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

Published on May 6th, 2014

Pens 2  Rangers 0

Pens lead the series 2-1.

By: Meesh Shanmugam (@HockeyMeesh)

Goals
Crosby (1) from Kunitz, Bortuzzo
Jokinen (5) unassisted

"F you, f you, f you, you're cool, and f you." (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

“F you, f you, f you, you’re cool, and f you.” (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Game 3 Leaders
Shots: Jokinen (4)
Missed Shots: Six Players (1)
Blocked Shots: Martin (3)
Hits: Adams (4)
Ice Time: Martin (26:10) … Vitale (8:22)
Faceoffs: Sutter (11/19) … Goc (5/10)
CF% Rel: Crosby (+19.4%) … Adams (-21.9%)
Team PP: 0 for 1 (0%)
Team PK: 5 for 5 (100%)

Playoff Leaders (Min. 8gp)
Goals: Jokinen (5)
Assists: Martin (8)
Points: Malkin (10)
Shots: Neal (34)
Missed Shots: Crosby (19)
Blocked Shots: Martin (26)
Hits: Kunitz (29)
Ice Time/game: Martin (27:15) … Vitale (9:38)
Faceoffs: Sutter (74/139, 53.2%) … Malkin (33/74, 44.6%)
CF% Rel: Crosby (+10.2%) … Vitale (-14.1%)
Team PP: 7 for 37 (18.9%), 3 SHG allowed
Team PK: 33 for 40 (82.5%), 2 SHG for

Goal Assessments: The lack of red this series is a wonderful thing.

Goal Assessments: The lack of red this series is a wonderful thing.

Player Assessment

Good

Marc-Andre Fleury – After the Penguins insulated Fleury pretty well in his 22-save Game 2 shutout, they decided to let him show off his skills (and cooperation with the posts) in a 35-save Game 3 shutout. Fleury was tested several times through the game and made some dazzling saves, most notably a glove save on a Zuccarello wrist shot in the first period. The aspect of Fleury’s game that stood out the most was just how well he was seeing the puck. He stopped Rick Nash a couple of times through heavy traffic on the crease despite having no chance to track the full trajectory of the puck. He did a great job of finding the puck through screens at the last moment and tracking it in the defensive zone in general. He was also the Penguins’ best penalty killer as the Rangers hapless powerplay started to show *some* signs of life. Fleury is near or at the top of his game right now, which is a series-changer that no one saw coming.

You show that crossbar some love MAF, He is your BF (Just don't tell the twin posts that, they may get jealous) - By @JustPuckIt

You show that crossbar some love MAF, He is your BF (Just don’t tell the twin posts that, they may get jealous) – @JustPuckIt

Paul Martin – Aside from a little bit of bad gap coverage on Mats Zuccarello (Fleury’s huge glove save) and a failed PK clear, Paul Martin just went around doing Paul Martin things. He led the team in ice time for the billionth game in a row and continues to steady Letang fairly well. He had a great start to the game as he deterred Rick Nash three times in his first two shifts with good 1-on-1 defense and two shot blocks/deflections. His steady play continued with a good pinch on the powerplay and two broken up defensive zone passes. The highlight of his night was stopping a 2-on-1 where he dropped to the ice to block the passing lane and then swung his stick behind him without looking (with some luck of course) to stop a pass going into the slot. Not only has Martin brought out some of the best aspects of Letang’s game, but he’s a pro at covering up for Letang’s mistakes too.

Niskanen gave up his life for the sins of Maatta. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Niskanen gave up his life for the sins of Maatta. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Matt Niskanen – After a dismal Game 1, Niskanen has had a quiet series but was great in the defensive zone for the Penguins in Game 3. He bailed out Olli Maatta and Robert Bortuzzo after bad turnovers and generally provided great defensive zone puck support for the entire team. Niskanen had a nice block in the high slot, forced two turnovers with poke checks, and intercepted a pass in the neutral zone. His positioning was basically perfect as the Penguins tried to lock down the defensive zone.

Brandon Sutter – Sutter’s strong playoff run continued into Game 3, especially in the defensive end. He forced two turnovers in the defensive zone with hits (what?!), broke up a neutral zone pass, had two blocked shots on the penalty kill, and also won two puck battles along the boards on the penalty kill. Though I didn’t credit him for helping out on Jokinen’s goal because Mats Zuccarello was being an idiot with the puck, Zuccarello misplayed it out of panic from running into Sutter. If there is one thing you can always count on, Brandon Sutter knows where to be at all times.

Noteworthy
Bortuzzo has earned a spot as the 6th defenseman. But who is the 5th? (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Bortuzzo has earned a spot as the 6th defenseman. But who is the 5th? (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Robert Bortuzzo – Bortuzzo had his most visible game of the playoffs, which was good in the defensive zone, great on his assist to Crosby, and a bit of an issue in the neutral zone. He forced three defensive zone turnovers, had a good block in the slot, won a puck battle along the boards against two Rangers, and made a fantastic long pass from the defensive zone to Crosby entering the offensive zone for the first goal of the game. The biggest problem Bortuzzo had was moving the puck through the neutral zone aside from that moment though. I marked him down for three turnovers in the neutral zone and he was also knocked off of the puck in the defensive zone when he was looking for a passing option in the neutral zone. I imagine Rob Scuderi’s lackluster play did not help with moving the puck either. Overall though, his defensive play was very promising.

