Thoughts: Eastern Conference Semifinals Game 6 – Rangers 3 Pens 1

Rangers 3  Pens 1

Series tied at 3.

By: Meesh Shanmugam (@HockeyMeesh)

Goals
Sutter (5) from Niskanen, Maatta

Game Summary: Blood. (Elsa/Getty Images)

Game Summary: Blood. (Elsa/Getty Images)

Game 6 Leaders
Shots: Neal (7)
Missed Shots: Neal (3)
Blocked Shots: Five Players (2)
Hits: Niskanen (4)
Ice Time: Martin (26:07) … Adams (8:28)
Faceoffs: Goc (7/9) … Sutter (5/15)
CF% Rel: Jokinen (+23.4%) … Scuderi (-29.7%)
Team PP: 0 for 4 (0%)
Team PK: 6 for 6 (100%)

Playoff Leaders (Min. 8gp)
Goals: Malkin, Jokinen (6)
Assists: Crosby, Martin (8)
Points: Malkin (13)
Shots: Neal (45)
Missed Shots: Crosby (21)
Blocked Shots: Martin (34)
Hits: Kunitz (37)
Ice Time/game: Martin (27:15) … Vitale (9:26)
Faceoffs: Sutter (51/89, 57.3%) … Malkin (34/76, 44.7%)
CF% Rel: Crosby (+10.1%) … Scuderi (-10.9%)
Team PP: 7 for 48 (14.6%), 3 SHG allowed
Team PK: 42 for 51 (82.4%), 3 SHG for

Fleury is on a troubling streak for Game 7.

Goal Assessments: Fleury is on a troubling streak for Game 7.

Player Assessment

Good
Gibbons is succeeding due to carefree effort. (Elsa/Getty Images)

Gibbons is succeeding due to carefree effort. (Elsa/Getty Images)

Brian Gibbons – If you note the fact that Gibbons was the only skater that I marked down for more positives than negatives, it’s rather impressive the Penguins only lost 3-1. Gibbons had a strong night, though he couldn’t convert that on the scoreboard as is often the case. He helped the 6-for-6 penalty kill with two defensive zone takeaways, good puck possession in the offensive zone, and a shorthanded breakaway that was denied by Lundqvist. He also threw a hit at the defensive blue line that caused a turnover and broke up a neutral zone pass at even strength. Gibbons was given more ice time than usual as he was the only player that appeared to be sparking anything. He played 14:32 and was the first extra attacker that Bylsma used when Fleury was pulled, but alas, he couldn’t change anything on the scoreboard.

Noteworthy

Brandon Sutter – A little (lot?) of luck produced a goal for Sutter, but his overall game didn’t match up to his normal expectations. He broke up two neutral zone passes on the penalty kill, forced a turnover in the defensive zone, and had a takeaway in the offensive zone to go along with his goal. With all of that good though, Sutter struggled with puck management and physicality. He had two neutral zone giveaways and an offensive zone giveaway on the powerplay. He also lost two puck battles along the boards in the defensive zone and was rather useless on the third goal against as he lost track of the puck by the crease and let Brassard whack away at Fleury until the puck was in the net. Sutter has set some lofty standards this postseason, but I’d much rather see the offense disappear than the defense ever quit.

Fleury needs to be flawless in Game 7. (Seth Wenig/AP Photo)

Fleury needs to be flawless in Game 7. (Seth Wenig/AP Photo)

Marc-Andre Fleury – Fleury finished the game with a pedestrian 26 saves on 29 shots as he looked brilliant at times and not worthy of starting at others. His defense wasn’t exactly up to the task of helping him out at several points in the game, forcing him to break up two passes with his stick on the crease, stop a breakaway on the penalty kill, get bowled over to draw a goalie interference penalty (thanks to a shove from Kris Letang), and make a couple of big saves from chances in the slot. As for the goals he allowed, the first and third ones were a product of some unlucky bounces and the Rangers outworking the Penguins. The second goal was very disappointing for Fleury though. It was a backhander from the left faceoff dot that basically went right through him and should have been stopped. Had the Penguins put together any sort of decent effort, that goal would have probably weighed more heavily on him. However, he still looked sharp afterwards as the Penguins gave him plenty of chances to look good with bad defense.

