Thoughts: Eastern Conference Semifinals Game 2 – Pens 3 Rangers 0

Pens 3  Rangers 0

Series tied at 1.

By: Meesh Shanmugam (@HockeyMeesh)
**Sorry if you see odd characters in the post, the site is being temperamental today**

Letang (2) from Malkin, Kunitz
Jokinen (4) (PP) from Neal, Letang
Malkin (4) (EN) from Letang

Lundqvist did everything humanly possible to try to stop Jokinen. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Lundqvist did everything humanly possible to try to stop Jokinen. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Game 2 Leaders
Shots: Crosby (6)
Missed Shots: Niskanen (3)
Blocked Shots: Martin (3)
Hits: Niskanen (4)
Ice Time: Martin (26:42) … Vitale (7:41)
Faceoffs: Goc (7/9) … Vitale (2/7)
CF% Rel: Goc (+27.1%) … Adams (-34.9%)
Team PP: 1 for 3 (33.3%)
Team PK: 4 for 4 (100%)

Playoff Leaders
Goals: Malkin, Jokinen (4)
Assists: Martin (8)
Points: Malkin (10)
Shots: Neal (33)
Missed Shots: Crosby (18)
Blocked Shots: Martin (23)
Hits: Kunitz (28)
Ice Time/game: Martin (27:23) … Vitale (9:47)
Faceoffs: Sutter (63/120, 52.5%) … Malkin (32/72, 44.4%)
CF% Rel: Crosby (+8.7%) … Glass (-19.7%)
Team PP: 7 for 36 (19.4%), 3 SHG allowed
Team PK: 28 for 35 (80%), 2 SHG for

Playoff Goal Assessments

Playoff Goal Assessments: Malkin takes over.

Player Assessment

Letang had his head up all game and was rewarded for it. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Letang had his head up all game and was rewarded for it. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Kris Letang – Letang looked like he was at the top of his game in Game 2 against the Rangers. He played 25:35 (second only to Martin) and recorded three points (1g, 2a) in a strong offensive and defensive game. Letang was solid in his own zone when the Penguins needed it on their march to the penalty box in the first period. He blocked a centering pass, tied up his man on the crease for a rebound, and won two defensive zone puck battles. As the game went on, he added an intelligent neutral zone game and his expected offensive zone prowess. Letang stepped up in the neutral zone twice to intercept passes and looked very fluid as he shifted between each zone. He did make some mistakes, namely two failed clears and a defensive zone turnover, but the results say it all for Letang in Game 2.

Evgeni Malkin – Malkin had some turnover issues (two offensive zone, one neutral zone, one defensive zone), but he looked very strong throughout the night in all three zones overall. His skating legs were clearly working as he looked like a gazelle moving from defensive zone to offensive zone on quite a few rushes. Malkin forced three offensive zone turnovers with stick-lifts, intercepted a defensive zone pass, had three defensive zone takeaways (including one on a backcheck), and added in a neutral zone takeaway as well. No matter what zone the puck was in, the Rangers struggled to escape Malkin’s pursuit. He was rewarded with two points, an assist on Letang’s goal and an empty-netter at the end thanks to one of his stick-lifts. His work in Game 2 showed some shades of Conn Smythe Malkin.

James Neal – Neal shifted roles throughout Game 2, ranging from pest to sharpshooter at any given time. His most notable trait in the game was jabbing the pads (and sometimes the nether regions) of Lundqvist incessantly, which caused Carcillo to flip out at him (both went for penalties). Besides that though, Neal drew two penalties (roughing, interference), had a defensive zone takeaway, helped out on the first goal for by drawing the attention of Marc Staal away from Letang, and assisted on Jokinen’s goal with a nice pass off of the pads shot. Neal hasn’t lit up the scoreboard lately, but this is the third game out of the past five that I’ve marked him down for no big mistakes. He’s playing very under the radar like Crosby right now.

Marc-Andre Fleury – Fleury only had to make 22 saves, and not many of them were challenging, but a shutout is a shutout and a win is a win. Fleury was at his best early in the first period when the Penguins were continually on the penalty kill. He made two very notable saves, both on redirections near the crease. After that, the rest of the game was pretty much a breeze with only one or two semi-difficult saves the rest of the way. The most important thing from this game wasn’t necessarily the shutout, but the fact that Fleury was fighting the puck much less than in Game 1 and looked much more comfortable. A lot of credit should go to his entire defense as well, but Fleury did what he needed to do too.