Kris Letang – Letang played a decent game, but it looked a little better than it actually was because of some nice plays he made to make up for his own mistakes. He had two neutral zone turnovers that led to 2-on-1s the other way, a bad step up into the offensive zone that led to a 2-on-1, and also two turnovers on the penalty kill. He did manage to stop one of the 2-on-1s with a nice diving poke check that displayed his athleticism and recovery ability, but the mistake was still on him to begin with. Letang did have his good moments in the defensive zone though. He intercepted two passes in the slot, forced a turnover with a stick check, and also looked good in 1-on-1 situations. The turnovers in the neutral zone were reminiscent of the Letang that wants to do everything rather than the Letang that takes what he sees. Hopefully the latter version wins out.

Bad
"Step 1: Stand in defensive zone. Check.  Step 2...wtf is Step 2?" (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

“Step 1: Stand in defensive zone. Check. Step 2…wtf is Step 2?” (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Rob Scuderi – There is no way to sugarcoat it, Rob Scuderi was just awful with the puck in his own end against the Rangers. It was clear he was going to have a rough night early in the first period when he lost the puck in his feet twice with no pressure on him and then immediately passed the puck to Bortuzzo, who was two feet to his right and certainly not expecting a pass. The play resulted in a turnover and 40ish seconds of additional offensive zone time for the Rangers. Scuderi also added two neutral zone turnovers and two failed clears as the Rangers attempted to take advantage of his issues. Luckily, none of it resulted in a goal against and Scuderi wasn’t as awful without the puck. He did break up two passes on the crease and also forced a turnover with a poke check. Overall, the amount of zone time that the Rangers had solely based on Scuderi was astounding.

Olli Maatta – Maatta had a couple of good moments with some nice shot blocks and two broken up defensive zone passes, but he looked shaky overall and has been inconsistent with his play. He had four defensive zone turnovers and was bailed out nicely by Matt Niskanen on a couple of occasions. The most troubling thing about his turnovers was that they were largely unforced and he was trying too hard to make the perfect play from the defensive zone. One lesson that Maatta still needs to learn: simplicity in the playoffs is a good thing.

Misc. Thoughts

Other Player NotesSidney Crosby finally ended his goal drought, but didn’t look nearly as flashy as he did in Game 2. I don’t think one goal will calm the masses, so his play is still under a microscope for now. Marcel Goc was benched for a few shifts in the first period after taking a foolish penalty after a whistle against Dominic Moore. Aside from that lapse of judgment, he had a good game. Craig Adams has been dismal at 5-on-5 but looks much better on the penalty kill than he did at the end of the season. He had three pass interceptions on the PK, but I don’t know if I should give more credit to Adams or the Rangers PP. Finally, Jussi Jokinen came up with another clutch goal as his playoff scoring streak continues. I wasn’t thrilled with his neutral zone play, but his production has been huge for this team.

Don't forget the context of the event. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Don’t forget the context of the event. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Officiating – This is becoming a topic far more frequently than I want it to, but I can’t remember a playoff year that has been this inconsistent with calls. Both teams got away with things; that should be emphasized first. In regards to the abuse of Crosby by Marc Staal, I didn’t think it was terrible honestly. Cross-checks to the back/back of the head around the crease happen more than anyone would like to admit in the playoffs. It usually doesn’t get called. I honestly viewed it as everyone (not Pens fans, but actually everyone) being hypersensitive because it was Crosby. As for Staal’s slash down on Crosby’s shoulder, Crosby was falling as that play occurred and had he stayed up, that slash would have been on Crosby’s leg/stick. These things should be penalized, but I don’t think they were nearly as malicious in comparison to the playoff atmosphere as most are making it out to be. Beyond what happened to Crosby, Sutter had his stick slashed out of his hands in the slot with no call. Neal’s high-stick almost went as a non-call as the close ref didn’t call it and the linesman had to whistle it after Fast had been down on the ice for a few moments, bleeding. Crosby cross-checked Staal across the shoulders on the crease with no call. Maatta tripped a man going around the Penguins net with no call, though Jokinen was then promptly called for a holding the stick penalty, which I don’t believe would have been called without the ref realizing he missed a call on Maatta’s penalty. Martin’s hook at the end of the game was a joke of a call. Derick Brassard took a punch/shove to the face from Sutter with no reaction from anyone. Really, everything is just a mess in the playoffs. I have no clue how the players figure out what’s allowed and not allowed.

Back-to-Back Effects – This section has absolutely nothing to do with the Rangers’ schedule. Game 3 was a mess for both teams. The first period was very disjointed and the level of play never really increased at any point. It was a game where skill often struggled (unless you were Fleury), so systems were on display and incredibly important. Both teams had a plethora of turnovers, especially in the neutral zone, and the pace never really reached a “playoff hockey” level. So, while the Rangers may have a tough schedule and blah blah blah, I was more disappointed in the back-to-backs for what they did to the entertainment level of the game. Pierre was so bored that he was talking about travel plans in the 3rd period. As a Pens fan, I’m ecstatic with the Pens winning a 2-0 game. For casual fans though, the NHL/MSG scheduling did a disservice to the game of hockey, and especially playoff hockey. From purely a marketing perspective, that game was a dud.

