Thoughts: Eastern Conference Quarterfinals Game 2 – Blue Jackets 4 Pens 3 (2OT)

Blue Jackets 4  Pens 3 (2OT)

Series tied at 1.

By: Meesh Shanmugam (@HockeyMeesh)

Goals
Gibbons (1) from Niskanen, Crosby
Gibbons (2) (SH) from Martin, Orpik
Niskanen (2) (PP) from Martin, Crosby

Why didn't you keep him safe, Sutter?!? (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Why didn’t you keep him safe, Sutter?!? (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Game 2 Leaders
Shots: Neal (7)
Missed Shots: Letang, Martin (3)
Blocked Shots: Martin (5)
Hits: Vitale (8)
Ice Time: Martin (34:07) … Gibbons (2:26*) *Injured
Faceoffs: Sutter (10/19) … Malkin (5/14)
CF% Rel: Niskanen (+19.0%) … Letang (-31.6%)
Team PP: 1 for 8 (1 SHG allowed)
Team PK: 4 for 6

Series Leaders
Goals: Gibbons, Niskanen (2)
Assists: Martin (4)
Points: Niskanen, Martin (4)
Shots: Neal, Malkin (9)
Missed Shots: Letang, Niskanen (4)
Blocked Shots: Martin (7)
Hits: Vitale (9)
Ice Time/game: Martin (28:59) … Gibbons (7:05*) *injured
Faceoffs: Sutter (19/36, 52.8%) … Malkin (13/29, 44.8%)
CF% Rel: Niskanen (+12.5%) … Letang (-20%)
Team PP: 3 for 11, 27.3% (2 SHG allowed)
Team PK: 7 for 10, 70% (1 SHG for)

Player Assessment

Good
The offense goes through Martin and Niskanen. That's not good. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

The offense goes through Martin and Niskanen. That’s not good. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Paul Martin – Martin was effective all over the ice as he led the team with 34:07 of ice time. He drew three penalties (roughing, tripping, boarding), recorded two assists, had two shot blocks in the slot, broke up two passes on the penalty kill, and prevented two zone entries using his poke check. He was not without fault though as he took a high-sticking penalty in overtime, had a bad step up (that he recovered on), and was stripped of the puck in the neutral zone (covered up for by Orpik). His mistakes were dwarfed by how much he contributed though as he gave the Penguins plenty of chances to run away with the game.

Matt Niskanen – Niskanen continued to play like a number one defenseman as he recorded a goal and an assist to lead the Penguins offense again. He also won a defensive zone puck battle and played solid 1-on-1 defense as he and Maatta displayed great chemistry and communication in dealing with zone entries and breakouts. His only mistake was a terrible defensive zone giveaway on the penalty kill that luckily did not hurt the Pens.

Marc-Andre Fleury – Despite allowing four goals, Fleury came up big several times in making 41 saves on 45 shots. His defensemen frequently struggled to clear out rebounds, forcing him to make three sets of quick back-to-back saves in the second period, another set in the third period on the penalty kill, and another set in overtime. As for the goals he allowed, the first one was a slapshot by Ryan Johansen on the powerplay that moved so fast that even though Fleury reacted properly, he couldn’t kick out his pad quick enough to stop it. The second goal against was a shorthanded 3-on-1 as Calvert didn’t even look at the net until after he was already shooting the puck. The third was another powerplay goal, this time with Fleury not even seeing the puck move laterally as he was screened by Dubinsky and Scuderi. Finally, the overtime winner had Fleury making a save on a one-timer, followed by a rebound save, followed by another attempt by Calvert that he just had no hope of stopping. Just imagine what Fleury could do with a little help.

Brian Gibbons – Though he only played 2:26 before leaving the game with an injury, Brian Gibbons scored two goals (one shorthanded) and forced a turnover in the defensive zone with a poke check in his limited time. He did also turn the puck over once in the offensive zone. If you extrapolate this, Brian Gibbons could have won the Conn Smythe last night. Seriously though, Gibbons was great on his five shifts before exiting the game.

Noteworthy

Brooks Orpik – Orpik had an issue here and there, but he was generally good with Paul Martin throughout the night. His mistakes included a failed clear, missing a puck at the offensive zone blue line, and also losing a puck battle (a reach for the puck) to Ryan Johansen on the third goal against as the Penguins were on the penalty kill. On the good side though, he had two defensive zone takeaways, played good 1-on-1 defense to cover up for Martin losing the puck, had a good pinch in the offensive zone, drew an interference penalty, and won a race to the puck on the penalty kill against Artem Anisimov to gain puck possession for the shorthanded goal by Gibbons. Overall, it was a decent game for Orpik.

