Thoughts: Eastern Conference Quarterfinals Game 3 – Pens 4 Blue Jackets 3

Pens 4  Blue Jackets 3

Pens lead the series 2-1.

By: Meesh Shanmugam (@HockeyMeesh)

Orpik (1) from Bennett, Martin
Sutter (2) from Martin, Bennett
Stempniak (1) from Kunitz, Crosby
Jokinen (2) from Maatta, Malkin

Pens vs. Blue Jackets, first to 3 loses. (Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Pens vs. Blue Jackets, first to 3 loses. (Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Game 3 Leaders
Shots: Neal (7)
Missed Shots: Crosby (3)
Blocked Shots: Martin (4)
Hits: Kunitz (6)
Ice Time: Martin (28:34) … Vitale (7:11)
Faceoffs: Malkin (6/10) … Vitale (0/5)
CF% Rel: Crosby (+22.0%) … Sutter (-55.5%)
Team PP: 0 for 6
Team PK: 4 for 4

Series Leaders
Goals: Niskanen, Jokinen, Sutter, Gibbons (2)
Assists: Martin (6)
Points: Martin (6)
Shots: Neal (16)
Missed Shots: Crosby (6)
Blocked Shots: Martin (11)
Hits: Kunitz (13)
Ice Time/game: Martin (28:50) … Vitale (10:12)
Faceoffs: Sutter (26/51, 51%) … Crosby (36/79, 45.6%)
CF% Rel: Malkin (+12.7%) … Sutter (-24.1%)
Team PP: 3 for 17, 17.6% (2 SHG allowed)
Team PK: 11 for 14, 78.6% (1 SHG for)

Goal Assessments Through 3 Games

Goal Assessments Through 3 Games

Player Assessment

For once this season, Orpik could look at Niskanen and feel like the better player. (Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

For once this season, Orpik could look at Niskanen and feel like the better player. (Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

Brooks Orpik – Setting aside the first period of the first game, Orpik and defensive partner Paul Martin have really turned up their performances as the top pairing. Orpik had his best game in weeks and it wasn’t as a defensive defenseman either. I marked him down for three smart offensive zone pinches that kept the puck in the zone, which is something that the offensive guys don’t even do in a game. He added in a great long pass to Megna at the offensive blue line from the defensive zone that set the play in motion for Sutter’s goal. Of course, he also had the timely goal at the end of the second period that gave the Penguins a pulse. In the defensive end he was solid with two forced turnovers (one with a hit and one with a poke check). The only negative I marked him down for was a failed clear on the penalty kill. I wouldn’t expect another game like this from Orpik, but even a fraction of this performance is a big pick up for the Penguins.

Paul Martin – Martin was his usual good all-around self, but he did have some questionable moments in the defensive zone. He lost three physical puck battles in the defensive zone, and one of those was to a man with no stick, which was baffling. He was also beat to the outside badly on a last ditch effort by Brandon Dubinsky at the end of the third period. So, why is Martin in this section? Despite the mistakes, he still drew a hooking penalty, forced three turnovers with his poke check, had a big block on the penalty kill, and won two defensive zone puck battles. He also assisted on the Penguins’ first two goals via shot attempts from the point. Martin continues to be a big catalyst in the Penguins offense and his mistakes in the defensive end haven’t turned into any problems since the first period of the first game.

Evgeni Malkin – Malkin *only* recorded an assist, which is a *problem* if you subscribe to the “STARS MUST SCORE GOALS IMMEDIATELY” outlook that suddenly appeared out of nowhere. In reality though, Malkin had a solid game even without the assist. He had three takeaways (one in each zone), won an offensive zone puck battle on the powerplay, intercepted an offensive zone pass, and drew a slashing penalty as well. He also cut down his turnovers to only two, both deep in the offensive zone where clean breakouts could not occur. As I said in the last post, Malkin is very likely not 100% with his foot yet. This game was another step forward for him though and he certainly looked stronger than in either of the previous games. The best is yet to come with Geno.

