Goal Box

PATRIC HORNQUVIST, PENGUINS — THE FLIP SIDE IS MUSIC TO PENGUINS NATION

2017-06-12T12:57:48+00:00 June 12th, 2017|Goal Box|

PATRIC HORNQVIST, Pittsburgh
THE FLIP SIDE IS MUSIC TO PENGUINS NATION

Ignore what’s on the back side of that 45 at your own peril. Music fans and record collectors know this axiom well. But in Music City last night, Predators fans were reminded of this bedrock principle of the recording industry in the cruelest possible way when Patric Hornqvist used the backside of goaltender Pekka Rinne to bank in the only goal of the Cup-winning game with just a minute and a half remaining in the third period.

The tension cords connecting the 12 players on the ice were so tight that it felt inevitable that when one would snap it would be from a place no one was looking. And, of course, Rinne couldn’t have been.

The Penguins had established some frantic zone time and the Predators were running around, desperately trying to clear the puck out to the safety of center ice. Pittsburgh defenseman Justin Schultz obtained a parcel of free ice and sent a shot from the center point that went just wide of the net. Hornqvist, however, seemed to be anticipating the puck as it came off the boards and raced behind the end line to greet the carom.

Rinne couldn’t afford to devote full attention to him, however, for he didn’t know what dangers lurked out in front of the net. But this is the situation the crafty Hornqvist excels in. Training his eye on the airborne puck and seeing an opening between Rinne’s back and the open goal, Hornqvist immediately swatted the puck against Rinne, who was fully aware of what was happening but powerless to stop it. And the flip side was solid gold and Penguin black in Nashville.

There will probably be commentators who parachuted in for the playoffs or hosts on national radio shows that will either lament or complain that the Stanley Cup was decided on a fluke goal.

They couldn’t be more wrong. It was a well-earned and creative goal in every facet. The pressure Pittsburgh applied to retain possession in the Predators end led to Hornqvist establishing net-side presence. The shot by Schultz against the end boards was by design. The lanes to the goal were clogged and he devised his shot to reach Hornqvist indirectly. And in a game where anything the goalies could see they stopped, it was Hornqvist’s exceptional hand-eye coordination that allowed him to bat the puck out of the air and direct it exactly where he wanted to: Between the goaltender’s numbers.

And you have to turn the sweater over to find those numbers.

6/11/2017 vs. Nashville

JUSTIN SCHULTZ, PENGUINS — BEST IN CLASS (SLAP SHOT)

2017-06-09T12:35:04+00:00 June 9th, 2017|Goal Box|

JUSTIN SCHULTZ, Pittsburgh
BEST IN CLASS — SLAP SHOT

The Penguins, from the drop of the first puck, came out in Game 5 like a rocket from a bottle gone free. In the previous games, the slick ice surface has created fitful starts, with plenty of icings and conservative play. But Pittsburgh was determined to match its speed game to the pristine ice conditions immediately in hopes of catching the Predators unprepared.

Sidney Crosby, who we’ve seen use his bursts through the center of the ice judiciously in the first four games, took his first opportunity to exploit Nashville’s tentativeness and drew a holding penalty from Ryan Ellis 50 seconds into the game while still managing to clank a backhand off the post during an electrifying run through the Predators zone.

The Penguins power play, so diffident throughout the first four games, immediately displayed a new, bold face. A dozen passes must have preceded Justin Schultz’ one-timed bullet from the center point — and all of them looked as though they were practiced repeatedly during the two previous off days.

The zone entry was purposeful and for a change pushed the Nashville forwards back on their heels. And once inside, puck and legs were in constant motion as Pittsburgh worked to get Schultz an unimpeded shot.

40 seconds in, that opportunity came and Schultz delivered from long range, through the legs of both Austin Watson and goaltender Pekke Rinne. Fantastic shot, kept low and precisely targeted.

Schultz has had to take over the power play from the blue line with the midseason loss of Kris Letang. Though the Penguins power play has sputtered in this series, Schultz has provided three goals and four assists while Pittsburgh has had the man advantage throughout the playoffs.

His exclamation mark at the end of a beautiful sequence of passes to score the first goal of the game last night set the tone for an immaculate performance that he and his teammates would carry out for 60 minutes and grab the crucial fifth game, 6-0.

6/8/2017 vs. Nashville

JAKE GUENTZEL, PENGUINS — BEST IN CLASS (SNAP SHOT)

2017-05-31T22:10:54+00:00 May 31st, 2017|Goal Box|

JAKE GUENTZEL, Pittsburgh
BEST IN CLASS — SNAP SHOT

When Jake Guentzel recaptured the lead and scored the game-winning goal in Game 1 of the finals, two streaks came to an end. The first was the 8-game goalless streak for the playoffs’ leading scorer. The other was the Penguins failing to put a shot on goal for 37:09.