Let's give the Art Ross winner a bigger sample size than two games. (Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Let’s give the Art Ross winner a bigger sample size than two games. (Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Sidney Crosby – Sidney Crosby is getting a lot of flak for not scoring goals, which is deserved, but he is still contributing to some degree. Crosby drew a holding penalty, recorded two assists, forced two defensive zone turnovers on the backcheck, and also forced another turnover in the neutral zone with a poke check. To balance some of that out though, Crosby also had three offensive zone giveaways, a neutral zone turnover, and a failed clearing attempt. Despite having four shots, Crosby still needs to take advantage of his shooting opportunities over forcing a bad pass. Also, his 12/32 faceoff performance was just horrendous.

Chris Kunitz – Chris Kunitz has been less involved with the play around the puck than we have grown accustomed to, but he still factored into the game. He was involved in the first goal as he moved the puck up to Sidney Crosby entering the offensive zone to set that play in motion. He also helped out on the third goal as he screened Bobrovsky so perfectly that Bobrovsky didn’t even move for Niskanen’s shot. On the downside though, he took a foolish roughing penalty at the end of the first period, had two turnovers in the neutral zone, and a failed clear in the defensive zone. His forecheck and hitting in general has been quiet, and that is something that needs to change badly to make the first line a bit more explosive.

Bad
I refuse to believe Malkin is up to speed yet. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

I refuse to believe Malkin is up to speed yet. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Evgeni Malkin – Another center that struggled in the faceoff circle was Malkin, who went 5 for 14. Unfortunately, Malkin also struggled everywhere else too. He had five offensive zone turnovers, including three on the powerplay. One of those powerplay turnovers turned into a 3-on-1 shorthanded goal going the other way. He also had a failed clear in the defensive zone. Malkin is putting the puck on net (five shots), but he seems to be lacking his normal burst. A reminder is required here. Malkin returned from a fractured foot in Game 1, not even getting the chance to get back to his normal pace in the regular season. I daresay Malkin not being great should have been expected based on that, but bad puck possession is still bad.

Kris Letang – Meanwhile, a player who did have some warm-up games in the regular season is looking even worse. Letang followed up a bad Game 1 by saying the right things and “handling” his temporary benching well. He then put on another bad performance in Game 2. He had two defensive zone giveaways, two neutral zone turnovers, a bad step up that left Scuderi with a 2-on-1 to defend, an interference penalty, and a bad read/decision on the 4th goal against as he left his side of the zone and left Calvert wide open. On the plus side…I marked him down for a good offensive zone keep at the blue line. After Game 1, I suggested that perhaps Letang is trying too hard. I saw nothing that changed my mind in Game 2. He is still trying to force passes, make defensive plays he doesn’t need to, and trying to look like an all-star. Until he accepts that he needs to just make plays within the system and take the simple/easy options, he is going to have several rollercoaster performances.

Rob Scuderi – Letang’s defensive partner didn’t get involved in quite as many bad plays, but his were more costly. Scuderi did draw a cross-checking penalty at least. He also took a tripping penalty and was partially at fault for both the 3rd and 4th goals against though. On both goals against, he dropped to a knee and reached out with his stick, which is becoming a trademark problem for him. On the 3rd goal against, he reached out trying to poke check a puck in the slot. He was already having issues with Dubinsky in front of the net (ie – not engaging him in front of Fleury), and he slid away from the play as he couldn’t get the puck before Ryan Johansen. On the 4th goal against, he dropped to a knee to cover the passing lane from behind the net to Cam Atkinson. He wasn’t able to stop the pass and then he wasn’t able to recover as Fleury had two more rebounds to deal with from in front. Scuderi has already had plenty of issues with his recovery abilities, but his familiar technique hurt his cause very badly in Game 2.

Misc. Thoughts

Adams needs to pull his weight better or leave the lineup. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Adams needs to pull his weight better or leave the lineup. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Other Player NotesBrandon Sutter had a solid game, breaking up two passes in the defensive zone and earning two takeaways in the offensive zone. He was one of the only players who looked ready to skate on every shift all night. Jussi Jokinen had a dismal night with two failed clears and a neutral zone turnover. He was also partially at fault on the 4th goal against as he was tripped and then didn’t make the swiftest effort at recovering on the play. James Neal supported the puck well in the neutral and offensive zones, but he turned the puck over twice and also was partially at fault for the 2nd goal against. Finally, Craig Adams started the game really well by drawing a slashing penalty and forcing two turnovers in the offensive zone. It all went awry though as he ended up with three neutral zone turnovers, a failed clear, and a high-sticking penalty as well.