Fleury went from a disaster to perfect with the...FLIP OF A SWITCH. (Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

Fleury went from a disaster to perfect with the…FLIP OF A SWITCH. (Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

Marc-Andre Fleury – To use a word that has rarely been used to describe Fleury, he was impressively resilient in Game 3. He was partially at fault for both of the Blue Jackets’ quick goals in the first period. On the first one, he let up an awfully big rebound to Jenner and couldn’t react quickly enough to his own mistake. On the second goal against, he misplayed a puck (actually missed it), allowing it to bounce to a prime scoring area in front of the crease. After two miscues and a timeout with a very angry Dan Bylsma, Fleury was flawless the rest of the way. He made a couple of big saves in the second period, had a clutch poke check in the third period, and also drew penalties for interference and unsportsmanlike conduct. The start was awful, but the rest of the game was perfect. That *should* put an end to any discussions about Fleury’s mental stability.

Beau Bennett – The first few shifts of Bennett’s game left a lot to be desired. He started on the first line, which lasted for all of 10 minutes before he was bumped down to the 3rd line. He passed up on two great shooting opportunities (part of the reason why he was bumped down I would guess), had two defensive zone giveaways, a neutral zone giveaway, and lost track of Jack Johnson on the second goal against. It was pretty much a horrible start for Bennett. He played much better on the third line though and he made it count with assists on the goals by Orpik and Sutter. His puck pursuit was fantastic in the third period and I’m sure it didn’t hurt on both goals that he had Paul Martin at the right point to back him up.

Chris Kunitz – Kunitz was visible in this game, which is a huge difference from the first two. He led the team with six hits, broke up two defensive zone passes, intercepted passes in the neutral and offensive zones, and also forced a turnover in the defensive zone with a poke check. He added in an assist on a perfect pass to Stempniak that was just out of the reach of the defense. For all of the good though, he still had several problems. He had a failed clear and also failed to help clears along the boards in the defensive zone an additional three times. He was also partially at fault for the second goal against as he wasn’t watching his man at all and then glided towards the puck in the corner as the play moved along. Finally, he had two offensive zone turnovers. This game was an improvement for Kunitz, but he can still be much better.

Jussi Jokinen – Jokinen struggled with the puck but was great without it. He had three offensive zone turnovers and two failed clears as he just kept giving it away. However, he also forced a neutral zone turnover, recorded a defensive zone takeaway, intercepted two offensive zone passes (one of which helped set up his game-winner), drew a holding penalty, and had a very clutch shot block at the end of the game that probably kept the game from going to overtime. Jokinen was also credited with the game-winner as he tipped the puck with his skate on its way to the front of the net.  He needs to be smarter with the puck (it seems like that for everyone), but at least he is doing everything right away from it.

Yes Matt, you're supposed to play defense still. (Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

Yes Matt, you’re supposed to play defense still despite your goals. (Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

Matt Niskanen – This has been an extremely infrequent occurrence, but I had absolutely nothing positive on Niskanen in Game 3. He was partially at fault for the first two goals against with less-than-attentive/lazy coverage on Jenner’s goal and bad coverage on Johnson’s goal. He also took an overly-aggressive cross-checking penalty and lost a defensive zone puck battle. Aside from that, Niskanen was pretty average, but those were very costly mistakes and he’s lucky the team rebounded from them in the end.

Rob Scuderi – Scuderi wasn’t as bad as he was in Game 2, but he still has work to do. On the positive side, he had a good neutral zone poke check that set everything in motion for the game-tying goal. On the other hand, he had two defensive zone turnovers, took an interference penalty, had a failed keep at the offensive zone blue line, and made an incredibly risky pass in front of Fleury that luckily didn’t turn into a goal. He was limited to 13:44 of ice time overall and only 1:06 (compare to Orpik’s 4:20, Maatta’s 1:20) on the penalty kill. As the true 6th defenseman, Scuderi’s job at this point is to just not make mistakes, which isn’t happening quite yet.

Misc. Thoughts

Vitale was the perfect spark plug when the Pens needed him the most. (Jay LaPrete/AP Photo)

Vitale was the perfect spark plug when the Pens needed him the most. (Jay LaPrete/AP Photo)

Other Player Notes – Joe Vitale only played 7:11 and went 0 for 5 in the faceoff circle, but he was a pivotal part of the final shift of the second period for Orpik’s goal. He didn’t figure into that goal, but he took an extended shift with Malkin’s line where he won two puck battles in the offensive zone and he continued to battle as the rest of the line changed leading up to the Orpik goal. He was a big momentum shifter for a solid minute there. Brandon Sutter was pretty much buried in defensive zone starts and also had three defensive zone turnovers, but he scored a goal! Finally, Sidney Crosby improved his play slightly but is still forcing too many passes and had three offensive zone giveaways.