The clock had wound down to less than 3 1/2 minutes remaining in the third period and Pittsburgh had not recorded a shot on goal since Nick Bonino’s goal in the final minute of the first period. During that span the Predators had overcome a 3-0 deficit to tie the score.

Guentzel’s shot was worth a full bucket of them, though. Matt Cullen, standing on the blue line at the right wing boards, flipped the puck to Guentzel, who was already in flight coming through the neutral zone. Nashville, which had so effectively turned pucks over before the Penguins could penetrate their zone, had just Ryan Ellis back and Guentzel bore in on him.

Just as he hit the center of the right circle, Guentzel quickly released a snap shot that zipped past the leg of Ellis and over the shoulder of the butterflying Pekka Rinne. The Penguins then clamped down for the rest of the game with no scary moments in their own end. Nick Bonino salted the game away with a clever aerial flip from his end of the ice over the Predators defense and into an empty net.

Lost in all the tut-tutting about the historically low shot total for a Stanley Cup victor was the glass half-full scenario. Not even talking about winning the game. With 5 goals on 12 shots, Pittsburgh converted on 41.7% of their shots.

Has that ever been done?

5/29/2017 vs. Nashville

CHRIS KUNITZ, PENGUINS — HEADS PENGUINS WIN, TAILS SENATORS LOSE

2017-05-26T23:29:13+00:00 May 26th, 2017|Goal Box|

CHRIS KUNITZ, Penguins
HEADS PENGUINS WIN, TAILS SENATORS LOSE

If ever there were a game that might require a flip of a coin to guess the winner, it was Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals between the Senators and Penguins.

The two teams had split four one-goal games and each had won a blowout through the first six games of the series. Ottawa had led the series twice, Pittsburgh once. And though the Penguins had outshot the Senators 41-27 through three periods and then the first overtime, this was more an indication of Ottawa’s wait-and-pounce style than domination by Pittsburgh in Game 7.

So you might as well have tossed a coin to choose the winning team as the game went five minutes deep into the second overtime.

Or rather Chris Kunitz might as well have. But instead of a coin, the Penguins left wing, who had been held off the scoresheet in his first 13 playoff games this year, used a puck.

With a screen in front, Kunitz received a pass from Sidney Crosby just above the inside part of the left circle. He was perfectly set up for a one-timer and he timed his slap shot to greet the puck just as it entered his shooting area.

But a funny thing happened when Kunitz made contact. Well, maybe not funny in Canada’s capital, but funny as in strange. Instead of meeting it solidly and blasting it toward the Ottawa net, Kunitz struck it in such a way that the puck teetered off his stick.

Ottawa’s J.G. Pageau was directly in front of goalie Craig Anderson, however. So as the puck wobbled dangerously toward the net, Anderson never caught sight of it. In fact, while Kunitz’ intention for the puck was for it soar like a bird, instead, well . . . it rather resembled a Penguin in motion as it wavered its way over the shoulder of Anderson.

And in a flash, there were 19 Penguins looking more like peregrine falcons as they flew from the bench and ice to swarm the hero of the moment.

It seems in this postseason every Penguin has his day. And Kunitz chose his at the best possible time, scoring two of the three Pittburgh goals and assisting on the other in leading his team to the Stanley Cup finals.

5/25/2017 vs. Ottawa

PATRIC HORNQVIST, PENGUINS — BEST IN CLASS (BACKHAND)

2017-05-15T14:04:26+00:00 May 12th, 2017|Goal Box|

PATRIC HORNQVIST, Penguins
BEST IN CLASS — BACKHAND

This was the goal that startled the casual viewer and shocked the knowledgeable hockey fan.

The dramatic and tragic elements were all in place, as though of a set piece. A critical juncture in the push for the Stanley Cup; a brilliant shot that no one, including the goaltender saw coming; and, most unsettling of all, a terrible repudiation of one of the game’s great stars.

The Caps and Penguins were at it again. Another Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs between two great rivals, which now has resulted in nine series wins by Pittsburgh and one by Washington.

The very talented Capitals, with Backstrom and Johansson and Justin Williams and Braden Holtby and T.J. Oshie still have yet to make it to a conference final. And, oh yes, Alexander Ovechkin too.

It was the latter’s brief letdown on a third-period goal by Patric Hornqvist that has led to a crescendo of fury, disillusionment, heartbreak, angst, bewilderment, and you fill in your own personal reaction if you’re a Caps fan.

