Thoughts: Eastern Conference Semifinals Game 1 – Rangers 3 Pens 2 (OT)

Rangers 3  Pens 2 (OT)

Rangers lead the series 1-0.

By: Meesh Shanmugam (@HockeyMeesh)

Goals
Stempniak (2) from Bennett, Goc
Neal (2) from Jokinen, Malkin

The Penguins have no home ice advantage in playoff overtimes. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

The Penguins have no home ice advantage in playoff overtimes. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

 

Game 1 Leaders
Shots: Kunitz (7)
Missed Shots: Kunitz, Neal, Sutter (2)
Blocked Shots: Letang (3)
Hits: Adams, Glass (4)
Ice Time: Martin (28:33) … Glass (8:08)
Faceoffs: Malkin (7/11) … Crosby (6/19)
CF% Rel: Jokinen (+27.0%) … Glass (-32.0%)
Team PP: 0 for 4 (0%)
Team PK: 4 for 4 (100%)

Playoff Leaders
Goals: Malkin, Jokinen, Sutter (3)
Assists: Martin (8)
Points: Martin (8)
Shots: Kunitz, Neal (29)
Missed Shots: Crosby (17)
Blocked Shots: Martin (20)
Hits: Kunitz (26)
Ice Time/game: Martin (27:29) … Vitale (10:05)
Faceoffs: Sutter (54/107, 50.5%) … Malkin (31/68, 45.6%)
CF% Rel: Malkin (+9.2%) … Glass (-19.7%)
Team PP: 6 for 33 (18.2%), 3 SHG allowed
Team PK: 24 for 31 (77.4%), 2 SHG for

Goal Assessment ECS Gm 1

Goal Assessments for the Playoffs

Player Assessment

Good

Marcel Goc – Goc only played 11:10, but he did everything the Penguins brought him in to do as he shifted between the 3rd and 4th lines. He went 9/15 on faceoffs, broke up two passes on the Penguins’ perfect penalty killing effort, forced two turnovers with poke checks, and also assisted on Stempniak’s goal. That is precisely the type of depth/role player the Penguins were hoping to get and he played his role to perfection.

Bortuzzo played well, but he can't make up for Scuderi's turnovers. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Bortuzzo played well, but he can’t make up for Scuderi’s turnovers. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Robert Bortuzzo – Bortuzzo did a little bit of everything and *should* have a solid lineup spot at this point regardless of the injury situations. He drew two penalties (tripping, and elbowing by antagonizing Martin St. Louis), started the puck moving forward on Stempniak’s goal, and prevented two defensive zone entries with good poke checks. The only real mistake he made was a turnover in the offensive zone as he got the puck at the right point and failed to get it deep in the zone. He looked out of place on the game-winning goal, but he made the right move to go behind the net to give Scuderi an outlet with the puck. Bortuzzo has kept his game very simple in the playoffs and his trustworthy play has been valuable on the 3rd pair.

Paul Martin – Martin was his usual self as he led the team with 28:33 of ice time. Though he had two turnovers (neutral zone and defensive zone), he broke up an impressive amount of plays and rushes by the Rangers. I marked him down for two defensive zone pass interceptions, breaking up an additional three passes in the defensive zone, forcing two turnovers with poke checks, and also making a smart offensive zone pinch. The Rangers really struggled to move the puck around when Martin was on the ice.

Noteworthy
The goal was exciting.  His lack of coverage in overtime was not. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

The goal was exciting. His lack of coverage in overtime was not. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Lee Stempniak – Stempniak spent most of the game on the first line and had a rather quiet night. In fact, he did his best work when he was dropped to the third line and his worst on the first line. He opened the scoring for the Penguins with a nice backhander and helped the Penguins out through pure effort as he beat out an icing call and also had a couple of strong defensive zone clears. On the downside though, Stempniak had two turnovers in the neutral zone. He was also partially at fault on the game-winner, when he assumed that Scuderi and Bortuzzo were going to clear the puck from the corner for a breakout and thus did not follow Brassard to the slot. Unfortunately, Brassard saw Pouliot intercept the puck in the defensive zone before Stempniak did, and Stempniak abandoned the man who scored the winner. His goal was big, but his mistake was bigger in the end.