Special Teams – The powerplay started with two defensemen at the points in the first period, switched back to the four forwards setup in the second period, and went back to two defensemen in the third period. The biggest thing I noticed with the two defensemen setup is that there was no traffic in front of the net. The Penguins kept the puck in the offensive zone well and took plenty of shots, but everything was a clean shot that Bobrovsky could see. It was basically a neutered powerplay. The umbrella setup with one defenseman made it much more difficult on Bobrovsky, though the powerplay still didn’t score. Switching back to the two defenseman setup in the third (after the Pens had a 4-3 lead) was smart and makes sense in trying to close down a game. Overall, I prefer the four forwards setup, especially against Bobrovsky. Changing it situationally is really the best way to go though. It was smart planning in the latter two periods at least.

Meanwhile, the penalty kill had a nice return to glory with a 4-for-4 night. Beware, I haven’t put the time into backing this statement up, but it appeared to me that the main penalty killing forwards spent a greater percentage of their playing time on the PK. Glass spent 2:37 of his 8:53 on the PK, Adams was 4:11 of 11:04, and even Sutter was 3:37 of 13:35. Theoretically, I wonder if the limited ice time elsewhere kept those forwards fresh and quick for their penalty killing shifts. Adams and Glass specifically looked impressively active covering the points on the final penalty kill in the third period. There was definitely a quickness, or perhaps a desire, that was lacking in Games 1 and 2. Columbus wasn’t able to set up clean point shots with time the same way they did in the first two games because of it. Perhaps that is the answer with Glass, Adams, and the PK. Limit them to a rare shift at even strength and let them go insane on the penalty kill.

Beating Bobrovsky – I’m still patiently waiting for Sergei Bobrovsky to outright steal a game and he hasn’t managed to do so yet. One big factor in this is the Penguins, when they’re scoring, are doing a great job of getting traffic in front of the net/are getting some lucky bounces in front as well. Of the 11 goals scored by the Penguins so far, 3 have been the result of deflections and another 3 have been the result of screens (the others are a breakaway, two clean shots from the right faceoff dot, and two clean shots from the slot). Keep getting traffic in front of Bobrovsky and he’ll never look like a Vezina winner.

Angry Bylsma was an amazing change of pace. (Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

Angry Bylsma was an amazing change of pace. (Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

Series Outlook – This is a mentally devastating loss for Columbus as they’ve now blown two 3-1 leads and could very well be up 3-0 in the series if they could finish their games. However, it’s still just a matter of perspective. I subscribe to the “it doesn’t matter until you lose a home game” theory in the playoffs as a roadmap. Columbus took over with a win in Pittsburgh, but it evened itself out with their loss at home. All they need to do is win the home game they are supposed to win to keep things on track for them. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh has yet again demonstrated what they are capable of but still hasn’t put together a complete 60-minute effort. The Penguins are in the driver’s seat of this series though and they have the talent to run away with this. The never-ending question is just can they put together a complete effort.

Fleeting Thoughts – I still don’t care that Crosby and Malkin have 0 goals in however long with however many linemates, etc. The inability of the team to allow less than three goals is a bigger issue to me. … In the rush to replace Rob Scuderi, don’t forget his replacements aren’t exactly great either. Bortuzzo had a bad stretch of games at the end of the season. Engelland is a better forward than defenseman. Despres was a mess at the end of the season and apparently is one in the AHL too right now. It is quite possible that limited-minutes Scuderi is the best option right now, even if no one wants to admit it. … Dan Bylsma looked like he was going to murder someone during that first period timeout. It looked so much like an “If you guys don’t effing get it together, none of us will have jobs tomorrow” type speech that you would see in a movie. Also, maybe there is something to that…