The game was tight as it always is between these two rivals. The Penguins held a 1-0 lead four minutes into the third period and the checking was extremely tight. The Capitals couldn’t afford to be too reckless in pursuing the game-tying goal because a 2-0 deficit would look insurmountable the way this game was being played.

And they weren’t reckless. They just didn’t come up with that bit of reach-a-little-deeper effort that, in this age of parity, every team consistently needs to emerge as the Cup winner.

This is the way the cookie crumbles. If a goal results from a less-than-stellar moment on the ice, you might well have to wear that albatross for the remainder of your career.

And that’s where things stand with Ovechkin for now until the unforeseeable future.

Kevin Shattenkirk fed the puck along the sideboards and Ovechkin moved toward it to chip it out of the zone. (more…)

SIDNEY CROSBY, PENGUINS — BEST IN CLASS (ONE HAND ON STICK)

2017-03-22T16:08:19+00:00 March 22nd, 2017|Goal Box|

SIDNEY CROSBY, Penguins
BEST IN CLASS (ONE HAND ON STICK)

I know. I know. It’s all been said. But I’ll try.

Did Sidney Crosby know when he picked up the puck in the middle of the Penguins zone that five seconds later he would score a goal that would add a new layer of construction to the Pyramid of Sid the Kid? Do such audacious plays occur to him in his sleep when other players wouldn’t dare dream them? When teammates go over their assignments before a game in the locker room, is he formulating how he’s going to rush the puck from one end of the ice to the other, splitting four defenders along the way, and then shovel the puck up high in the net on the backhand with one hand on his stick?

Otherwise, I got nuttin’.

3/21/2017 vs. Buffalo

PATRIC HORNQVIST, PENGUINS — THE GASHOUSE GANG PENGUINS

2017-03-20T17:51:18+00:00 March 20th, 2017|Goal Box|

PATRIC HORNQVIST, Penguins
THE GASHOUSE GANG PENGUINS
  • Batted Out of Air
  • Door Step
  • First Period

There’ nothing to suggest that the Stanley Cup champion Penguins are a bunch of hell-raising, free-spirited scalawags. But other than that, they have a lot in common with the 1934 Gashouse Gang St. Louis Cardinals. Or at least they did on one play last night.

As much as their hard-driving ways immortalized that St. Louis bunch, it was their fondness for pre-game displays of “pepper” in their warm-ups which have burnished their legacy. They’d have done well to duplicate what the Penguins did with hockey sticks last night against Colorado.

On a night when Sidney Crosby posted a natural hat trick, the Pittsburgh goal which had everyone talking was scored by Patric Hornqvist.

En route to the back of the Avalanche net, the last three touches by the Penguins all were with the puck floating above the ice surface.

Hornqvist got the play going in the left corner when he scooped up the puck on his backhand against the wall. Just as it was coming back down, he slapped it on his forehand behind the cage, where it looped down toward the stick of Phil Kessel. But before Kessel could get there it hit the ice and bounced up. Kessel kept his eye on the ball — er, puck — and as the disc was headed upward, Kessel helped it on its way by flipping it straight over the net.

By this time, Hornqvist had dashed to the front of the Colorado goal. As the puck floated over the head of Florida goaltender James Reimer, Hornqvist committed a pepper taboo. He took a full swing. And though it was no line drive to the twine, it hardly mattered. The sights and sounds Reimer was perceiving had him flailing all limbs like an octopus minus four and the puck plopped down behind the blue paint.

If somewhere Leo Durocher, Joe Medwick and Pepper Martin got to see this, they undoubtedly would have all had a Bo Jackson “No” reaction to what they just saw.

3/19/2017 vs. Colorado.
Highlight available at NHL.com.

CARTER ROWNEY, PENGUINS — FIRST NHL GOAL

2017-03-18T20:30:06+00:00 March 18th, 2017|Goal Box|

CARTER ROWNEY, Penguins
FIRST NHL GOAL

It had been a long, determined wait filled with persistence for Carter Rowney to find his way to the NHL. So what was a couple of seconds more to endure before scoring his first NHL goal?

Rowney is 27 and went undrafted out of the University of North Dakota. He invested four years in minor league hockey before being called up this season. And what a place to get the call from: Defending Cup champion Penguins.

Since his promotion on January 31, Rowney had played dependably. Though he hadn’t scored, he was plus / minus zero, putting in important gap minutes on Pittsburgh’s fourth line.

In his 15th career game last night he struck paydirt for the first time. And he exhibited every bit of the patience that has served him so well in getting to this point of his career.

With the Penguins in a tight one against New Jersey, Tom Kuhnackl fed Rowney the puck all alone in front of the Devils net. He had the puck on his stick square to goalie Keith Kincaid and seemingly had him dead to rights.

