Thoughts: Eastern Conference Quarterfinals Game 5 – Pens 3 Blue Jackets 1

Pens 3  Blue Jackets 1

Pens lead series 3-2.

By: Meesh Shanmugam (@HockeyMeesh)

Kunitz (2) (PP) from Crosby, Niskanen
Jokinen (3) from Sutter, Stempniak
Letang (1) (EN) from Adams, Kunitz

Team offense...check.  Team defense...check.  Team goalie??? (Credit: @sd_chut)

Team offense…check. Team defense…check. Team goaltending??? (Credit: @sd_chut)

Game 5 Leaders
Shots: Kunitz (7)
Missed Shots: Crosby (5)
Blocked Shots: Bortuzzo, Glass, Letang (2)
Hits: Kunitz (6)
Ice Time: Martin (24:41) … Glass (8:07)
Faceoffs: Vitale (7/10) … Goc (5/11)
CF% Rel: Stempniak (+21.8%) … Glass (-48.0%)
Team PP: 1 for 4
Team PK: 1 for 2

Series Leaders
Goals: Jokinen (3)
Assists: Martin (8)
Points: Martin (8)
Shots: Kunitz, Neal (21)
Missed Shots: Crosby (14)
Blocked Shots: Martin (16)
Hits: Kunitz (22)
Ice Time/game: Martin (27:16) … Glass (10:21)
Faceoffs: Sutter (41/81, 50.6%) … Malkin (23/54, 42.6%)
CF% Rel: Crosby (+8.9%) … Scuderi (-13.5%)
Team PP: 5 for 25 (20.0%), 2 SHG allowed
Team PK: 16 for 22 (72.7%), 2 SHG for

Maatta and Adams are the only regulars left without a goal against on my assessments.

Maatta and Adams are the only regulars left without a goal against on my assessments.

Player Assessment

Sutter was solid over every inch of the ice in Game 5. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Sutter was solid over every inch of the ice in Game 5. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Brandon Sutter – Throughout this series, Sutter has generally been put in bad situations and succeeded more than he really should have. In Game 5, Sutter was put in better situations and capitalized on it quite nicely for the Penguins. He played 17:42 and took several shifts on the second line with Neal and Jokinen as Malkin jumped up to the first line. He went 10/15 in faceoffs, drew a high-sticking penalty, assisted on the game-winning goal, and also earned a defensive zone takeaway leading to Letang’s empty net goal. Sutter also had two neutral zone takeaways and provided fantastic puck support in the defensive zone for several clearing attempts. Aside from one defensive zone turnover, it was basically a perfect night for the oft-maligned “checking” center.

Kris Letang – Before we get into praising Letang, someone should find a way to clone Paul Martin or get him to play 60 minutes because every defenseman that plays alongside Martin improves ten-fold. Back to Letang though. When he first returned in the regular season, he was playing cautious, but decent hockey. At the start of the playoffs, Letang looked like a mess. In Game 5, Letang played up to his abilities and showed flashes of being a series-changing defenseman. He was great in all three zones, even covering up for Paul Martin’s mistakes at times in the defensive end. I marked him down for a good offensive zone pinch, two defensive zone pass interceptions, deterring a 2-on-1 chance, forcing two defensive zone turnovers, blocking a shot in the slot, stopping two 1-on-1 chances, and finally scoring an empty net goal. At times, I was concerned that he was skating too far into the offensive zone in the third period, but he never had a problem getting back into position and the forwards covered for him perfectly as well. If Letang can play this dynamically with any consistency, the team’s playoff potential will skyrocket.

Jack Skille watches the screen to relive Stempniak embarrassing him. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Jack Skille watches the screen to relive Stempniak embarrassing him. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Lee Stempniak – Stempniak started on the first line, was bounced to the third line for much of the game, and made the third line more reliable at both ends of the ice. He had a defensive zone takeaway, pass interceptions in the neutral and defensive zones, and also a couple of good keeps along the boards in the offensive zone. His highlight of the night was his assist on Jokinen’s goal, when he pulled the puck away from Nikita Nikitin upon entering the zone, made Jack Skille look like a fool at the blue line, and then drew the attention of all three Blue Jackets in the zone to leave Jokinen wide open. Stempniak did have a neutral zone and defensive zone turnover, but he did a good job of recovering on both plays to prevent any damage. He hasn’t had the best luck in this series, but his versatility between the first and third lines has been very useful.

Sidney Crosby – Crosby still has no goals, had a poor start to the game, and looked physically weak throughout the first period. He ended up with two offensive zone giveaways, a neutral zone turnover, and he also missed an empty net attempt to go with four other missed shots. Despite the sluggish start and some boneheaded decisions, Crosby broke out to play a creative game and looked much more energetic in the third period. He had two offensive zone takeaways, an offensive zone pass interception, and prevented four clears from the offensive zone along the boards. He also recorded an assist on Kunitz’s powerplay goal and also broke up a 2-on-1 chance in the defensive zone by tipping away a pass across the slot. Crosby may not look like himself right now, but he adjusted to that fact as the game went on, as demonstrated by the four prevented clears. Don’t forget that Crosby is often lauded for his ability to create. He may not be scoring, but he certainly found a way to keep creating chances in Game 5.

