Penguins Thoughts, Headshots, and Ian Cole?

Penguins Thoughts, Headshots, and Ian Cole?

Jake Guentzel scored eight goals in seven games for the Pittsburgh Penguins during Round 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Their stay in the postseason ended abruptly when the New York Rangers rallied from a 3-1 deficit in that series by winning three games in a row, however, and no fewer than 92 forwards around the league have gone on to appear in more games this spring than Guentzel did.

Only eight of them, however, have managed to put up more goals through three rounds as Guentzel did in one.

That group: Evander Kane, Nathan MacKinnon, Zach Hyman, Connor McDavid, Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Steven Stamkos and David Perron.

Stamkos, by the way, had to score both of Tampa Bay’s goals in its series-clinching, 2-1 victory against New York Saturday to join that group.

*** One can’t help but wonder how Partisan Rangers would react if, say, Adam Fox or Artemi Panarin absorbed the kind of head shot that seemed to be Jacob Trouba’s specialty this spring.

Trouba is a solid, second-pairing defenseman for whom physicality is an integral part of his game — and value — but he got most of his attention during the playoffs for launching elbows at and/or into the skulls of Sidney Crosby, Max Domi, Seth Jarvis and Ondrej Palat.

The hit that knocked Crosby out of the second half of Game 5 and all of Game 6 saved New York’s season — the Penguins had a 3-1 lead in the series and 2-0 lead in the game when Trouba dropped him — and teammates not only defended what he did to those opponents, which was to be expected, but praised the positive impact the blows had on the club.

Trouba diversified his portfolio Saturday, when he felled Tampa winger Corey Perry with a crushing, but totally legal, hit. Or at least it would have been if Perry had the puck when Trouba hit him.

Which he didn’t.

Not that referees Chris Rooney and Jean Hebert figured that detail was worth considering, since neither bothered calling what was a textbook interference infraction.

Trouba apologists like to say that his head-high hits obviously were okay because they weren’t penalized. Given the state of officiating in the NHL, that’s a lot like saying an armed robbery wasn’t a crime because Barney Fife didn’t make an arrest.

*** Although he wouldn’t be one of the bigger names on the free-agent market this summer, it will be interesting to see where former Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Ian Cole lands if he doesn’t re-sign with Carolina.

Cole had a one-year deal worth $2.9 million with the Hurricanes and played the kind of solid defensive game that has been the hallmark of his career, but is 33 and, because of the way he plays, has a lot of hard miles on him .

Nevertheless, if a contender has some salary-cap space and a need for a veteran defensive presence on the left side, he might be an intriguing option.

*** The most amazing statistic to come out of the first three rounds of these playoffs? How about Alex Killorn, who entered the postseason with 34 goals in 111 career postseason appearances, failing to score even once in 17 games?

The runner-up: Lightning winger Pat Maroon has been on the winning team in 15 consecutive series. The first four came with St. Louis in 2019, the other 11 in Tampa.

*** McDavid and Leon Draisaitl of Edmonton are the Nos. 1 and 2 scorers in these playoffs, with 33 and 32 points, respectively, and give the Oilers a 1-2 punch with few, if any, equals in the NHL.

That Edmonton has won just three playoff series (two of them this year) and failed to qualify for postseason play three other times during the seven seasons those two have been together underscores the importance of having capable role players and overall depth to complement even the most gifted core players.

The importance of assembling a strong supporting cast presumably is not lost on anyone who recalls that it took Mario Lemieux five seasons to simply make it into the playoffs, even though he was kind of good at his job.

*** It wasn’t immediately evident when Tampa Bay lost Games 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference final, but the time off the Lightning had after sweeping Florida in the previous round could turn out to be a major factor if they end up winning their third consecutive Cup.

As the Penguins showed in 2010 and 2018, teams that had been to the Cup final in the previous two seasons tend to have all of those high-stakes games and shortened offseasons catch up with them in the third year.

However, because Tampa Bay didn’t have a game between May 23 and June 1, the Lightning had a rare opportunity to rest, recover and replenish their energy reserves. which figure to be taxed severely during their upcoming best-of-seven against the Avalanche.

*** Fox won the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s top defenseman a year ago, and Colorado’s Cale Makar is a heavy favorite to receive it in 2021-22. Both burnished their already-stellar reputations during these playoffs and, given that neither figures to be in his prime for at least a few more seasons, they should be able to continue to elevate their games.

Which has to be a truly troubling prospect for the players and coaches who will have to contend with them for the next decade or so.

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