Kris Letang – Letang started out really strong but had several issues with the puck in the third period. On the plus side, he intercepted two passes in the defensive zone, had two defensive zone takeaways, and also forced two turnovers (one via hit, one via poke check) in the defensive zone. Most of that occurred early in the game though and he had issues with the puck later on. He had two failed clears in the third period to go along with two defensive zone giveaways. Though he was okay overall, the timing of his struggles certainly hurt the team.

Bad
Yes Nisky, even soon-to-be-highly-paid defensemen need to cover guys. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Yes Nisky, even soon-to-be-highly-paid defensemen need to cover guys. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Matt Niskanen – Niskanen only made three mistakes by my count, but two of them helped put the Penguins in a 2-0 hole. He was partially at fault for the first goal against as he got his stick into Pouliot’s shooting lane and deflected the shot past Fleury. He was also partially at fault for the second goal against when he completely ignored his man in the slot and drifted towards Maatta in the corner instead. The first goal was a little bad luck, but the second goal was a complete mental lapse on Niskanen’s part. Aside from that, he also had one failed clear to go along with one forced turnover. The goals were tough to accept though, especially the second one.

Olli Maatta – Niskanen’s partner fared even worse as he was also partially at fault on the first two goals against to go along with two defensive zone turnovers. On the first goal against, Maatta had bad gap coverage against Pouliot entering the Penguins zone and then backed away towards the boards, giving Pouliot the entire middle of the ice to use to get away from coverage and shoot. On the second goal against, Maatta reached a puck in the corner of the defensive zone first but was knocked away from it and didn’t protect it at all against Hagelin. As I noted in the regular season recap, the Rangers made a habit of hitting Maatta hard in those situations during the regular season and it worked out for them on the second goal in this game. Hopefully this doesn’t turn into a trend.

Misc. Thoughts

Other Player NotesRob Scuderi didn’t have a bad *game*, but boy did he have a terrible shift to end the game. He played well with Bortuzzo throughout the night, but his costly giveaway to Pouliot in overtime was an inexcusable mistake. Brandon Sutter had another strong game as he forced three turnovers and also broke up two passes on the penalty kill. Chris Kunitz had a quiet game as the first line did in general. He drew a penalty, took a penalty, and failed to clear the puck on the game-winning goal. James Neal played well, especially in the offensive zone. To go along with his goal, he also forced two offensive zone turnovers.

Crosby isn't showing his normal ability to fight through these moments. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Crosby isn’t showing his normal ability to fight through these moments. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Crosby Concerns – I’m certainly not a doctor, nor do I know what is going on with Sidney Crosby, but my (unoriginal) guess is an injury right now. My VERY UNEDUCATED HYPOTHESIS is something along the lines of a sports hernia or a similar injury that is affecting his core strength and his ability to push to another level. The reason that I suggest this is based on how Crosby is turning around the puck and skating through obstruction. I noted three times in the first period where the puck was bouncing around Crosby, but not at a perfect trajectory for him to pick it up. Usually, Crosby would twist/bend/flail to knock the puck to himself or get a piece of it. In all three instances though, Crosby made no sharp/quick movements and wasn’t able to get the puck. It looked like his range was limited. The other big play I noticed was late in the game when Crosby was trying to get through two defensemen with the puck as he went to the net. He was being held and normally Crosby would try to skate through that until he won the battle or fell to the ground for the penalty. Instead, Crosby pushed slightly, but eased up on his attack as he got pulled back instead of pushing it until he was taken down completely. He didn’t show any type of skating burst all game either. Crosby is still doing okay. I marked him down for two offensive zone takeaways and two pass interceptions compared to only one offensive zone giveaway. But his good plays are on account of reading the play and his creativity rather than his normal lower body strength and effort. For that matter, he isn’t using his body to protect the puck nearly like he normally does either. I could very well be wrong, but there are a plethora of signs that suggest Crosby might be nursing a mid-body injury.

Gap Control – As a whole, the Penguins defense needed to make a major adjustment against New York in comparison to Columbus. Columbus often pushed the puck into the offensive zone with speed or dumped the puck in and chased it at a furious pace, both of which required that the Penguins’ defensemen backed up quickly and were ready to turn and skate. The Rangers were more inclined to carry the puck into the zone and slow the play down with control. With the difference in zone entries, the Penguins needed to adjust their gap control and keep a smaller gap against the Rangers’ forwards as they entered the zone. There were several zone entries where the defense didn’t play that way. The prime example was on the first goal against as Maatta stayed too far away from Pouliot and then backed even further away in the wrong direction to give him space. Perhaps the first period included some PTSD from playing Columbus, but the Penguins will have to prepare better for that change in Game 2.