Powerplay – Not only did the powerplay only go 1-for-8, but they also allowed ANOTHER shorthanded goal to throw away any benefit they had. The powerplay looked lethargic, effortless, and bored at times. There was very little energy to it and there was no urgency. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin each played 11:10 on the powerplay, which you can safely assume included several extended shifts and thus a fair share of worthless PP time. If I was to make my ideal first powerplay right now: Niskanen at the blue line, Malkin at right half boards, Kunitz in front of the net, Neal roaming around the slot, and Crosby roaming around everywhere as he wishes without a position. Create movement and give Niskanen what he has earned. Letang and Malkin have both botched pucks at the left side already, so I have no urge to see them there with how either is playing. Allowing the shorthanded goals in this series is bad, but I actually view the 1-for-8 worse.

Another problem with the powerplay is how they did not adjust to the fact that Columbus did adjust. Columbus increased their aggressiveness at the blue line significantly, even having four guys in the neutral zone at times to slow down the Penguins attempt at a zone entry. The Penguins made no move to dump the puck in behind the Blue Jackets and chase after it (perhaps because they were skating so slow they would have lost those races). They continued to try to push the puck to the middle to enter the zone and pass it off to the sides. The Blue Jackets had no reason to back off as they knew the Penguins would not dump the puck in. The powerplays largely just played right into it. In fact, the powerplay goal that the Penguins scored was despite the fact that Kunitz passed the puck right into Matt Calvert’s skates on a zone entry in the middle of the ice.

How many of these pictures is Rob Scuderi in? (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

How many of these pictures is Rob Scuderi in? (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Penalty Kill – Meanwhile, the PK is anything but aggressive. Leaving a man in front of the net to screen Fleury is still a bad strategy. In fact, it’s been a bad strategy the whole season despite what the numbers have shown us. Going back into the preseason, I mentioned the crease issue after three of the six games. So what has changed? For one, the forwards are frequently looking a step slow in getting to the points or blocking those shooting lanes from the blue line. Pascal Dupuis was a big loss in this area and one that was never replaced. Then, add in that defensemen are repeatedly losing puck battles in the slot/crease as they are giving up positioning to stay in front of opposing forwards. If a shot doesn’t get to the net (blocked at the point, missed shot, blocked by the “crease” defensemen), it’s not a huge issue. If the shot gets to the net, there’s a strong chance Fleury isn’t seeing it or is dealing with a rebound very quickly with no help. It’s a problem of several layers, but it starts with the forwards giving up clean, high-percentage shooting lanes from high in the zone.

Outworked – The most disappointing thing about this game was that Columbus won most puck races, most puck battles, and looked like they wanted the game more, especially after the first period. Paul Martin spoke on Sunday about the team lacking desperation. This is an issue before desperation though. Columbus didn’t outwork the Penguins out of desperation; they outworked them out of desire. The Blue Jackets wanted the puck at all times, wanted to chip and chase at all times, and they put their heart and soul into getting loose pucks. Meanwhile, the Penguins put their heart and soul into doing things while they had the puck, but didn’t chase with the same desire. Basically, Columbus forced things to happen. Pittsburgh was willing to make things happen when they had the puck, but they seemed more interested in seeing if Columbus would get it and give it up if it was a loose puck. All it takes is a split-second decision to win or lose a puck race. Columbus never hesitated; Pittsburgh usually did.  Columbus looked like  a team with nothing to lose.  Pittsburgh looked like a team that was very afraid of making the wrong mistake/pinch/chase that would lead to a loss.  We saw how that turned out.

This man can still change the series. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

This man can still change the series. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Series Outlook – The series outlook changes depending on how you viewed the series going into it. I had the Penguins winning in 6 (losing Games 2 and 5), so the loss is expected. Despite that, I would have expected Bobrovsky to steal a game, not for Columbus to outplay the Pens. Regardless, most people did not expect a sweep, but the Penguins gave up home ice advantage with this loss. The Penguins will hit the road (their home on the road?) with a renewed focus due to the loss and the generally simplified efforts that many teams use in road playoff games. I will be downright shocked if the Penguins get outworked in Game 3, but Bobrovsky is still a threat to steal a game.

