgh was +9 (13/4) in scoring chances when Guentzel-Crosby-Simon were on the ice together.
In reality the Penguins offensively, though, were a one-line team again.
— Carl Hagelin returned to the lineup which saw the Penguins reunite the Hagelin-Malkin-Hornqvist line. Hagelin played 16:11 and had 2 shots on goal. The best work from the line was more in the playing away from the puck department than being factors offensively.
Pittsburgh’s second line was 28% in Scoring Chance For Percentage.
Brassard/Kessel continue to struggle
Phil Kessel was another non-factor with an assist, 1 shot on goal and was 27% (4/11) in possession. Kessel got an assist on Malkin’s power play marker and he continues to struggle mightily at getting his shot off from the left wall.
There’s been rumblings of a rib/abdomen injury since late in the regular season to whispers lately that the injury is actually a To read this insider news, subscribe to get “Inside Access”!.
Nonethless, Kessel’s lack of impact 5-on-5 saw him play just 9:30 during 5-on-5 play, the 10th least amount of ice time among Penguin forwards.
Then there’s Derick Brassard.
Like Kessel the belief is he might still bothered by an injury suffered in the regular season, believed to be a To read this insider news, subscribe to get “Inside Access”!, but also like Kessel, it’s reaching the point where if you’re in the lineup, there’s no excuses.
At least one of Kessel/Brassard has to start performing if the Penguins are getting out of the East again.
Having Conor Sheary and Tom Kuhnhackl as your wingers sure doesn’t help but it was another low impact night from Brassard who had 0 points and 0 shots.
He played just 9:29 at even strength and is pretty much being used as a 4th line forward.
— One reason for the Capitals top-line being completely shutdown, all you have to do is look at Brian Dumoulin.
He was sensational again in playing a locked down defensive game, and when your No. 1 pairing defenseman is at 72% in possession, you’re doing something right.
This postseason should be an appreciation of how good Dumoulin is.