Goal Assessment

First Goal Against (Jenner)
Ryan Murray gets the puck in his own zone as all of the Blue Jackets’ forwards stagger themselves in the neutral zone for a long breakout. Murray passes the puck all the way up to the right side of the Penguins blue line for Ryan Johansen. Johansen enters the Penguins zone 1-on-1 against Olli Maatta and starts crossing towards the middle of the ice. He then drops the puck off as both Boone Jenner and Jack Skille follow on his wake into the right side of the Penguins zone. Johansen stays high in the zone and skates into Lee Stempniak’s coverage in the high slot. Meanwhile, Matt Niskanen is in the slot watching the play and Jayson Megna is trying to backcheck on Jenner and Skille. Skille picks up the puck that was dropped off as Maatta tries to square up on him. Skille takes a quick wrist shot from the top of the right faceoff circle as Maatta challenges him and Megna pursues him. As Skille shoots the puck, Jenner skates straight towards the net and is not picked up by Niskanen, who is still just watching the play from the slot. Fleury goes down to make the save with his pads and a rather big rebound comes right back out to Jenner at the inside corner of the right faceoff circle. Fleury gets up as the rebound gets to Jenner (completely uncovered) and Jenner just slides it through Fleury’s five hole before he can get back down again.
Players at fault for the first goal against: Niskanen (1), Fleury (1)

Second Goal Against (Johnson)
David Savard starts with the puck in his own zone and passes it up to Brandon Dubinsky exiting the zone. Dubinsky skates through the middle of the ice and enters the Penguins zone as four Penguins back up against three Blue Jackets entering the zone. Dubinsky cuts to the left boards between Evgeni Malkin and Matt Niskanen. He then tries to move through the left corner and behind the net as Niskanen stays with him. Dubinsky loses the puck behind the net as he gets tied up with Niskanen and both players go down to the ice. The puck moves to the right corner and David Savard skates down from the right point to get it before Chris Kunitz can get there. Meanwhile, Niskanen also went to the right corner for the puck, leaving Dubinsky open behind the net. Savard chips the puck back down around the boards to Dubinsky. Dubinsky gets the puck and starts moving towards the left corner below the goal line. He is pursued by Maatta and quickly turns to slide the puck towards the crease. Marc-Andre Fleury has his stick down along the ice and he attempts to push the puck back out to the corner, but he misses it. The puck slides under his arm and hits off of his right pad, rebounding out in front. At the same time, Beau Bennett loses track of Jack Johnson skating through the lower half of the left faceoff circle. Johnson is the first one to the loose puck in front and he shoots it past Fleury’s left pad into the far side of the net.
Players at fault for the second goal against: Kunitz (1), Niskanen (2), Fleury (2), Bennett (2)

First Goal For (Orpik)
Paul Martin gets the puck in the defensive zone and passes it up to Beau Bennett in the neutral zone. Bennett just dumps the puck into the offensive zone as Joe Vitale forechecks and chases it behind the net. Columbus wins the puck battle behind the net and David Savard skates away with the puck into the right corner of the zone. He tries to backhand the puck up the right side boards and the puck slides up to Paul Martin at the right point as Beau Bennett ran sneaky interference along the right side boards to keep Matt Calvert from getting to the puck or getting to Martin quickly. Calvert still gets up to Martin as Martin attempts a wrist shot. The shot glances off of Calvert’s leg and goes back down to Beau Bennett half way down the right side boards. Bennett skates down to the right corner and then passes the puck across the ice to Brooks Orpik at the top of the left faceoff circle. Orpik (a lefty) gets control of the puck, skates backwards into the high slot to avoid Cam Atkinson’s attempt at a block, and takes a wrist shot that beats Bobrovsky’s blocker.
Players contributing to the first goal for: Martin (5), Bennett (3), Orpik (2)

Goal: Orpik - By @JustPuckIt

Goal: Orpik – By @JustPuckIt

Third Goal Against (Atkinson)
Sergei Bobrovsky makes a save on Chris Kunitz and the rebound caroms out to the boards near Matt Calvert. Calvert pushes the puck forward as Sidney Crosby knocks him off of the puck and Brandon Dubinsky picks it up in the neutral zone, skating down the left side. Dubinsky and Cam Atkinson enter the Penguins zone on a 2-on-2 against Kris Letang and Olli Maatta. Dubinsky enters the left side of the zone and cuts to the middle in front of Letang as Atkinson continues towards the top of the crease behind Maatta. Letang moves laterally with Dubinsky and Dubinsky decides to take a backhand shot from the top half of the right faceoff circle. The shot is going wide of the net, but it bounces off of Cam Atkinson’s and into the net.
Players at fault for the third goal against: None