If you didn't feel good for MAF after that win, your bias has ruined your fandom. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

If you didn’t feel good for MAF after that win, your bias has ruined your fandom. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Marc-Andre Fleury – Marc-Andre Fleury played just fine and wouldn’t really fit under any category if it wasn’t for the circumstances surrounding this game. He made 23 saves on 24 shots and was well-insulated by the team so he didn’t have to make any spectacular saves. The only goal he allowed was on the penalty kill, during a string of unfortunate falls and bounces that could not really be prevented. The important part about all of this was that Fleury didn’t look shaky, handled long shots easily, and even stayed in net for a couple of dump-ins in the third period after the Penguins had the lead. Fleury bounced back and demonstrated resiliency exactly how the Penguins needed him to. He was the Penguins’ best player through the first two games, had a shaky start in Game 3 but bounced back during the game, cost them Game 4, and played just fine in Game 5. It has been a crazy series, but Fleury is showing that nothing will get to him permanently.


Marcel Goc – Goc played in his first game since late March, when it appeared like his foot had been amputated in a bad collision against the Kings. He had a rather rough comeback game with two neutral zone turnovers, a defensive zone turnover, and also a slashing penalty that led to the only Columbus goal. He was limited to 10:37 of ice time and went 5/11 in faceoffs. It’s safe to assume that his performances will improve as he gets back into the swing of things, but he was off to a rocky start.

Misc. Thoughts

"Geno, play on my line so I look better." (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

“Geno, play on my line so I look better.” (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Other Player NotesRobert Bortuzzo had a decent playoff debut. I was pleased with his general attitude, which was basically play everything safe. He made a few mistakes (two defensive zone turnovers and a neutral zone turnover), but he generally didn’t do anything that could hurt the team. That’s all he needs to do as the 6th defenseman. Rob Scuderi saw a bump in ice time up to 15:33 and played well. The last two games have been his best in recent memory and he has kept everything very simple in the defensive zone. Chris Kunitz finished with a goal and assist, and led the team with both six hits and seven shots. His performance has improved every game this series, but he also took an interference penalty and had two failed clears. Evgeni Malkin seemed to take a step back from Game 4, recording three giveaways (one in each zone) and not really doing much else.

Line Combinations – Dan Bylsma said after the game that Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby played together frequently because they asked to/wanted to. The change put Sutter between Jokinen and Neal and bumped Goc up to the third line center position as well. The change worked well, but I do have my concerns about putting Malkin together with Crosby regularly. Malkin appeared to be less involved in the play at times and I also question Neal’s even strength value if he doesn’t have Evgeni Malkin with him (also a possible offseason topic). As for everyone else, the change appeared to boost just about everyone in the lineup.

Meanwhile, the pairings changed on defense with Brooks Orpik out (undisclosed injury). Martin was paired with Letang, while Scuderi was paired with Bortuzzo. Though I felt that Paul Martin’s play dropped off a bit, Kris Letang had a fantastic game and more than made up for the difference. As for Scuderi and Bortuzzo, they mostly played a smart and simple game, acting as a true third pairing. I thought the pairings meshed together as two potential first pairing defensemen played together and two potential third pairing defensemen played together. It was much more cohesive than mixing the 1st/3rd potential of Letang and Scuderi. Is it possible that Orpik should come back and play with Scuderi to form a sheltered, “shutdown” 3rd pairing? Martin/Letang are both right defensemen and Orpik/Scuderi are both left defensemen, but if the transition is possible, it may be worth a look.

Everyone Contributing – The most important factor in this game was that absolutely everyone contributed to it. From top to bottom, I only had three players marked down for more negatives than positives (Malkin, Bortuzzo, Goc). Everyone recorded at least one shot in the 51-shot effort, everyone came back to play defense and defend the crease, and all of the wingers did a better job of helping clears out along the boards. The Penguins as a team finally put in the extra effort to make plays work. With their talent advantage over Columbus, that increase in effort turns close games into dominating performances. That’s the type of performance that also turns losses into wins against deeper teams in the future.

48 saves. No friends. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

48 saves. No friends. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Series Outlook – Once again, the team that scored first lost. Once again, the Penguins allowed a special teams goal. Once again, this series makes no logical sense. Sergei Bobrovsky was fantastic in a 48-save effort. It turns out that the Penguins may have stolen the game that Bobrovsky was going to finally steal in the series. The Penguins head to Columbus with a chance to wrap up the series in front of what will certainly be a rambunctious Nationwide Arena crowd. They will have to weather the storm early. Game 6 likely comes down largely to Fleury vs. Bobrovsky, which does give Columbus a slight edge in theory. Look for Crosby to come up big when it matters the most now.  As I’ve said all along, Pens in 6!