Martin's ability to improve every other defenseman is worth $5 mil on its own. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Martin’s ability to improve every other defenseman is worth $5 mil on its own. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Paul Martin – Ever since Letang and Martin were put together, it appears that they trade off between having a fantastic and an average game. The best part about this is that average for either one of them is a solid game and fantastic makes either one of them one of the best in the NHL. In Game 2, Martin was decent overall. Broken into parts, he was great at 1-on-1s but below average with turnovers. Martin forced three turnovers in 1-on-1 situations by standing the forward up, broke up a defensive zone pass, and also forced two other turnovers with his poke check. On the negative side though, he had three defensive zone turnovers, lost two puck battles on the penalty kill, and also had a neutral zone giveaway on the powerplay. A few less turnovers and Martin can join Letang up in the Good section.

Chris Kunitz – Kunitz had a rough start to the game with a goalie interference penalty that he couldn’t do anything about at all. He didn’t help his case with a hooking penalty that was deserved later in the game. He did eventually start picking his game back up though. He won an offensive zone puck battle, forced a turnover with a hit, broke up a neutral zone pass, assisted on Letang’s goal (and was the target of Letang’s pass for that matter), and also drew a boarding penalty. The one thing that is still missing from Kunitz’s game is any consistency in his physicality, but that could have been a result of the inconsistent referees as well. If the Penguins really want to take advantage of the Rangers being “tired”, Kunitz better start throwing some hard hits in the offensive zone.



Misc. Thoughts

Gibbons doesn't have much grit, but apparently they don't keep track of that stat. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Gibbons doesn’t have much grit, but apparently they don’t keep track of that stat. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Other Player NotesOlli Maatta had a great bounce back game, forcing two defensive zone turnovers and intercepting a pass in the defensive zone as well. He also was very good on the crease on the penalty kill. Brian Gibbons brought his usual speed and had three takeaways, but he also had three turnovers in the offensive zone to negate his results. Rob Scuderi played a very strong game and has generally been trending up aside from the overtime goal in Game 1. Bortuzzo and Scuderi are really starting to form a strong 3rd pairing where you don’t notice them because they are doing everything right. It helped that they were out with Crosby’s line a bit too. Joe Vitale didn’t seem to have his usual effectiveness and fell every other shift for some reason. I would guess his lineup spot is the next one in peril.

Lineup Change – Brian Gibbons entered the lineup in place of Tanner Glass to mixed fan reviews before the game. Personally (as a noted Gibbons fan), I thought it was a good move. Glass hasn’t added a whole lot in the playoffs this year. His hitting game hasn’t been there in the way of valuable hits (ie – on a guy who actually has the puck) and he has been a puck possession black hole. Glass has had some great shifts on the PK, but Gibbons is more than capable of taking that time and is quicker to get to the points as well, which is a huge factor in helping the Penguins keep the puck away from the crease since they don’t cover those men tightly. It will be interesting to see if Glass finds his way back into the lineup, perhaps at the expense of Joe Vitale or (not likely) Craig Adams at some point.

The next lineup change to watch for is what happens when Brooks Orpik is ready to return. He has been skating again but there is still no timetable on whatever his injury is (Dave Molinari of the PG tweeted out knee/ankle/leg). Many are clamoring for Orpik to return and replace Scuderi. Here is something to ponder though: Is Orpik any good without Martin? Martin and Letang are playing so well right now that breaking them up would be foolish and not worth the tradeoff in value. Would Orpik/Bortuzzo be as effective as Scuderi/Bortuzzo? I’m not convinced Orpik can play with Bortuzzo better than Scuderi is right now based on Orpik’s general reliance on Martin to be a decent defenseman. The current group of defensemen as it is set might be the best option.

