Thoughts: Eastern Conference Semifinals Game 4 – Pens 4 Rangers 2

Pens 4  Rangers 2

Pens lead the series 3-1.

By: Meesh Shanmugam (@HockeyMeesh)

Malkin (5) from Crosby
Sutter (4) (SH) from Gibbons, Letang
Jokinen (6) from Neal
Kunitz (3) from Malkin, Crosby

Game 4 Leaders
Shots: Sutter (4)
Missed Shots: Malkin (6)
Blocked Shots: Orpik, Scuderi (2)
Hits: Kunitz (6)
Ice Time: Martin (30:05) … Vitale (9:09), Orpik (5:15*) *injured
Faceoffs: Crosby (10/15) … Goc (5/9)
CF% Rel: Crosby (+23.2%) … Neal (-23.7%)
Team PP: 0 for 3 (0%)
Team PK: 2 for 2 (100%), 1 SHG for

Playoff Leaders (Min. 8gp)
Goals: Jokinen (6)
Assists: Crosby, Martin (8)
Points: Malkin (12)
Shots: Kunitz, Neal (36)
Missed Shots: Crosby (19)
Blocked Shots: Martin (27)
Hits: Kunitz (35)
Ice Time/game: Martin (27:32) … Vitale (9:35)
Faceoffs: Sutter (82/152, 54%) … Malkin (33/74, 44.6%)
CF% Rel: Crosby (+11.8%) … Vitale (-12.2%)
Team PP: 7 for 40 (17.5%), 3 SHG allowed
Team PK: 35 for 42 (83.3%), 3 SHG for

Player Assessment

Sutter's RFA price keeps going up with every game. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Sutter’s RFA price keeps going up with every game. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Brandon Sutter – Sutter’s play behind the red line was outstanding throughout the night and he was rewarded with a gift of a shorthanded goal for his hard work (and because Gibbons can’t control a puck). At even strength, he intercepted two passes in the defensive zone, forced a turnover near the crease, and also forced a turnover with a hit at the offensive blue line. His work was even better on the penalty kill as he broke up two passes, won a defensive zone puck battle, and followed the breakaway by Gibbons so he was at the crease to shoot the loose puck into the net. Despite the number of Penguins performing well right now, Sutter has easily seen the biggest increase from his regular season to playoff performance in my eyes.

Sidney Crosby – Crosby may not have scored another goal in this game, but it may have been his best of the playoffs. He recorded two assists and was basically a pest to the Rangers in the offensive zone. Just in the offensive zone, I marked him down for two takeaways, a pass interception, forcing a turnover with a poke check, and drawing a high-sticking penalty. He also had two pass deflections in the neutral zone. Crosby was constantly around the puck in front of the red line and is starting to look like the most talented grinder in the league again.

Evgeni Malkin – Malkin came out roaring in the first period on Crosby’s line and was generally a menace in the offensive zone. He had two offensive zone takeaways, a pass interception, and two good keeps at the blue line as he kept the Rangers stuck in their end for some long shifts. The highlight of his offensive work was his 360-degree spin to put a puck under Lundqvist, though his puck retrieval and setup for Kunitz’s goal was also quite nice. In the defensive zone, Malkin forced two turnovers with stick-lifts and also intercepted a pass in the neutral zone. Malkin did make a few mistakes with two offensive zone giveaways and an offensive zone tripping penalty, but none of it really changed anything (the Pens even scored while he was in the penalty box).

Even when Letang is turning the puck over, he's in position for it now. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Even when Letang is turning the puck over, he’s in position for it now. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Kris Letang – Letang had a ton of turnover issues early in the game but he slowly settled into a decent game. Throughout the night I marked him down for six turnovers (two offensive zone, one neutral zone, three defensive zone) and a lost puck battle in the defensive zone. Despite the puck management issues, he did plenty of good for the team still. He broke up two passes in the defensive zone, stopped two zone entries by standing his man up, made a smart offensive zone pinch, and also had a great assist on Sutter’s goal as he stepped up at the defensive blue line on the penalty kill to break up a pass and knock the puck up to Gibbons for a breakaway. Letang usually won’t get away with turning the puck over as many times as he did in Game 4, but it all worked itself out for him in this one.