But it was Kincaid, not Rowney, who seemed overeager in the moment. The New Jersey goaltender lunged forward, expecting Rowney to immediately commit to the shot. Instead, the cagey 27-year-old right wing, sidestepped Kincaid’s prone body and headed for the side of the crease. Waiting for Kincaid to be completely sprawled out, Rowney finally released the puck from a sharp angle as Kincaid threw up his left leg while on his belly.

It was a valiant effort, but Rowney’s was better and he deposited the puck between Kincaid’s leg and the post for his first NHL goal.

His on-ice mates knew the importance of the moment right away. Kunhackl raised both hands in celebration as if the goal was his. Tom Sesito, who himself has experienced a similarly circuitous career path, beat the official to the puck inside the Devils net. Rowney’s teammates surrounded him in the corner for a good long while, with friendly head and back slaps before allowing the hero of the moment the long-awaited opportunity to glide by the Penguins bench for more hand slaps.

The goal was an important one to the Penguins as well as they try to capture the Presidents’ Trophy. In fact, it turned out to be the game-winner in Pittsburgh’s 6-4 victory.

3/17/2017 vs. New Jersey

SIDNEY CROSBY, PENGUINS — BEST IN CLASS (BATTED OUT OF AIR)

2017-03-15T04:15:42+00:00 March 15th, 2017|Goal Box|

SIDNEY CROSBY, Penguins
BEST IN CLASS — BATTED OUT OF AIR

Twelve years into Sidney Crosby’s career and fans who watch him day-in, day-out can still marvel that he has yet to get to the bottom of his bag of tricks.

The one he pulled out last night at a crucial moment against the Flames puts pressure on the English language to keep pace with new superlatives to describe his goals.

Crosby is of course a master of the redirect. Feed him the puck along the ice in a scoring area and he seldom has to do more than angle his stick to outwit all in charge of stopping him. But last night he took his mastery in this area to another level.

That level was above the shoulder of Flames goalie Brian Elliott and below the crossbar. Toss in the necessity of swatting a puck moving at him at the same time he was moving at it and you have the answer to the question “will his wonders never cease?”

The most mind-boggling thing about his effort is that he and Conor Sheary clearly had planned it. “Yeah Conor. Just fire the puck from the sideboards in the vicinity of my head as I move across the crease, and I’ll make sure to turn it around in mid-air and deposit it over the goaltender’s shoulder.”

It’s one thing to dream up such a preposterous scheme. It’s quite another to execute it with your team a goal down in the late stages of the third period.

Somewhere in the English language there might be a well-hidden word to do justice to this feat. But it will take the Sidney Crosby of sportswriters to know where to find it.

3/13/2017 vs. Calgary

MATT CULLEN, PENGUINS — NO STRETCH TO SAY THIS GOAL IS WELL-DESERVED

2017-03-15T03:35:39+00:00 February 15th, 2017|Exclude From Main Feed, Goal Box|

MATT CULLEN, Penguins
NO STRETCH TO SAY THIS GOAL IS WELL-DESERVED
  • Slide
  • Carom (Opponent’s Body)
  • Rebound (Own)
  • Side of Crease
  • Third Period

Matt Cullen of the Penguins skates on 40-year-old legs. And his goal-scoring production is only increasing.

Not in some freakish Barry Bonds way, of course. But Cullen’s 16 goals last year were his most since the 2008-09 season. And with nine in the current campaign, he might well post his second most prolific scoring season since that 22-goal year in Carolina.

How does he do it in an NHL that prizes youth? One answer might be revealed by this exceptional effort.

On a play which was destined to go offside, Cullen does a real-time calisthentic in the middle of a Pittsburgh rush. With Kris Letang a stride behind him but coming up fast as the two approach the Canucks zone, Cullen anchors his back skate to the blue line just long enough for his teammate to carry the puck into Vancouver’s end of the ice. It took a full stretch — while fully in motion no less — to keep the play alive.

Due to his extraordinary effort, Cullen momentarily lost his balance as the Penguins gained the zone. Eventually after Pittsburgh controlled the puck for a few seconds, Cullen made his way to the front of the Canucks goal. His first shot was stopped point blank by Ryan Miller, but Cullen’s reflexes apparently are remarkably well-preserved as well. With two Canucks enveloping him, he dislodged the puck from Troy Stecher’s skate and gained enough separation to get his stick on it.

The shot itself had some 40-year-old mustard on it, but little matter, all that work allowed for a simple tap and slide of the disc to push it across the goal line.

2/14/2017 vs. Vancouver.
Highlight available at NHL.com.