This man will steal a game eventually, which does not bode well for the Pens. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

This man will steal a game eventually, which does not bode well for the Pens. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Series Outlook – It’s just one game and another overtime loss for the Penguins.  They lost home ice advantage, but it’s tough to suggest that the Penguins are really affected by home ice in the playoffs too much at this point.  Getting a win in Game 2 is strongly suggested though because it will be difficult to beat Lundqvist 4 out of 5 times after that.  If Crosby truly isn’t healthy, moving Malkin to the first line might be the best move so the Penguins have two scoring lines (Jokinen-Sutter-Neal 2nd), a decent 3rd line, and a 4th line that will be limited.  Right now, it’s tough to say the first line is still the first line.  The Penguins were going to lose a game to New York eventually, so now it’s just important that they take advantage of another home game and the back-to-back situation that should affect the Rangers more right now.

Fleeting Thoughts – The officiating was…bad. The blown offside call was a level of terrible that you rarely see in a game. Beyond that, some very close calls were made on penalties while some blatant penalties were ignored. The level of consistency was just awful. … Marc-Andre Fleury played well enough to win and received absolutely no support on two of the three goals against. On the first goal against, the puck was deflected from a relatively close range, so I didn’t hold that one against him either. … This team is way too predictable. Start slow, roar back with a strong effort, tail off, and then get beat with defensive defensemen struggling. I could have written the script for Game 1 before we even knew the opponent. Their predictability is just as concerning as anything else at this point.

Goal Assessment

First Goal Against (Pouliot)
Chris Kunitz takes a shot from above the left faceoff circle in the Rangers zone. Dan Girardi blocks the shot and the puck bounces back towards the blue line. Benoit Pouliot picks up the puck at the Rangers blue line and skates it through the neutral zone in a 2-on-2 situation with Mats Zuccarello against Olli Maatta and Matt Niskanen. Pouliot skates down the right side of the neutral zone against Maatta as Zuccarello goes to the left side boards. Maatta tries to maintain his gap coverage as he backs up and leaves his stick out against Pouliot, but he gets caught backing up towards the boards and Pouliot decides to cut to the middle. Pouliot gets enough of a step on Maatta going to the middle that he gets to the high slot without opposition. Pouliot then takes a wrist shot as Matt Niskanen tries to get his stick into the shooting lane. Pouliot’s shot deflects off of Niskanen’s stick, off of Fleury’s right shoulder, and into the net.
Players at fault for the first goal against: Maatta (1), Niskanen (3)

Second Goal Against (Richards)
After a botched offside call that put the faceoff in the Rangers zone, the Penguins lose the faceoff and Dan Girardi clears the puck through center and into the Penguins zone. Olli Maatta and Carl Hagelin chase the puck into the right corner of the Penguins zone. Maatta has a step on Hagelin and gets to the puck first, but Hagelin knocks him to the side and takes the puck. Meanwhile, Matt Niskanen glides towards Maatta and Hagelin in the corner, completely ignoring Brad Richards moving to the slot by himself. Hagelin immediately passes the puck to the slot for Richards, who has to take the puck awkwardly on his backhand. With no one around though, Richards fakes a backhand shot that pulls Fleury out to the top of the crease and then pulls the puck to his forehand before sliding it past the outstretched stick of Fleury.
Players at fault for the second goal against: Maatta (2), Niskanen (4)

First Goal For (Stempniak)
After Ryan McDonagh fans on a puck in the corner of the Penguins zone, Robert Bortuzzo picks it up and passes it to Marcel Goc skating through the defensive zone. Goc carries the puck along the right side boards to center ice and then flips it up to Beau Bennett entering the middle of the Rangers zone. Bennett takes a couple of strides into the Rangers zone and is covered well by Dan Girardi, so he cuts to the right and slows the play down as more Rangers and Lee Stempniak enter the zone. Bennett then drops the puck off for Stempniak to pick up on his zone entry. Stempniak picks up the puck in the wake that Bennett created and protects the puck from Derick Brassard behind him. Bennett’s movement also caused Dan Girardi to skate away from Stempniak and also to get in the way of Ryan McDonagh, giving Stempniak room to skate deeper into the zone. Meanwhile, Marcel Goc is on the crease battling with Mats Zuccarello and keeping him from approaching Stempniak. So Stempniak gets the puck and carries it to the high slot, where he moves to his backhand and skates towards the inside edge of the left faceoff circle. Zuccarello makes a last ditch effort to drop to the ice to block a shot, but Stempniak takes a backhand shot from the edge of the faceoff circle and beats Lundqvist’s blocker.
Players contributing to the first goal for: Bortuzzo (1), Goc (1), Bennett (5), Stempniak (3)

