An emotional night ended triumphantly for the Pittsburgh Penguins as they evened up the Eastern Conference Final. Tonight the series heads up north to Ottawa. Let’s take a look at tonight’s NHL playoff predictions.
|Penguins vs Senators
ML -130 / +110
Here are tonight’s starting goaltenders, courtesy of LeftWingLock.
The Pittsburgh Penguins were frustrated, emotional and edgy for the entirety of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Ottawa Senators. But they managed to narrowly escape with a 1-0 victory.
For the first time in a long time, the Penguins were the team controlling the pace of play at 5-on-5. For 10 consecutive games, Pittsburgh had been outshot and out-attempted at even strength, which forced them to rely on home-run passes and rush opportunities. In Game 2, however, the Pens were swarming in the offensive zone. They were asserting themselves as the faster, more skilled team.
Too bad it was not being translated into goal scoring.
Pittsburgh had a myriad of chances early but could not connect. Early in the first period, Phil Kessel set up Evgeni Malkin for a point-blank chance in front of the net that Craig Anderson managed to turn aside. Kessel would spring Jake Guentzel for a chance alone in the offensive zone later in the second but Guentzel rang the pipe.
Guentzel had another chance in the second period from Sidney Crosby but got too much of the shot and sent it sailing over the net.
Through two periods, shots were 20-16 in favor of the Penguins. Things were progressing slowly, as the Senators’ defense was mucking up the middle of the ice. Ottawa was trying to wear down the Penguins’ patience. And it was working.
Things appeared testy on the Penguins’ bench. After seemingly every shift, Phil Kessel was coming back to the bench and having animated conversations with either the coaching staff or linemates Chris Kunitz and Evgeni Malkin. At one point, Malkin and Kessel were shouting back and forth at one another.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are melting down. Who said this series wasn't entertaining? pic.twitter.com/w06h4t5meu
— Ryan Gilbert (@RGilbertSOP) May 16, 2017
It was a mess.
So naturally, Kessel came through in the third period with the primary assist to Evgeni Malkin. Of course.
Malkin carried the puck from his own zone up the ice to the opposing blueline by the Ottawa bench. He finds Kessel maneuvering into the zone. Kessel’s initial shot is blocked by Jean-Gabriel Pageau, but Kessel collected his own rebound and fired another shot before Craig Anderson had a chance to reset his feet.
Just like that, the Penguins were up 1-0. And 1-0 it would stay, as the Ottawa Senators would struggle to get much of anything going offensively in the waning minutes of the third period. Pittsburgh got a huge home victory in the low-scoring affair to avoid a catastrophic home sweep.
On the Kessel-Malkin drama: tiffs between teammates happen. Henrik Lundqvist is a vocal goaltender in New York and Derek Stepan had to tell him to “chill” in Game 5 against the Senators in the opening round. Marc Methot said after the game that he and Erik Karlsson have had “a few good run-ins” on the bench in the past. It’s part of the game.
— NHL Network (@NHLNetwork) May 16, 2017
Granted, Tom Pyatt said after the game that it was a clear sign the Penguins were “rattled.” It does seem to play into Ottawa’s hands, though Kessel scoring does heal a lot of the wounds in the locker room. Nothing quells an argument like success.
Incidentally, Phil Kessel was voted “Easiest to Intimidate” in a 2012 poll of 145 NHL players, receiving 15% of the vote.
At the end of the day, I chalk it up to the heat of the moment. To insinuate that there’s something afoot in the Penguins’ locker room is silly. Many players have gone on record several times as having said they love Phil, this because of Kessel’s spotty media-assigned label from Toronto. Let it be.
To the actual game: the Penguins were simply better prepared in Game 2 than they were in Game 1. Compare their heat map from Game 1…
…to their heat map in Game 2.
It’s night and day different. Pittsburgh was more successful in their attack and Ottawa simply did not generate enough down low.
The Penguins do have their injury problems to think about, however. Patric Hornqvist was replaced by Carl Hagelin at gametime. Bryan Rust was leveled by Dion Phaneuf early in the game, and he is questionable for tonight as he deals with an upper-body injury. Justin Schultz left the game early after going into the boards wonky. He too is questionable.
Rust is a good role player, but Schultz is a vital member of an already depleted Penguins’ defense. Trevor Daley could return, but if his mobility is anything like it was against Washington, the Pens are in trouble.
It makes the Ottawa Senators an interesting play tonight. They are a home underdog, which I love, at +110. They are healthy, but they are struggling to get dangerous chances against Pittsburgh.
With the Senators now holding home-ice advantage in the series, all eyes are on Erik Karlsson. Karlsson has yet to register a point in the Eastern Conference Final, and his Corsi-for percentage has taken a bit of a dip from what it was last round now that he is dealing with the most elite group of forwards in the National Hockey League. But when Karlsson scores, the Sens win. Karlsson has at least one point in eight of the Senators’ nine Stanley Cup Playoff wins this season.
Ottawa is hungry for a win on home ice to really make the Penguins sweat. They won’t be able to do that without Karlsson getting on the stat sheet.
The Sens won all three home games last round. Pittsburgh won three of four road games against the Capitals.
The under has now hit in the last four meetings between these two teams. In case you have not picked up on it by now, the under is the safe way to go until the Penguins break the 1-3-1 neutral zone trap.
Pittsburgh is a bit too banged up for my liking. I see tonight as a chance to cash in on the home underdog before the Penguins really get rolling in this series. The Senators seem to elevate their play at home.
Prediction: Take the Senators to win tonight. Play the under.
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