James Neal – Neal has become (has been?) an easy target for criticism and Game 6 did little to change that. He looked lethargic at times as he lost puck races in the defensive zone and neutral zone, took an offensive zone tripping penalty, and had an offensive zone giveaway. To his credit though, he is at least trying to get the puck on net and finished with a team-high seven shots (another three missed). Of course, that would be a bit more valuable if one would go into the net. Neal also had two offensive zone takeaways, an offensive zone pass interception, and a defensive zone pass interception. He isn’t playing as poorly as many would suggest, but he will be endlessly criticized until he scores.

Entire Defense – Aside from a unique note here and there, the entire defense was consistent about the good plays they made and the mistakes they made. Every single defenseman got caught in the offensive zone once for a 2-on-1 against. All of them except for Niskanen fanned on a puck that led to a turnover. All of them had a good keep at the offensive zone blue line in the third period. All of them had two offensive zone turnovers except for Martin (zero). As for the unique notes: Niskanen recorded an assist and had bad coverage/lost sight of the puck on the first goal against. Maatta had an assist thanks to a good keep in the offensive zone but took a bad too many men penalty as he showed poor awareness. Letang drew a hooking penalty, but he was also slow and fell on the first goal against. Martin broke up three defensive zone passes but couldn’t win the puck battle on the third goal against. Bortuzzo fanned on three pucks in the offensive zone. Scuderi drew a tripping penalty but couldn’t keep up with the play in the defensive zone at any time with poor skating. The entire defense was mediocre overall and that isn’t good enough for this team to succeed.

Bad
Malkin has been strong in the playoffs, but he might need to carry the team in Game 7. (Scott Levy/Getty Images)

Malkin has been strong in the playoffs, but he might need to carry the team in Game 7. (Scott Levy/Getty Images)

Evgeni Malkin – The Malkin on the first line trend brought the best out of Geno for a few games, but it certainly didn’t in Game 6. Malkin started deferring on his shooting decisions frequently in Game 6 and the Rangers stepped up to it quickly when given the opportunity. He was knocked off of the puck twice in the offensive zone, had two offensive zone giveaways, passed up on a great shooting chance from the left faceoff circle to force the puck into traffic, lost the puck in the defensive zone, and did a poor job of covering the slot on a great chance by Mats Zuccarello in the third. The only positive notes I had for Geno were a good keep in the offensive zone and one takeaway there as well. He finished with only two shots on net and struggled to make the right decisions against the Rangers.

Chris Kunitz – Kunitz had a quiet, yet mentally unstable game. He finished with 0 shots on net and was a liability in several other areas as it looked like his mind was not on the scoreboard. On the first goal against, Kunitz tried to line up Stepan for a big hit along the boards instead of playing him safely or even approaching the puck, which allowed Stepan to spin away from the hit and set the first goal against in motion. Kunitz also took a roughing penalty at the end of the 2nd period as he went in to “stand up” for Crosby against Dominic Moore and just escalated things. Back to his game play, he also had two lackadaisical coverages for defensemen who were pinching into the offensive zone, something that Kunitz is usually superb at. Though he didn’t get called for anything at the end of the game, Kunitz went after Moore again after the final whistle as Moore and Crosby were just standing next to each other and talking. Crosby was the one who calmly told Moore to skate away as Kunitz was looking for trouble. For all of the flak that the Penguins get for lacking mental composure, Kunitz deserved a lot of the attention in this one.

Misc. Thoughts

Sid, you might have some technical flaws here... (Scott Levy/Getty Images)

Sid, you might have some technical flaws here… (Scott Levy/Getty Images)

Other Player NotesSidney Crosby was invisible aside from scrums in this game. He finished with just one shot and I only marked him down for breaking up a neutral zone pass and an offensive zone giveaway on the powerplay. The lack of involvement from Crosby is a major issue. Beau Bennett took two bad penalties and finished with zero shots on net. He would be the most invisible player on the ice if it weren’t for the penalties. Lee Stempniak had three neutral zone turnovers and singlehandedly ended the Penguins transition game several times.

Afraid to Lose – One of the most frustrating things about this team all season and especially during this playoff run has been their baffling inconsistency from game-to-game and even period-to-period. Without being in the locker room or knowing anything in-depth, I think a lot of it is based on their mental state switching between “we’re going to take over this game” and “we need to make sure we don’t make any mistakes.” This team is aware of the expectations, the pressure, and the enormous microscope that they’re under. They’re always the favored team. The Penguins lost a lot of puck races in Game 6 and it wasn’t because of effort/energy/etc; it was because of their approach. On a majority of the lost races, the Penguins player would glance over at the Rangers player several times, losing speed and trying to measure up the battle. Meanwhile, the Rangers were largely going all out for the puck regardless of where any Penguin was and without a second glance to figure it out. The Penguins as a team were afraid of what would happen after the players got to the puck and the Rangers were just focused on getting the puck and figuring it all out later. I specifically marked down Malkin, Neal, Scuderi, Letang, and Sutter for losing puck races/puck battles with this approach. On the other hand, I think Gibbons looked as good as he did in Game 6 because of his puck-first mentality that starts with getting to the puck rather than trying to think it through or think ahead. Many people want to argue the Penguins don’t care, don’t have the effort, etc, but I think the problem is they care too much and they are far too worried about what happens if they make a mistake. This team plays too tentatively for their talent level and it’s an easy weakness for New York to exploit right now as they’re ecstatic that the series isn’t over yet and fighting for every inch.

Lundqvist has made some very clutch saves in the past two games. (Seth Wenig/AP Photo)

Lundqvist has made some very clutch saves in the past two games. (Seth Wenig/AP Photo)

The Other Team – Tons of credit should go to Henrik Lundqvist at this point. He has stopped several breakaways in this series, including two last night. He has been very strong the last two games and is easily the biggest reason the Penguins can’t score much right now. Another thing to point out is that the Rangers are getting help from their depth defensemen in ways the Penguins cannot imagine. Kevin Klein and John Moore both made plays that led to Rangers goals last night (and Klein even scored the Penguins goal). The Penguins can’t even hope to get that out of their bottom pairing. The Penguins are definitely not playing their best hockey, but it should also be noted that the other team is finding their game as well.

Armchair Coaching – I was happy to see that the Penguins went back to the four-forward powerplay, but the effect was nullified as the entire team was hesitant to shoot the puck. The lack of shots makes Chris Kunitz incredibly useless on the powerplay as well as he stands around the crease with nothing to do and no pucks getting near him. If the Penguins are insistent on wasting their powerplays like this, their best setup might require Martin and Niskanen on the points because they will get the puck to the net at least. I’m all for the four-forward powerplay, but I have no clue how you get it through to the team that they need to shoot more.

It’s time to break up Malkin/Crosby again. I was hesitant with them together earlier in the series but it worked so well that it was impossible to argue against. Both Malkin and Crosby seem to be deferring too much now though and the Penguins really need a boost out of James Neal that can probably only be produced by Malkin on the second line. Also, the line certainly hasn’t brought the best out of either player in the past two games. Give the Rangers’ defense credit; they have adjusted to playing against that power line after being completely outmatched for a few games. Just like with any series though, several changes need to be made to keep counteracting the opposition. The Rangers have adjusted to Malkin and Crosby together, now it’s time to force them to deal with a theoretical scoring threat on each of the top two lines again. The chess match never ends in a series.

As for lineup changes, I personally would not make any but I still wouldn’t be shocked to see Tanner Glass enter the lineup. I am still mildly surprised he didn’t for Game 6 with some players (Bennett, Vitale) not pulling their weight and the Rangers winning so many puck battles. I don’t think it would necessarily be a worthwhile move as Glass generally just hits people after the puck is gone, but it’s the type of thing I could see a coach appreciating, right or wrong.

The Martin St. Louis story is one of the more touching storylines in hockey...unless you're a Pens fan. (Scott Levy/Getty Images)

The Martin St. Louis story is one of the more touching storylines in hockey…unless you’re a Pens fan. (Scott Levy/Getty Images)

Series Outlook – When I picked the Rangers in 6, it was due to Lundqvist, the Rangers’ defense, and their overall depth. Despite those edges, the Penguins ran out to a 3-1 series lead with textbook team defense and by attacking the puck for long stretches of time. With two opportunities to eliminate New York, the Penguins have thrown out their textbook in favor of “we will win this series as long as we don’t screw up.” In the playoffs, the team that seizes the opportunity usually wins, not the team that waits patiently hoping not to screw up. In Game 5, the Rangers had an emotional edge with Martin St. Louis. In Game 6, they had a mental/emotional edge with a win, Martin St. Louis, and mother’s day. The Rangers will enter Game 7 with a mental/emotional edge due to two wins, Martin St. Louis, and the feeling that they are playing great hockey on borrowed time with nothing to lose. The pressure is still on the Penguins, maybe even more now on home ice in Game 7. They have the talent necessary to win this. However, it doesn’t seem smart to bet against Lundqvist and the team in the better mental state.

Fleeting Thoughts – If the Penguins do lose Game 7, I would expect significant coaching and roster changes. There is no shame in losing to the Rangers in 7, but the path to that loss, coupled with the path to last year’s ECF loss, would probably be too much to overlook for Lemieux and ownership. … The optics of Game 6 were interesting. The Penguins had more shots, but fewer quality shots. The Rangers appeared to get significantly more lucky bounces, but the Rangers were also skating harder to get/produce those bounces. Hard work is beating poor quality in the end.

Goal Assessment

First Goal Against (St. Louis)
In the Rangers zone, Henrik Lundqvist makes a save on a one-timer from Matt Niskanen and the puck bounces back out towards the Rangers blue line. Chris Kreider picks up the loose puck and chips it into the neutral zone past Matt Niskanen at the Rangers blue line. Kreider tries to get around Niskanen to get the puck along the right side boards, but Niskanen holds him up slightly as Kris Letang races from center ice towards the right side boards to play the puck. Both Kreider and Letang reach out to smack the puck as it enters the Penguins zone, with Kreider winning the battle and knocking the puck behind the Penguins goal line. Kreider immediately stops and goes to the bench for a change, leaving Letang gliding down the right side boards following the puck, Derek Stepan skating through the middle of the Penguins zone towards the puck, and Niskanen following Stepan closely. All three players glide towards the puck as Stepan and Letang meet each other below behind the goal line at the puck while Niskanen watches from the other side of the net. Letang loses an edge and falls to the ice, leaving Stepan to get the puck. Chris Kunitz skates down to support Letang, but Stepan spins away from Kunitz’s attempt at a hit and then passes the puck to Martin St. Louis in the right corner. St. Louis looks up and passes the puck to Anton Stralman in the high slot. Stralman takes a wrist shot that is stopped by Fleury. The rebound bounces in front of Fleury to the skates of Niskanen, who is now covering the front of the crease. Niskanen spins around as he can’t find the puck in his skates and Stepan jabs at it, backhanding it towards the net. The shot is going wide, but it hits the leg of Martin St. Louis and bounces into the net.
Players at fault for the first goal against: Letang (5), Kunitz (3), Niskanen (6)

Second Goal Against (Hagelin)
In the Rangers zone, Jussi Jokinen tries to make a pass from below the goal line to Robert Bortuzzo at the right point. Bortuzzo tries to skate up to the pass for a one-timer, but Carl Hagelin tips the pass at the right faceoff dot and knocks it past Bortuzzo. The puck rolls all the way into the Penguins zone as Hagelin skates furiously to chase it down along the left side boards while Rob Scuderi tries to beat him to the puck coming from the right side and Brad Richards stays on the right side to create a 2-on-1. Hagelin gets to the puck at the top of the left faceoff circle in the Penguins zone and tries to pass the puck across to Richards, but Scuderi gets to Hagelin in time to block the pass off with his stick. Both Hagelin and Scuderi overskate the puck as it remains at the left faceoff dot, but Hagelin makes a quicker stop and gets back to the puck first. Hagelin picks up the puck at the left faceoff dot and moves it a step towards the middle before taking a backhand shot that gets in between Fleury’s right arm and his chest.
Players at fault for the second goal against: Fleury (7)

First Goal For (Sutter)
John Moore gets the puck in the left corner of the Rangers zone and tries to backhand it up the boards out of the zone. Olli Maatta is at the blue line along the left side boards and keeps the puck in the zone, swatting it right back down the boards. The puck rolls behind the net, where Brandon Sutter picks it up and holds it as both teams come back into the zone and get into their positions. Sutter then wraps the puck around the right side boards up to Matt Niskanen at the right point. Niskanen holds the puck and moves towards the middle of the blue line as Sutter comes up the right side boards. Niskanen then passes the puck back to Sutter on the outside edge of the right faceoff circle. Sutter just throws the puck at the net as he’s being pressured and the puck bounces off of John Moore’s right elbow, across the crease, off of Kevin Klein’s left leg, and into the net past Lundqvist.
Players contributing to the first goal for: Maatta (4), Niskanen (10), Sutter (9)

Third Goal Against (Brassard)
Brandon Sutter clears the puck out of the defensive zone back to center ice, where John Moore picks the puck up. Moore backs up to his own blue line and then plays the puck up to Benoit Pouliot alongside the Rangers bench. