How Did The Pittsburgh Penguins Power Play Hurt The Dallas Stars?
Patric Hornqvist is the luckiest man in the world.
The Dallas Stars ripped out the still beating heart of Sidney Crosby last Thursday by the score of 3-2, but the Penguins scared the hell out of them early in the game on the power play. This wasn't a case of the Stars being a bad penalty killing team (Saturday notwithstanding). The Penguins power play was legitimately "there-is-nothing-you-can-do-oh-my-god-what-is-happening" scary.
The power play features the aforementioned Crosby in the faceoff dot. Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin on the points initially. Chris Kunitz is planted in front of the net. Satan himself Patric Hornqvist is firmly entrenched in the slot.
The key player to the entire power play was the seemingly completely covered Patric Hornqvist. He looks covered. The Stars, and really any penalty killing unit, have good positioning on Hornqvist by default. He's parked in the middle of their formation, but the mere fact that he is there caused all sorts of problems for the Stars.
The Penguins can use Hornqvist in a couple of ways. Either Letang or Malkin can fire a shot from the point looking for a high tip from Hornqvist which can then be screened again by Kunitz. If either Letang or Malkin are able to successfully pass the puck to Hornqvist, a realistic possibility given their passing abilities, they create a treacherous situation for any opposing penalty kill. If Hornqvist can quickly move the puck (he can) he has two of the best players in the world available on the wings to make a quick play.
When the puck gets to Crosby or Hornqvist, Malkin rotates down from his point position to be in the opposite face off circle from Crosby.
We always wonder how the best players in the world can "get lost" during games then pop up to score goals. This is how. When the puck goes inside for Hornqvist the attention of the penalty killers is directed his way. He is a talented scorer in the slot with the puck. Logic dictates that this is bad, but it gets worse when the focus goes to him at the expense of forgetting where Malkin has gone.
Hornqvist, for his part, demonstrated an ability to move the puck quickly when it got to him and it ate the Stars lunch.
So let's look at what this actually looked like in the game. This is in the beginning of the rotation of Malkin down low. Crosby is so far away from the puck that you can barely see his head at the bottom before he moves down low.
What the Penguins were able to successfully do was set up a series of two on one battles. The first one is here as Letang and Malkin eye the right forward penalty killer who appears to be Antoine Roussel. Roussel is fronting Letang, and completely ignoring Malkin. His stick is in position to block a pass inside to Hornqvist. A simple pass to Malkin is going to push the play almost on top of Kari Lehtonen when Malkin receives the puck and makes a move towards the net.
The Penguins got sneaky with how they went about their business too. The next two images are from the same quick bang-bang play. Malkin played the puck near the blue line, and made virtually no move toward the net. He isn't much of a threat to do anything from where he is on the ice, but the Stars forward (probably Ryan Garbutt) engages regardless. You can see Hornqvist drifting into the slot behind him.
Predictably, Malkin got the puck to Hornqvist.
Hornqvist taps the puck through to Kunitz who puts a quality chance on net.
Hornqvist and Kunitz connected on another chance later in the same power play too. Once again off a shot from the point Hornqvist causes chaos in front by tipping the puck on net. This time it leads to a big rebound.
Kunitz swoops in to bury it. You can see in the images that (I think) Alex Goligoski is fixated on Hornqvist. Kunitz slips in untouched for a pretty easy goal.
The Penguins power play is loaded with talent, but the focal point against the Stars was Hornqvist. He's a very good player, but he obviously isn't as good as Malkin or Crosby. What this achieves is that when the Penguins get the puck to him the focus of the Stars penalty killers shifts away from 71 and 87. They're able to get lost in the crowd to jump back in when the opportunity is ripe for a goal.
If this unit is able to keep doing this all year they're going to cause headaches in the Eastern Conference. Fortunately the Stars only have to deal with the Penguins one more time this season because that was very difficult to watch. I don't really know what the Stars could have done short of assaulting Hornqvist to stop the Penguins extra man attack. Thankfully we won't have to find out until March.
Thank you Hockey Dood app for your sweet play diagramming abilities)