Fleeting Thoughts – I’m not ready to call out the Penguins’ top stars quite yet. Crosby is contributing, just not at the level everyone demands right now after a loss. Malkin is in the midst of an injury return. I would certainly like to see more out of Kunitz (just getting involved) and Letang (keeping it simple) though. … Matt Niskanen’s next contract was a hot topic during Game 2 as he scored again. Here’s a thought to ponder. If the Penguins do flame out, and a coaching change is made, what would Matt Niskanen be like under a new coach? Does he fit exceptionally well under Bylsma specifically? These are some things to consider when talking about his contract and just how good he is right now. … The Penguins were struggling in the faceoff circle, but where was the Neal faceoff play, especially in overtime? In a “one shot can win the game” scenario, that seems like something to draw up at every single opportunity. I only saw it once in extra time.

Goal Assessment

First Goal For (Gibbons)
Olli Maatta picks up the puck behind the Penguins net and wraps it around the boards. Chris Kunitz comes back into the zone and picks up the puck along the left side boards as Sidney Crosby and Brian Gibbons break out of the zone. Kunitz moves the puck up the boards to Crosby at center ice and Crosby skates it into the Blue Jackets zone. Crosby loses control of the puck for a second but picks it back up as he goes behind the Blue Jackets net. He gets around Ryan Murray and carries the puck to the right corner of the zone before passing it up to Matt Niskanen at the right point while Brian Gibbons goes to the front of the net. Niskanen quickly takes a wrist shot towards the net that is going wide, but Gibbons deflects it in front of the crease and it goes past Bobrovsky’s right shoulder into the net.
Players contributing to the first goal for: Maatta (2), Kunitz (1), Crosby (2), Niskanen (4), Gibbons (1)

Goal: Gibbons (1) - By @JustPuckIt

Goal: Gibbons (1) – By @JustPuckIt

Second Goal For (Gibbons)
On the penalty kill, Brooks Orpik beats Artem Anisimov to a loose puck in the corner and taps it to Paul Martin below the goal line. Martin gets control of the puck and tries to wrist it out of the zone. He sends the puck towards James Wisniewski at the point, but Wisniewski can’t handle it and the puck jumps up into the air in the neutral zone as Brian Gibbons presses into the neutral zone to track it down. Gibbons skates past Wisniewski and picks up the puck just outside of the Blue Jackets zone, entering the zone with a partial breakaway from the left side. Gibbons easily stays ahead of Wisniewski, moves the puck to his backhand in the slot, then back to his forehand before sliding it through Bobrovsky’s five hole.
Players contributing to the second goal: Orpik (1), Martin (3), Gibbons (2)

Goal: Gibbons (2) - By @JustPuckIt

Goal: Gibbons (2) – By @JustPuckIt

First Goal Against (Johansen)
Joe Vitale is in the penalty box for goalie interference. David Savard takes a slapshot from the left point that rings off of the post and caroms to the right side boards in the Penguins zone. Ryan Johansen retrieves it and quickly throws it across the ice to the left faceoff circle, where Ryan Murray can’t handle the pass. Craig Adams moves to pressure Murray and Tanner Glass (overcompensating slightly) moves across the ice to back up Adams. Murray recovers the puck along the left side boards though and moves it back up to Savard at the left point. Savard considers a wrist shot, which freezes Tanner Glass in the shooting lane and leaves both Adams and Glass covering the left point. Savard then passes the puck to the right point for Johansen, who has time and space as Glass has no chance of getting back to him quickly. Johansen pushes the puck forward to the top of the right circle and steps into a hard slapshot that beats Fleury past his right pad.
Players at fault for the first goal against: Vitale (1), Glass (1)

Third Goal For (Niskanen)
On the powerplay, Chris Kunitz enters the offensive zone and tries to pass the puck to the right side. The puck hits Matt Calvert’s skate though and sits loose in the zone. Matt Niskanen follows up the play and picks up the loose puck, spinning as he passes it to the left side boards. Sidney Crosby, who had been deeper in the zone, skates along the boards to retrieve the puck and then backhands a pass across the ice. Paul Martin steps up from the middle of the blue line to get the puck, drawing Matt Calvert to him. Martin can’t handle the pass though and it slides to the right point for Niskanen, who now has time and space with Calvert out of position. Niskanen takes one stride forward and steps into a slapshot that goes past a screen by Chris Kunitz and past Bobrovsky’s right shoulder without even a save attempt.
Players contributing to the third goal for: Crosby (3), Martin (4), Kunitz (2), Niskanen (5)