Goal: Stempniak - By @JustPuckIt

Goal: Stempniak – By @JustPuckIt

Second Goal For (Neal)
Evgeni Malkin gets the puck in the Penguins zone and passes it up to the blue line for James Neal, who plays it as a give-and-go by tapping the puck back to Malkin, who is picking up speed through the neutral zone. Malkin carries the puck down the right side boards and enters the offensive zone. He cuts towards the middle as he crosses the blue line and drops the puck off at the right point for Jussi Jokinen to pick up. Jokinen carries the puck to the top of the right faceoff circle and holds it as Malkin continues towards the net and four Rangers stay deep in the zone in a diamond formation. Jokinen then passes the puck to James Neal, who is just cross the blue line in the middle of the ice. Neal has a plethora of space in front of him as three Rangers surround Malkin and two move to Jokinen. Neal skates the puck to the top of the slot and takes a hard wrist shot that Lundqvist saves with his blocker. The puck flies up into the air though and Malkin, who is now alone on the crease after the three Rangers on him all moved to Neal, waits patiently for it to drop below the crossbar so he can swing at it. Lundqvist doesn’t know where the puck is as it starts falling behind him and he moves his glove to Malkin’s stick, preventing Malkin from swinging at the puck and also tying his own glove up. Meanwhile, the puck hits off of his back and rolls into the net.
Players contributing to the second goal for: Malkin (8), Jokinen (7), Neal (4)

Goal: Neal - By @JustPuckIt

Goal: Neal – By @JustPuckIt

Third Goal Against (Brassard)
Anton Stralman gets the puck at center ice and slaps it along the right side boards into the Penguins zone. The puck wraps around the boards as Robert Bortuzzo keeps Benoit Pouliot from stopping it and it goes to Derick Brassard half way up the left side boards. Brassard throws the puck back down the boards and it gets to Chris Kunitz in the right corner of the zone. Kunitz tries to chip the puck up the boards, but can’t get it past Stralman, who is pinching into the zone. Stralman falls and Kunitz still can’t get the puck past him, eventually losing the puck as Mats Zuccarello skates in and pokes the puck away. Zuccarello pokes the puck further into the corner to Rob Scuderi though. Scuderi promptly tries to move the puck along the boards towards Robert Bortuzzo behind the net, but it’s intercepted by Pouliot. As Pouliot gets the puck, Derick Brassard (covered by Lee Stempniak), moves away from the right side boards and starts skating towards the slot. Stempniak, not realizing that Pouliot intercepted the puck initially, starts skating out towards the other side of the ice for a breakout instead of following Brassard. So, as Pouliot gets control of the puck and turns to face the slot area from below the goal line, he draws Sidney Crosby to him since both defensemen are too far away to do anything. Meanwhile, Brassard is getting to the slot by himself. Pouliot passes the puck to Brassard, who holds the puck for just a split-second as Fleury goes down and then lifts it over Fleury’s right shoulder just under the crossbar.
Players at fault for the third goal against: Kunitz (2), Scuderi (4), Stempniak (4)

Penalty Assessment

Bennett (hooking): Bad, tries to lift the stick of Derek Stepan and ends up lifting Stepan’s glove in an upward motion in the same manner. Per the rule book, stick/stick contact is legal but stick/glove is not.
Kunitz (holding): Bad, turns the puck over in the neutral zone and then grabs Derek Stepan twice with his free hand to pull him back from getting the loose puck.
Jokinen (hooking): Bad, tries to gets his stick around Marc Staal after an offensive zone faceoff loss and then loses his balance, leading to him lifting his stick into Staal’s midsection as he starts to fall back.
Bennett (roughing): Bad Call, gets shoved after a whistle by Dan Carcillo and shoves Carcillo back for a retaliation roughing penalty. However, Carcillo shoves him back and there are a few more shoves back and forth, so both or neither should have gone to the box.

Next Game: Game 2 vs NYR: Sunday, 5/4, 7:30pm
Rangers lead the series 1-0.

Thanks for reading!