Crosby was back to his usual flailing/kicking/squirming self as he got away from the Rangers. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Crosby was back to his usual flailing/kicking/squirming self as he got away from the Rangers. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Crosby Thoughts – After hundreds of words about Crosby possibly being injured in the Game 1 Thoughts, Crosby looked like his normal self and showed flexibility, speed, and versatility in Game 2. For the first game all playoffs, Sidney Crosby looked like Sidney Crosby. Though he had zero points, the optics of it were amazing as he embarrassed Ryan McDonagh with a nice move to the outside, attempted numerous redirections with odd stick angles between his feet and around the net, and started throwing his weight around more than any other game. If Sidney Crosby can look like that for the rest of the playoffs, he will score very soon and the Penguins will become a much tougher out (hell, I wouldn’t have picked the Rangers in 6).

Despite all of the good feelings, the curious part of me has to wonder what changed. Crosby wasn’t all of a sudden motivated between Game 1 and Game 2; that’s not how he operates seven games into the playoffs. It was interesting that Bylsma emphatically said he expected a big game from Crosby, and Crosby’s trainer even tweeted out that Crosby was going to have a good game. Then after the game, Crosby didn’t speak to the media. I don’t really care that he didn’t, but it’s still an interesting sign. Did Crosby receive some magical fix for what was ailing him? A Cortisone shot maybe? Some small procedure? Did he pass a kidney stone? Maybe bath salts? It’s very nice to see Crosby operating closer to his normal level, and I will be watching closely to see how this changes from game to game now. I’m not convinced his struggles are over yet for the playoffs without knowing what changed, but I do expect the relief of a goal or more in the next game or two based on his level of play in Game 2.

60-Minute Effort – The reason that every fan gets angry, discouraged, frustrated, and distraught over the Penguins was on display in Game 2. It’s because the Penguins are fully capable of playing an incredible 60-minute game and shutting down the opponent completely but this is the first time we’ve seen it in months. I’ve harped on it several times since the Olympic break, but this is perhaps the 5th complete effort we’ve seen from the team since the Olympics and certainly the first in the playoffs. This type of performance from top to bottom puts the Penguins in contention with the Bruins, Kings, and Blackhawks as one of the top teams in the NHL. The Penguins read the play extremely well and reacted perfectly on most occasions throughout the night. They were constantly vigilant on defense, threw the body frequently, and had great puck pursuit on offense. A couple more performances like that will end this series quickly.

Tempting Fate – The one big issue the Pens had and survived was the penalty trouble early in the first period. The Kunitz penalty was a bad call, but the Niskanen and Malkin penalties were both unnecessary as both players tempted fate with what they could get away with. The Rangers’ powerplay has been awful, though they looked a little bit better with each attempt. They are going to convert on one sooner than later, even if it’s from a bad bounce. The Penguins will be very anxious to try to physically destroy New York in Game 3 to take advantage of the schedule effects, but it is very important that they don’t cross the line and give New York an emotional boost that’ll get the Rangers through this.

If the Rangers can't win with Lundqvist playing this well, they are in a lot of trouble. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

If the Rangers can’t win with Lundqvist playing this well, they are in a lot of trouble. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Series Outlook – Tying the series at 1 was very important and now the Penguins look to take at least one game at Madison Square Garden as the series shifts to New York. Game 2 may have been the game that Henrik Lundqvist should have stolen for the Rangers, but he had no help from his teammates at all. Lundqvist really played a phenomenal game. He is going to have a tough time putting together another performance like that, but he is certainly capable of it. Overall though, I am less worried about Lundqvist stealing a game now because the schedule is going to wear on him the hardest and the Penguins gave him an exhausting night. There is really no reason the Penguins shouldn’t take home ice advantage back with a win in Game 3 based on what we saw in Game 2 and what the Rangers/Lundqvist are dealing with.

Fleeting Thoughts – Ignore the forward line combinations aside from whoever is in the top 12 and whoever is scratched, the lines will forever be juggled at this point and Dan Bylsma has been doing a great job of picking and choosing his moments. … The Penguins did a much better job of their gap control in Game 2 and it was one of the reasons Kris Letang was ready to transition for neutral zone pass interceptions as well. The Penguins know what they’re dealing with now. … The Pens put 35 shots on net but still had another 29 that missed the net or were blocked. Hopefully they can change their shooting lanes and aims to improve that ratio and make it even tougher on Lundqvist.