Olli Maatta – Maatta improved after a below average Game 3 performance, but he still has work to do. On the plus side, he forced two defensive zone turnovers with poke checks and also won two defensive zone puck battles in the corners. However, he still had two defensive zone turnovers on failed clears to go along with an offensive zone turnover and a lost puck battle in the defensive zone. He has been rather inconsistent from shift to shift, but the Penguins running five defensemen for most of the night probably didn’t help that either.

Chris Kunitz – Kunitz fit the role of third musketeer with Malkin and Crosby pretty well throughout the night. He led the team with six hits, was the target of Crosby’s pass on the first goal for, scored the 4th goal, intercepted two offensive zone passes, and also broke up a pass in the defensive zone. On the other hand, he turned the puck over once in each zone and took a foolish retaliation penalty after absorbing a questionable hit from Dan Girardi. Girardi definitely sold the slash with a little embellishment, but Kunitz knows better than to do that.



Misc. Thoughts

Bennett, like many, was a victim of Lundqvist's robbery. (Frank Franklin II/AP Photo)

Bennett, like many, was a victim of Lundqvist’s robbery. (Frank Franklin II/AP Photo)

Other Player NotesBeau Bennett had a good game despite being on for both goals against (neither his fault). He intercepted two passes, had a neutral zone takeaway, and forced two turnovers with poke checks. Brian Gibbons had a solid night, especially on the penalty kill. He had two good poke checks, forced two turnovers with hits, and ended up with an assist on Sutter’s goal. The only problem with him continues to be his inability to handle the puck after he takes it away from someone. Rob Scuderi had a strong night despite being on for both goals against (neither his fault either). Though he had two giveaways in the defensive zone, he also broke up three passes in the defensive zone and forced two turnovers. Finally, Paul Martin had a solid game as well as he played 30:05 to lead the team. He had three good poke checks and also started the play that led to the 4th goal.

Lines & Lineup – Dan Bylsma finally gave up on pretending that Malkin was on the second line and just moved him to the first line full time. The move basically buried the Rangers as they had no answer for Kunitz/Crosby/Malkin at all. Bylsma was very efficient with his usage of them too, using them after tv timeouts, icing calls, and basically in every situation where it appeared the Penguins could gain a major edge in the game. I’m not sure if this can be an effective plan against a team like Boston, but it dominated New York.

Moving Malkin to the top line has created a line that can't be stopped. (Frank Franklin II/AP Photo)

Moving Malkin to the top line has created a line that can’t be stopped. (Frank Franklin II/AP Photo)

Meanwhile, the rest of the lines looked pretty solid overall. Jokinen/Sutter/Neal saw more defensive zone time to match Sutter’s role and all three players did a fairly solid job with that focus. Neal still recorded an assist on Jokinen’s goal, but his shooting attempts tailed off and it will be interesting to see how his offensive game is changed by the switch. Beau Bennett had a great game alongside Marcel Goc on the third line, though Goc seemed quiet. Finally, the 4th line was a bit of a mess. Adams continues to look good on the PK, but not so much at 5-on-5. Gibbons followed suit as he was quite capable of breaking up plays but less capable of creating them. Vitale went 7/11 in faceoffs at least. At this point, the 4th line just has to not suck, which they mostly accomplished in Game 4.

Moving to the defensive end, Brooks Orpik returned to the lineup in place of Robert Bortuzzo, a move that seemingly no one liked. Admittedly, I think Bortuzzo has earned his spot and has outplayed Scuderi as well to avoid getting benched. However, with Orpik injuring his right leg (knee?) and leaving the game early, this may not be a necessary discussion anymore. For what it’s worth, Scuderi did play well in Game 4 and hasn’t been as bad in this round as he was in the first round.

Five-Man Units – The most impressive thing about the Penguins in the past two games has been how cohesively every five-man group is playing on the ice. We saw a lot of it in the defensive zone in the 3rd period of Game 3 as the entire team made sure there was puck support to the left, right, and behind while forcing opponents to the perimeter. In Game 4, the same effort was on display and it extended to the offensive zone as well. The Penguins had some great forechecking efforts in Game 4 as players rotated positionally to cover for the forechecker based on opportunity. I was very impressed with the lack of passing lanes that the Penguins allowed to stay open through the neutral zone as every player shifted consistently to cover possible open lanes. This team finally looks like they can read and react to each other and systems to maximize their coverage. The Rangers look tired and broken at this point, but the Penguins are doing everything to ensure they stay that way with some impressive focus.

