“We’re doing a lot of soft flips behind the defense and letting (Hagelin and Kessel) skate onto pucks,” Nick Bonino told Bill West of the Tribune-Review. “We’re trying to get them the puck coming over the blue line with some speed. If we can avoid dumps and chips, we do, but if not, then it’s got to be a smart dump to get it back.”
Carrying the puck in through the neutral zone is much more effective than dump-and-chase, so it is no surprise the Penguins are able to put shots on net while keeping their opponents from doing the same. But it’s the rate at which they are doing it that makes them one of the strongest Cup contenders in the postseason. After eliminating special teams and adjusting for score effects, the Penguins put the second-most shot attempts in their favor (53.2 percent), trailing only the Los Angeles Kings.
It isn’t solely about quantity this season — it’s about quality. Pittsburgh allows the sixth fewest high-danger scoring chances per 60 minutes (9.8), something that will help ease the pressure on backup netminders Matt Murray and Jeff Zatkoff. The lack of quality scoring chances by the opposition is also a testament to the defense’s ability to keep momentum in their favor without the services of blue-liner Olli Maatta.
But this Pittsburgh team plays offense, too. Captain Sidney Crosby, has 25 points in 19 games since the beginning of March, vaulting him into third place on the leader board. Forward Patric Hornqvist is third among skaters for even-strength high-danger chances created (109) and has goals in four straight. Along with Chris Kunitz, Crosby and Hornqvist fore the fifth highest-scoring forward trio in the league. Much-maligned Phil Kesseel five goals and 11 points in his past seven games and has seen 52.8 percent of even-strength shot attempts in his team’s favor when on the ice.
The oddsmakers in Vegas are impressed: the Penguins playoff odds give them an implied 21 percent chance at hoisting the Cup, higher than Washington (15 percent) and Dallas (9 percent).