Holding the Lead – As for the systems part of the game, both teams did a great job of keeping their opponents to the perimeter and the Penguins did a phenomenal job in the third period of supporting each other and forcing puck carriers into limited-option situations. The Penguins consistently had a man moving to the puck along the boards, players on both the right and left to support the puck regardless of where it went, another player behind those three if the puck came straight out, and another player covering the open area on the back side as a safety net. There was no drifting, very few lapses, and generally strong systematic play. The mistakes the Penguins made in the 3rd period were largely in the form of neutral zone turnovers or failing to get the puck deep. Their defensive zone work was very systematic and shutdown though. The Rangers did get their chances, but not usually from high scoring percentage areas. You would like to see the Penguins control the play by dominating the puck, but their defensive effort was the next best thing and the mark of a team that is championship-capable.

Ah, the look of a goalie who knows his team has lost after one goal is allowed. (Kathy Willens/AP Photo)

Ah, the look of a goalie who knows his team has lost after one goal is allowed. (Kathy Willens/AP Photo)

Series Outlook – The Penguins are in a very comfortable position now that they have stolen home-ice advantage back, sapped the Rangers of any confidence (and energy?), and gotten Fleury into a groove. They have an opportunity to take a stranglehold of the series in Game 4 and I believe they will as the Rangers PP and offense is not clicking whatsoever. Home ice was clearly not an advantage for New York either as that arena sounded just as lifeless as Consol. A day off may give the Rangers more energy, but the Penguins look like a team that is finally willing to do what it takes to win (especially on defense), and that’s a bad sign for a Rangers team that isn’t as talented and can’t find a goal to save their lives. Game 4 boils down to three things: Can the Rangers fix their PP, can Lundqvist keep the Penguins off the scoreboard long enough for New York to find a goal, and will the Penguins step on the gas to push New York to the brink.

Fleeting Thoughts – Supposedly the ice was good at MSG according to Pierre before the game, but it certainly didn’t look like it. Gibbons fell randomly several times (okay he normally does that) and a Rangers defenseman fell just standing behind his own net. The corners seemed to be a death trap for skaters at times. … Henrik Lundqvist hasn’t allowed a bad goal in the last two games and has nothing to show for it. I can’t even imagine his frustration right now. … Does anyone miss Tanner Glass? Anyone?

Goal Assessment

First Goal For (Crosby)
In the defensive zone, Chris Kunitz tries to move the puck up the boards and is stopped by Anton Stralman. The puck flies into the air and behind Kunitz, but he recovers and knocks the puck towards the middle of the zone for Robert Bortuzzo. Bortuzzo corrals the puck as he moves away from Jesper Fast and looks up to find his options. Bortuzzo sees Sidney Crosby crossing through the neutral zone with speed and finds a seam to pass him the puck. Crosby gets the pass as he enters the Rangers zone on the left side and skates past Marc Staal, who is trying to keep up with him. Crosby skates the puck down to the inside of the left faceoff dot as Staal tries to take away the slot and then he shoots the puck right through Lundqvist’s five-hole into the net.
Players contributing to the first goal for: Kunitz (9), Bortuzzo (2), Crosby (9)

Goal: Crosby - By @JustPuckIt

Goal: Crosby – By @JustPuckIt

Second Goal For (Jokinen)
Mats Zuccarello carries the puck into the left side of the Penguins zone as the penalty on Jussi Jokinen is expiring. Zuccarello pulls up despite not facing any pressure and skates back into Brandon Sutter along the boards. Zuccarello then makes a pass back to the left point for Marc Staal. The pass is out of the reach of Staal and the puck glides back to center ice, where Jussi Jokinen picks it up with a clean breakaway as he just exited the penalty box. Jokinen skates in on Lundqvist and beats him with a quick wrist shot past his blocker.
Players contributing to the second goal for: Jokinen (9)

Goal: Jokinen - By @JustPuckIt

Goal: Jokinen – By @JustPuckIt

Penalty Assessment

Goc (roughing): Bad-Stupid, gets tied up with Dominic Moore after a whistle and then punches Moore in the face and the back.
Neal (high-sticking x2): Bad-Careless, enters the offensive zone and drops a pass for Malkin, then tries to skate around Jesper Fast but lifts his stick into Fast’s face instead of over his head like planned. Fast bleeds for a double minor.
Jokinen (holding the stick): Bad, wraps his arm around Derick Brassard’s stick on the Penguins’ crease and keeps his arm clamped down on Brassard’s stick as both of them go behind the net to play the puck.
Martin (hooking): Bad Call, puts his stick across Zuccarello’s thigh/waist as Zuccarello gets past him going to the net, but does not hook or impede him in any way.

Next Game: Game 4 @ NYR: Wednesday, 5/7, 7:30pm
Pens lead the series 2-1.

Thanks for reading!