Sidney Crosby celebrates a second-period goal in last night's 5-2 win over the Rangers (Kevin Lorenzi/The Times)
An effective power play might not be vital when it comes to winning in the playoffs, but having good special teams overall can make a huge difference. That is exactly what it took for the Penguins to come away with a victory in Game 1 of their first-round series with the New York Rangers.
Their power play betrayed them through the first two periods, producing just one shot on goal over four opportunities. That situation could have been magnified exponentially if they hadn’t managed to score two five-on-five goals to stake themselves to a 2-0 lead.
Those goals put them in position to let their penalty-killing unit shine.
“I think that special teams are so important right now.” Defenseman Ben Lovejoy, who logged 3:58 short-handed minutes. “Guys are dialed in defensively at all times and when you have that advantage it's a huge part of having success right now, and we were able to do a pretty good job on the penalty kill and Jeff Zatkoff was spectacular.”
That power-play problem is one that has lingered at times with Evgeni Malkin out of the lineup this season. They look disjointed, they have trouble entering the zone and as mentioned above, they do not shoot the puck.
They had issues over their final three games of the regular season, where they went 0 for 7, and it carried over into Game 1. They finally managed a power-play goal on their fifth attempt of the night.
It came together very simply, Sidney Crosby carried a puck down the right wing, fired a shot to the net and they had traffic in front. Phil Kessel got in behind Marc Staal and disrupted goaltender Antti Raanta just enough that he lost track of the Crosby rebound. Patric Hornqvist pounced on it and knocked it home, putting the Penguins up 4-1 at the time.
That late power play goal got them some insurance, but it was their penalty-killing unit that did much of the heavy lifting, allowing the power play time to work through its issues.
"I thought the penalty kill was huge tonight,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “They get that goal, but you have to give them credit, they made a pretty good play."
Sullivan was referring to the one goal that the Rangers did get on the power play, but that came on a two-man-advantage.
The unit, featuring the likes of Matt Cullen, Nick Bonino, Tom Kuhnhackl, Carl Hagelin, Kris Letang, Brian Dumoulin, Lovejoy and Ian Cole, was outstanding in killing off three other Rangers’ power plays when the game was undecided.
One of those kills turned into a short-handed goal when Cullen and Kuhnhackl broke free for a two-on-one break, Cullen fed the young German forward, and he made no mistake in firing a one timed shot past Raanta.
That play was started by Trevor Daley and Lovejoy, who each made sweeping plays to clear pucks out of the zone.
"When you're in front of the net on those rebounds killing penalties, it's sort of triage mode,” Lovejoy said of his team’s penalty killing approach. “You're trying not to die. You want to do everything you can to get your stick, to get a foot on it, to get it out of the zone. I thought our penalty kill was outstanding tonight."