Fleeting Thoughts – The Penguins were much quicker to the puck carrier in Game 5, actually hitting defensemen when they had the puck and forcing several failed clears. That is a huge key in bottling up Columbus in Game 6. … Sidney Crosby missed 5 shots and has 14 missed shots in this series. The next closest player for Pittsburgh has missed just 7 shots. Is he pressing too much or is he actually physically weak/ill/broken right now? We’ll find out sooner than later. … The entire team did a much better job of supporting breakouts for the defensemen in Game 5. While we have seen Malkin and Crosby come back into the defensive zone at times during the regular season, two forwards were coming back into the zone to help out in the third period when a defenseman couldn’t find a passing option. Not enough can be said about how great/necessary/smart that was.  Yes, call it an adjustment.

Goal Assessment

First Goal Against (Jenner)
Marcel Goc is in the penalty box for slashing. Nikita Nikitin gets the puck behind his net and skates it to center ice, where he passes it forward to Ryan Johansen entering the Penguins zone. Johansen skates along the blue line to the left point and moves half way down the left boards as he stays on the perimeter of the Penguins’ penalty killing box. Johansen then moves the puck to Boone Jenner at the goal line to the left of the net. Jenner tries to make a pass across the crease to Mark Letestu on the other side, but Olli Maatta drops to his stomach in the crease to block the pass. The puck bounces over Maatta towards Letestu, who is quickly tied up by Joe Vitale coming back to the crease to help. Meanwhile, as Fleury moves across the crease, he loses his stick which gets caught up in Maatta on the ground. As Vitale ties up Letestu, both players go to the ground and the puck hits Vitale’s leg. Fleury tries to reach out to cover the puck with his glove, but he can’t get his glove completely around the puck as it is hindered by his loose stick and Vitale’s leg. David Savard then pokes at the mass of Vitale’s leg/Fleury’s glove/Fleury’s stick and knocks the puck back through the crease, back towards Jenner. Jenner then taps the puck into the net before Maatta has a chance to stop him.
Players at fault for the first goal against: Goc (1)

First Goal For (Kunitz)
On the powerplay, Matt Niskanen takes a slapshot from the left point that is stopped by Bobrovsky. Sidney Crosby races across the slot to pick up the rebound on the left side boards and moves the puck back up to Niskanen at the left point. Niskanen moves towards the center of the blue line as Crosby comes up the boards. He passes the puck to Crosby at the top of the left faceoff circle and Crosby pushes a soft shot on net with Kunitz trying to screen Bobrovsky on the crease. The puck goes through Kunitz’s legs and Bobrovsky makes the save, but he has no clue where the puck is. While Bobrovsky thinks the puck is under him or behind him and looks to his left, it bounces to the front of the crease on his right and Kunitz fights off David Savard to take two whacks at the puck, with the second one sending it into the net as Bobrovsky faces the wrong way.
Players contributing to the first goal for: Niskanen (7), Crosby (6), Kunitz (5)


Second Goal For (Jokinen)
In the defensive zone, Paul Martin absorbs a hit in the corner to move the puck up the boards to Lee Stempniak exiting the Penguins zone. Stempniak skates through the neutral zone with the puck along the right side boards. He then enters the offensive zone and skates across the blue line to pull the puck away from a poke check by Nikita Nikitin. As he skates along the blue line, he then moves the puck around Jack Skille to get to open ice on the left side of the zone as both Jussi Jokinen and Brandon Sutter go deeper into the zone. Sutter goes to the crease and Jokinen skates to the inside corner of the right faceoff circle as Stempniak carries the puck all the way to the left faceoff dot, drawing the attention of all three Blue Jackets in the zone. Stempniak takes a shot from next to the left faceoff dot and Bobrovsky makes the save. The rebound comes out in front and Brandon Sutter hits the puck, knocking it into the crease on Jokinen’s side. Nikitin tries to tie up Jokinen, but Jokinen steps up from the right faceoff circle and backhands the puck into the net.
Players contributing to the second goal for: Martin (9), Stempniak (2), Sutter (5), Jokinen (5)


Third Goal For (Letang)
With Bobrovsky pulled, Brandon Sutter wins a puck battle against Artem Anisimov in the corner of the defensive zone. Sutter slides the puck up the boards to Chris Kunitz, who chips the puck past James Wisniewski out into the neutral zone. Both Craig Adams and Kris Letang exit the defensive zone to chase the puck in a 2-on-1 situation against Jack Johnson with the puck loose. Letang skates up the middle as the puck stays on the right side in the lane of Adams. Johnson and Adams both try to play the puck as it crosses into the Blue Jackets zone, with Adams diving for the puck and knocking it towards the middle away from Johnson. Letang catches up to the puck on the inside edge of the right faceoff circle and just slides it into the empty net.
Players contributing to the third goal for: Sutter (6), Kunitz (6), Adams (2), Letang (2)

Penalty Assessment

Kunitz (goalie interference): Bad-Careless, battles with David Savard in front of the crease on a powerplay and gets his skate behind Bobrovsky’s leg, taking Bobrovsky down to the ice.
Goc (slashing): Bad-Stupid, tries to keep Boone Jenner from a puck coming up the boards in the defensive zone and slashes Jenner’s stick in half along the boards.
Letang (roughing): Inconsequential, gets into a scrum with Matt Calvert at the end of the game and both receive penalties after the game ends.

Next Game: Monday, 4/28, Game 6 @ Columbus, 7pm
Pens lead series 3-2.

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