The Penguins’ 7-0 destruction of Ottawa in Game 5 was such an ass-kicking that it warranted the Jim Ross treatment, a rare honor for an NHL game. But don’t let the brutality distract from some truly awe-inspiring hockey.
Specifically the third goal, credited to Bryan Rust but a team goal in all senses of the term. I’d like to ask you to watch this entire video of the Penguins’ offensive zone possession. Don’t be tempted to skip to the end, because the effect works best each time you look at the clock and wonder how long has this shift gone on?, and then realize how interminable it must have felt for the five exhausted Senators skaters.
By my count, from the moment Sidney Crosby dumped the puck in (seconds before this video picks up) until the moment Rust redirected Nick Bonino’s shot past Craig Anderson—two entire Pittsburgh line changes later—the Penguins kept the Senators on the defensive and the pressure on for 93 seconds. That’s unbelievable.
“That was amazing,” defenseman Trevor Daley said. “We had a wholesale change. Everybody changed. You can’t get much better than that. That was amazing. It was fun to watch on the bench. We were on the bench screaming, yelling at guys, ‘Change! Change!’ It was pretty cool.”
The shift chart for this one is something to behold. The line of Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, and Scott Wilson was out there for more than a minute, a good long shift under any circumstances, but they controlled the puck nearly the entire span and forechecked it free from the Senators any time they didn’t. There’s a big cheer from the appreciative crowd when they are spelled by Rust, Bonino, and Carter Rowney, and imagine how gassed the Senators’ skaters were compared to those fresh legs. All five Sens were on the ice for more than 90 seconds, and defenseman Marc Methot—who had the best chance to clear, but was pressured by Rust into giving up the puck—was out there for 2:04.
On that possession, per the Tribune-Review’s tally, the Penguins completed 17 passes, attempted eight shots, tracked down eight loose pucks, and forced two Senators turnovers.
A shift of that magnitude isn’t likely to reoccur, but it did illustrate what the Penguins are hoping to do against an Ottawa defensive scheme that takes away opponents’ transition games. The Penguins, deprived of the north-south rushes they feast upon, have had to figure out how to build chances entirely in the offensive zone without allowing the Senators to spring for a rush the other way. An effective forecheck is one way to do that; cycling and puck movement are others. Mike Sullivan described it in terms of being conservative—that is, waiting for a chance to develop, no matter how long it takes, rather than trying to force the issue. “Sometimes these guys want to make plays when there isn’t any ice to play on or there isn’t a play to be made,” Sullivan said. “So that’s a discipline that I think this team has developed or we have to continue to work at so that we don’t feed our opponent’s counter-attack game or their transition game.”
Ten goals in the last two games is a sign that it’s working. (Two goals allowed in those two games by newly reinstalled starter Matt Murray certainly helps too.)
Here’s a quote from Ottawa coach Guy Boucher that can be taken two ways.
“We know they’re a better team,” Boucher said of the Penguins. “Everybody knows that on the planet. They’re the Stanley Cup champions. They’re the best team in the League. That’s no secret.”
The first interpretation is that he’s trying to fire up his team, which looked like toast on Sunday and now needs to win two straight. The second interpretation is that Boucher is just telling the truth. The two interpretations needn’t be mutually exclusive.