(Pittsburgh) Last December 13, during the visit of the Penguins, the task of facing Sidney Crosby was entrusted to Mike Matheson and David Savard. Kaiden Guhle had only crossed Crosby for 76 seconds, and that was enough for Crosby to steal the puck from the young defenseman and score.
Fast forward six weeks. The young defender and the legendary forward 15 years his senior met on the ice at PPG Paints Arena. Like in Montreal, Crosby found a way to hurt Guhle. And like in Montreal, the Penguins came away with the victory, this time 3-2 in overtime.
Except that the famous progression, the measuring stick of the Hughes-Gorton regime while waiting for points and victories, was obvious.
“He was fantastic,” said Matheson, his partner for the evening. “He did that well. He plays big minutes against big trios. He might as well get used to it, because he will do it for a long time! », Added Habs captain Nick Suzuki.
It was a progression firstly because this time, Guhle was matched against Crosby all night, and not for a shift or two, by accident. If Crosby was able to set up a goal at the expense of his rival, Guhle himself scored one at the start of the match. Basically, Crosby simply balanced the accounts.
And the goal that Crosby prepared? You probably saw it in our video summary of the meeting. Here it is from a new angle.
“It looks like Sid has eyes all the way around his head. I don’t know how he knew there was a player there,” marveled Mike Sullivan, head coach of the Penguins, at a press briefing.
“There’s not much to say to him about this goal, because there’s not much he could do! », Estimated Matheson.
Evgeni Malkin is less spoiled in terms of quality of wingers these days (with Drew O’Connor and Colin White), but Crosby remains paired with Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust, the club’s two best wingers, which makes any confrontation with the 87 all the more complicated.
“There’s always someone hiding near the post behind you, so it’s difficult for the goalkeeper and defenders to defend,” analyzed goalkeeper Jake Allen. As a goalie, you have to respect the shot option and hope he doesn’t make that play.”
This time, Crosby nailed it. But overall, Guhle delivered another assured performance. Performance that he again offered on the right, his opposite side. Saturday’s match was his 27e right in the NHL, according to the NASA-worthy file maintained by The Press. And it hardly showed.
Guhle even allowed himself to upset his rival at times. On a play in the first period, he almost received a skate from Crosby in the face. “At the time, I didn’t even know that his skate had touched me! “, he said in the locker room, visibly not shaken by his fear.
His record reads -1, because a lucky jump also allowed Lars Eller to score when he was on the ice.
The CH players are going on vacation for the week and Guhle will be able to do so with a feeling of accomplishment.
Ditto for Juraj Slafkovsky, another youngster who has progressed at an interesting pace in recent weeks. The trio he formed with Sean Monahan and Joel Armia was the one that generated the most threats for the visitors.
His touches were good, his angles of attack were excellent. He used his gravity. It was a very good match.
Martin St-Louis, about Juraj Slafkovsky.
But these individual progressions cannot hide the other projects of the Habs, the aspects where you need rose-colored glasses like Elton John would have worn in his younger days to see the positive.
Defensively, the boat continues to take on water. Since Christmas, the team is taking just 25.6 shots per game, and allowing 34.8. Montreal is 31e in the NHL in this regard during this period, followed only by the Sharks. And being second to last ahead of only San José is equivalent to being last, as we all know.
The management of advances also poses a problem. On paper, CH’s 12-0-2 record, in matches where it leads after 40 minutes, looks good. Except that among the 12 victories, four were won in more than 60 minutes. In other words, the opponent still created a tie and snatched a point. On Saturday, Pittsburgh not only tied the game, but also picked up the second point.
St-Louis wasn’t in a very talkative mood after the game, and was content to say that his team “does a not-so-worse job” of protecting leads.
Guhle offered more realism. “We did a lot of good things. We just have to make sure we keep our lead when we have it in third. Personally, I could avoid a few turnovers. »
Guhle accepted part of the blame as a good teammate, but this work mainly belongs to the coaches, who will have a week to stock up on energy and solutions. They will need it all the more as they could very well lose some experienced soldiers in the transaction market by early March.
Note: After the match, the Canadian gave forward Lucas Condotta to the Laval Rocket. The Canadian is now taking advantage of a week off and will play his next match on February 6.
He had a bit of luck on his goal, but at 5 on 5, he delivered a strong performance, alongside Sean Monahan and Joel Armia. It goes to show that his December successes weren’t just attributable to Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield.
His four blocked shots were the only notable statistic of his evening. Pearson will need to bounce back after the break if Kent Hughes is to test his worth on the trade market.
The number of the match
The Penguins had 86 shot attempts in this game: 33 shots on target, 27 that were blocked by skaters and 26 off target. At least Jake Allen will have a full week to recover.
Crosby adds (again) strings to his bow
Interesting phenomenon among the Penguins this season: Sidney Crosby is overused for faceoffs. Before Saturday’s game, he had taken 1,047; his closest pursuer, Joel Eriksson Ek, had taken 968… in three more matches! It’s a repeat of last year, when Crosby finished the season with 140 more faceoffs than 2e, Patrice Bergeron. This task partly stems from his general workload (he plays 20 minutes per game), but he still comes to the 22e NHL rank for usage time among forwards. So there is something else. Watching him go on Saturday, we understood that he was very good, since he finished his evening at 77% (17 in 22), including several won in a very clear way, on the left as on the right. This season he comes to 5e rank in the NHL, at 58.9% success. His best success rate in a season so far was 55.9%. “When he values something, he puts in the necessary effort. Generally, when he decides he wants to improve, he succeeds,” said Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan. Let’s hope, for oenologists, that he starts producing wine once his career is over; he could end up producing great wines.
Productive digital advantage
It continues for the Canadian’s numerical advantage who has just had two good weeks. It seems that the five-way attack is reborn from its ashes, but even then it would have had to have had a first life, which is not clear. With Juraj Slafkovsky’s goal, scored during Montreal’s only opportunity, the Habs go on vacation with a 33% record in their last seven games (7 in 21). Sean Monahan is partly responsible for these successes, he who participated in the last five goals scored in this situation. We saw him make some brilliant passes. On Saturday, it was simply a subtle redirection of the puck to prevent Drew O’Connor from intercepting Nick Suzuki’s pass. Slafkovsky then attempted a pass that deflected and beat Tristan Jarry.
And new for Caufield
Casually, Cole Caufield is recovering his offensive statistics. By getting an assist on Kaiden Guhle’s goal in the first period, Caufield extended his streak of consecutive games with at least one point to nine. He has 12 points (6 goals, 6 assists) during this sequence. He was not unworthy in this case, making a good play to give the puck to Mike Matheson, who then spotted Guhle. With this pass, Caufield brings his point total to 39 in 49 games, which equates to 65 points in 82 games. And above all, he is now productive during the first 60 minutes of games, unlike the beginning of the season when 3-on-3 play fueled his production.