Lundqvist is ready to take a regular shift because maybe he can score. (Scott Levy/Getty Images)

Lundqvist is ready to take a regular shift because maybe he can score. (Scott Levy/Getty Images)

Series Outlook – The Rangers will try for one last gasp in Game 5 in Pittsburgh on Friday night. At this point, I don’t think they have anything left in them. McDonagh and Girardi look slow and beatable. Lundqvist can play his best right now but still isn’t getting enough help from his team. Martin St. Louis has been invisible. Rick Nash has been visible, but can’t beat a goalie to save his life right now. The Rangers definitely look like a team that is just about done. New York will try to push the Penguins a bit in Game 5, but I don’t think they have a 60-minute effort in them, so expect the Penguins to finish the series off on Friday.

Fleeting Thoughts – In the first period, Kris Letang had a scary hit/collision with Carl Hagelin going into the corner of the defensive zone. As both players went down, Letang took an extra second to check on Hagelin and make sure he was okay before skating back into the play. It’s the type of play that I wish would get highlighted more over all these head/groin incidents. There are some good people in hockey. … Marc-Andre Fleury did give up a weak goal late in the 3rd period, but the Rangers didn’t get many attempts on him after that and it didn’t look like Fleury was shaken at all. Just another good sign from Fleury. … One thing that has gone unnoticed through the wins is that the Penguins powerplay isn’t doing too much right now, going just 1-for-11 in this series. It may not matter right now, but it’s something to keep an eye on.

Goal Assessment

First Goal For (Malkin)
Anton Stralman has the puck in the Rangers zone and tries to make a long pass to the Penguins blue line. The pass hits Evgeni Malkin at the Rangers blue line though, and Malkin gets control in the neutral zone before entering the Rangers zone along the right side boards on a 3-on-2 with Kunitz and Crosby. Malkin skates to the top of the right faceoff circle and passes the puck across to Sidney Crosby above the left faceoff dot as Chris Kunitz skates to the crease. Crosby holds the puck as he skates past the left faceoff dot and tries to make a pass to Kunitz at the top of the crease, but Stralman drops to the ice and deflects the pass away from Kunitz. The pass still gets under Stralman though and makes it across to the inside edge of the right faceoff circle, where it hits off of the left skate of Marc Staal and bounces behind Malkin just outside of the crease. Malkin quickly makes a 360-degree spin to get the puck with his back to Lundqvist and then backhands the puck under Lundqvist’s left pad into the net.
Players contributing to the first goal for: Kunitz (10), Crosby (10), Malkin (11)

Goal: Malkin - By @JustPuckIt

Goal: Malkin – By @JustPuckIt

First Goal Against (Hagelin)
Ryan McDonagh holds the puck in the Rangers zone as both teams finish a line change. He passes the puck to Carl Hagelin skating into the neutral zone near the benches as all three Penguins forwards, including Craig Adams who should be closing off some of that space, are caught on the opposite side of the ice in the neutral zone. Hagelin gets a huge open lane as he picks up speed and skates through the left side of the neutral zone with the puck. Meanwhile, Matt Niskanen moves too far towards Martin St. Louis next to the Rangers bench as Hagelin skates through the neutral zone, leaving room for Hagelin to skate across the middle of the blue line into the Penguins zone. Hagelin skates through the Penguins zone with an isolated 2-on-1 with Brad Richards on his right against Rob Scuderi. Scuderi stays in between them to cover the passing lane and Hagelin just carries the puck to the inside of the left faceoff circle and rips a wrist shot past Fleury’s glove.
Players at fault for the first goal against: Adams (1), Niskanen (5)