Second Goal For (Sutter)
Brooks Orpik chases down a puck in the Penguins zone and quick moves it up to Jayson Megna entering the left side of the Blue Jackets zone. Megna moves half way down the left side boards as Beau Bennett moves towards the net. Megna then passes the puck towards Bennett at the bottom of the left faceoff circle. Bennett tries to chip the puck on net, but it hits the side of the net and goes behind. He follows the puck though and picks it back up, skating through the right corner and halfway up the right side boards before passing it to Paul Martin at the right point. Martin quickly steps into a snapshot that is going wide of the net. The puck goes through the legs of James Wisniewski, then hits off of the shaft of Brandon Sutter’s stick next to the crease and is redirected over Bobrovsky’s glove into the net.
Players contributing to the second goal for: Orpik (3), Megna (1), Bennett (4), Martin (6), Sutter (3)

Goal: Sutter - By @JustPuckIt

Goal: Sutter – By @JustPuckIt

Third Goal For (Stempniak)
As Cam Atkinson exits the Blue Jackets zone with the puck, Rob Scuderi pokes it off of his stick and back into the Penguins zone. Kris Letang retrieves it in the corner and knocks it up the boards to Sidney Crosby, who throws it across the ice into open space for Lee Stempniak. Stempniak skates up the right side into the neutral zone and passes the puck to Chris Kunitz in front of the Blue Jackets blue line. Kunitz enters the offensive zone and quickly pulls up at the right point as Stempniak skates past his man (Dubinsky) in front of Kunitz and Letang skates past his man (Calvert) along the left side of the zone. Kunitz passes the puck up to Stempniak at the top of the right faceoff circle to create an immediate 2-on-1 with Letang against David Savard. Savard goes down to take away the passing lane and Stempniak takes a wrist shot from the right faceoff dot that beats Bobrovsky’s glove.
Players contributing to the third goal for: Scuderi (1), Letang (1), Crosby (4), Kunitz (3), Stempniak (1)

Goal: Stempniak - By @JustPuckIt

Goal: Stempniak – By @JustPuckIt

Fourth Goal For (Jokinen)
In the Blue Jackets zone, RJ Umberger gets the puck halfway along the right side boards and softly passes it towards the middle for a breakout with Artem Anisimov. Jussi Jokinen cuts off the pass though and moves the puck down to the right corner for Evgeni Malkin. Malkin passes the puck behind the net for James Neal, and then Malkin continues to skate behind the net and takes the puck from Neal. Malkin moves into the left corner and passes the puck up to Olli Maatta at the left point as Neal moves to the front of the net. Maatta takes a shot from the point that hits off of Jussi Jokinen’s skate at the inside edge of the left faceoff circle, then off of James Wisniewski’s torso in front of the crease and goes into the net.
Players contributing to the fourth goal for: Neal (1), Malkin (3), Maatta (3), Jokinen (3)

Goal: Jokinen - By @JustPuckIt

Goal: Jokinen – By @JustPuckIt

Penalty Assessment

Niskanen (cross-checking): Bad, shoves RJ Umberger [too forcefully] down from behind as Umberger is playing the puck in the defensive zone.
Scuderi (interference): Bad, starts backing up against RJ Umberger after the Penguins win a defensive zone faceoff and then abruptly stops to impede Umberger from getting to the puck in the corner.
Neal (boarding): Bad-Stupid, skates next to James Wisniewski towards the left side boards in the offensive zone as they both move to help Crosby and MacKenzie in a puck battle. Neal loses the inside lane to Wisniewski and then shoves him in the back of the shoulder into the boards.
Letang (hooking): Bad-Lazy, gets his stick into Boone Jenner’s hands very slightly in the defensive zone and also doesn’t move his feet, leading to an easier hooking call to make.

Next Game: Wednesday, 4/23, Game 4 @ Columbus, 7pm
Pens lead the series 2-1.

Thanks for reading!