Goal Assessment

First Goal For (Letang)
In the Penguins zone, Mats Zuccarello throws a puck from the outside of the right faceoff circle towards the net for Derick Brassard on the back post. Kris Letang reads the play and intercepts the puck at the top of the crease. He moves the puck to Chris Kunitz exiting the defensive zone on the left side boards. Kunitz can’t handle the puck, but he still pushes it past Zuccarello in the neutral zone to create a 4-on-2 situation as Malkin, Neal, and Kunitz all approach the left side of the Rangers zone and Letang is quickly skating up the right side of the neutral zone in open space. Kunitz carries the puck across the blue line and drops it off for Evgeni Malkin at the left point. Malkin holds the puck as Kunitz and Neal continue towards the slot area, pushing back Dan Girardi and Marc Staal. Malkin makes a cross ice pass to Letang at the top of the right faceoff circle in the Rangers zone. Letang carries the puck down to the outside of the right faceoff dot and then tries to center the puck to Chris Kunitz, who is going to the top of the crease. The puck never makes it to Kunitz though as it hits Dan Girardi’s stick in front of the crease and bounces past Lundqvist’s glove unexpectedly.
Players contributing to the first goal for: Neal (5), Kunitz (8), Malkin (9), Letang (3)

Goal: Letang - By @JustPuckIt

Goal: Letang – By @JustPuckIt

Second Goal For (Jokinen)
On the powerplay, Kris Letang holds the puck behind the Penguins net as everyone starts skating for a breakout. Letang then skates the puck out to the blue line and passes it to the left side boards for James Neal entering the Rangers zone. Neal skates all the way down to the outside of the left faceoff dot and then takes a low wrist shot on net. Lundqvist makes the save but the rebound comes out to inside corner of the right faceoff circle, exactly where Jussi Jokinen is. Jokinen promptly one-times the rebound past Lundqvist’s glove before he has any hope of getting completely post-to-post.
Players contributing to the second goal for: Letang (4), Neal (6), Jokinen (8)

Goal: Jokinen -By @JustPuckIt

Goal: Jokinen -By @JustPuckIt

Third Goal For (Malkin)
After the Rangers have pulled Lundqvist for the extra attacker, Ryan McDonagh attempts a slapshot from the blue line in the Penguins zone. His stick breaks and the shot goes to Kris Letang in front of the crease and rebounds off of his stick. The puck bounces out to the top of the right faceoff circle and Letang chases it, diving and playing it to the open space where McDonagh’s broken stick is and where McDonagh was. The puck continues to roll all the way into the Rangers zone to the right side boards as both Dan Girardi and Evgeni Malkin skate after it. Girardi has a step on Malkin, but Malkin lifts his stick just as they get to the puck, causing Girardi to overskate it. Malkin then slides the puck into the empty net.
Players contributing to the third goal for: Letang (5), Malkin (10)

Goal: Malkin - By @JustPuckIt

Goal: Malkin – By @JustPuckIt

Penalty Assessment

Kunitz (goalie interference): Bad Call, gets shoved by Ryan McDonagh at the top of the crease over Henrik Lundqvist and gets called for interference that was McDonagh’s fault.
Niskanen (roughing): Bad-Stupid, throws a forearm into Carcillo’s neck area as Carcillo is trying to enter the Penguins zone. Carcillo snaps his head back to buy the call a bit, but Niskanen still had no business putting his forearm into Carcillo’s neck.
Malkin (boarding): Bad-Stupid, leans into Dan Girardi’s back as Girardi is facing the boards and pushes him into the boards face first. It wasn’t a vicious hit, but Malkin knows better than to shove a guy in the numbers against the boards.
Bortuzzo (cross-checking): Inconsequential, needlessly cross-checks Martin St. Louis in the side after a whistle but gets lucky and draws Rick Nash into slashing him in the back for the cross-check, so they both go off for two minutes.
Kunitz (hooking): Bad-Lazy, tries to follow Derick Brassard through the neutral zone and gives Brassard a lazy one-handed stick lift as he stops skating. His stick gets caught in Brassard’s hands for a hooking penalty.
Neal (unsportsmanlike conduct): Inconsequential, gets called for either jabbing Lundqvist between the legs or grabbing Carcillo’s visor, but Carcillo gets called for roughing as well, canceling out the penalties.

Next Game: Game 3 @ NYR: Monday, 5/5, 7:30pm
Series tied at 1.

Thanks for reading!