Second Goal For (Sutter)
With the Rangers on the powerplay, Brian Gibbons pressures Rick Nash in the neutral zone, forcing Nash to flip the puck towards the Penguins blue line. Kris Letang steps up on the puck as it bounces to the Penguins blue line and he whacks it up the left side boards. The puck bounces off of the boards and gets to Gibbons, who enters the Rangers zone along the left side boards with a breakaway. Gibbons skates in on Lundqvist and tries to skate across the crease to get Lundqvist to move across while leaving the puck behind him for a shot where Lundqvist has moved from. However, Gibbons loses control of the puck and it stays at the top of the crease. Dan Girardi, who was following Gibbons on the breakaway, doesn’t see the loose puck as he hits Gibbons, leaving Brandon Sutter to flip the puck into the net over Lundqvist as he follows the play to the crease.
Players contributing to the second goal for: Letang (6), Gibbons (3), Sutter (8)

Goal: Sutter - By @JustPuckIt

Goal: Sutter – By @JustPuckIt

Third Goal For (Jokinen)
In the Penguins zone, Marc Staal tries to take a shot from the left point that is blocked by James Neal. The puck bounces into the neutral zone and is chased by both Staal and Neal. Staal retrieves the puck as he enters back into the Rangers zone, but then has it taken away by Neal with a stick lift. Neal cuts to the middle high in the Rangers zone and drops the puck off for Jussi Jokinen, who is just entering the zone. Jokinen carries the puck to the outside towards the right faceoff dot and takes a backhand shot that is blocked by Mats Zuccarello. The puck caroms behind the net, where Jokinen continues in his path to pick it up. Jokinen then skates behind the net and to the bottom of the left faceoff circle before turning around and taking a quick wrist shot towards the net. The puck hits the right leg of Staal in front of the crease and goes through Lundqvist’s five-hole.
Players contributing to the third goal for: Neal (7), Jokinen (10)

Goal: Jokinen - By @JustPuckIt

Goal: Jokinen – By @JustPuckIt

Second Goal Against (Zuccarello)
Marc Staal gets the puck in the Rangers zone and skates it behind his own net. He then passes it to Anton Stralman in the corner of the Rangers zone. Stralman passes the puck across the ice to Mats Zuccarello exiting the Rangers zone along the left side boards. Zuccarello skates the puck through the neutral zone and enters the Penguins zone in a 3-on-3 situation. Zuccarello pulls up as he enters the zone while Derick Brassard skates towards the net, backing Rob Scuderi towards the net and also getting Lee Stempniak to follow him. With Stempniak following Brassard, Paul Martin is forced to try to follow Zuccarello as he crosses the ice. Zuccarello stays high in the zone and then starts cutting down towards the right faceoff circle as he has an outside step on Martin trying to move laterally with him. Martin drops to the ice trying to block off any passing options Zuccarello has to the middle, but Zuccarello holds the puck and takes a backhand shot from the bottom of the right faceoff circle. Marc-Andre Fleury doesn’t get firmly against his post and the puck sneaks through in between his elbow and the post.
Players at fault for the second goal against: Stempniak (5), Fleury (5)

Fourth Goal For (Kunitz)
Chris Kunitz wins a puck battle in the defensive zone against Benoit Pouliot and moves the puck back to Paul Martin below the goal line. Martin skates the puck out to the Penguins blue line and moves it along to Sidney Crosby right in front of him. Crosby gets the puck to center ice and then dumps it towards the right corner of the Rangers zone as Evgeni Malkin enters the zone. Malkin wins the race to the puck in the right corner of the Rangers zone and carries the puck behind the net. He carries the puck all the way to the bottom of the left faceoff circle as he has the attention of Ryan McDonagh and Martin St. Louis, then he makes a backhand pass to Chris Kunitz, who is uncovered at the inside corner of the left faceoff circle. Kunitz promptly takes a one-timer that beats Lundqvist past his blocker.
Players contributing to the fourth goal for: Martin (11), Crosby (11), Malkin (12), Kunitz (11)

Goal: Kunitz - By @JustPuckIt

Goal: Kunitz – By @JustPuckIt

Penalty Assessment

Kunitz (slashing): Bad-Stupid, gets checked face-first into the benches by Dan Girardi, then turns around and gives Girardi a one-handed slash in retaliation, which is sold nicely by Girardi for a penalty.
Malkin (tripping): Bad, loses a puck battle to Brassard and trips Brassard as he’s still trying to reach for the puck.

Next Game: Game 5 vs NYR: Friday, 5/7, 7pm
Pens lead the series 3-1.

Thanks for reading!