Goal: Ni$kanen - By @JustPuckIt

Goal: Ni$kanen – By @JustPuckIt

Second Goal Against (Calvert)
On the powerplay, Evgeni Malkin loses the puck in the offensive zone along the boards. David Savard steps on him to keep the puck out of his possession and then Savard chips it up the boards to Artem Anisimov. Anisimov can’t control the puck, but he pokes it forward for Matt Calvert, who is exiting the Blue Jackets zone. Meanwhile, James Neal loses his balance and falls next to Anisimov, taking himself out of the play. Calvert skates down the right side of the neutral zone as Matt Niskanen backs up towards the defensive zone. Meanwhile, Anisimov is skating down the middle as he is hooked by James Neal, who can’t catch up, and Jack Johnson is entering the zone on Anisimov’s left, creating a 3-on-1 against Niskanen. Niskanen tries hopelessly to watch all of the passing lanes as Calvert moves towards the middle. Calvert skates to the inside of the right faceoff dot and stares across the slot at his passing options even as he starts taking a wrist shot, finally looking to the net as he releases the shot and beats Fleury’s glove.
Players at fault for the second goal against: Malkin (1), Neal (1)

Third Goal Against (Johnson)
Kris Letang is in the penalty box for interference. Marc-Andre Fleury makes a blocker save and the puck caroms to the left side boards, where it is picked up by Ryan Johansen and carried to the left corner. Johansen then turns and passes the puck to James Wisniewski at the left point. Wisniewski moves the puck back to Johansen, who is curling around the top of the left faceoff circle. Brooks Orpik steps up on him, forcing him to release the puck towards the high slot for Boone Jenner. Brandon Sutter gets a stick on the puck so Jenner can’t shoot it and it slides forward into the slot. Johansen then outreaches Orpik for the loose puck and also gets to it before Scuderi, who reached out for an all-or-nothing poke check from the crease. Johansen swats the puck to the right for Jack Johnson below the right faceoff dot and Johnson one-times it into the net. Meanwhile, Fleury never saw the puck go to Johnson as Scuderi and Brandon Dubinsky formed a complete screen on the crease.
Players at fault for the third goal against: Letang (2), Orpik (3), Scuderi (2)

Fourth Goal Against (Calvert)
Blake Comeau picks up a loose puck in the neutral zone and skates it back into the defensive zone, passing it over to Ryan Murray. Murray passes the puck up the left side boards to Matt Calvert at the Penguins blue line. Calvert enters the Penguins zone and is kept to the outside/forced to the left corner by Kris Letang. Calvert moves the puck below the goal line for Brandon Dubinsky, who outmuscles Jussi Jokinen to get positioning and then sneakily trips Jokinen with his skate to take Jokinen down. Dubinsky skates behind the net with the puck and passes it through Rob Scuderi, who dropped to one knee and slid out for the pass while taking himself out of the play, for Cam Atkinson in the slot. Atkinson takes a one-timer, which is stopped by Fleury. The rebound comes out to the left for Matt Calvert, who is uncovered because both Letang and Lee Stempniak moved towards Atkinson as he was taking the one-timer. Calvert takes a shot that is stopped by Fleury as Jokinen gets up and just watches the play from below the goal line. This rebound comes back out to Calvert, who is still uncovered as Scuderi, Letang, and Stempniak are all moving away from him and Jokinen isn’t moving at all. Calvert takes his own rebound and lifts it over the outstretched right pad of Fleury.
Players at fault for the fourth goal against: Scuderi (3), Letang (3), Stempniak (1), Jokinen (1)

Penalty Assessment

Vitale (goalie interference): Bad-Stupid, tries to skate through the crease in between Bobrovsky and the net, knocking over Bobrovsky, who is trying to get to the post.
Kunitz (roughing): Bad-Stupid, smacks Matt Calvert in the side of the head after the horn blows to end the first period.
Adams (high-sticking): Bad-Careless, jostles with David Savard near the Blue Jackets’ crease and gets his stick under the chin of Bobrovsky, knocking his mask off.
Scuderi (tripping): Bad, gets beat to the outside by Brandon Dubinsky and hits Dubinsky’s left leg with his stick as he falls, knocking Dubinsky off balance as well.
Letang (interference): Bad, steps up to hit Matt Calvert in the defensive zone after Calvert passed the puck back to the point. It’s a penalty by the book, but the play is extremely close and let go more often than not, so not Bad-Stupid.
Martin (high-sticking): Bad-Careless, tries to hook up Ryan Johansen in the defensive zone and gets his stick into the face of Johansen.

Next Game: Monday, 4/21, Game 3 @ Columbus, 7pm
Series tied at 1.

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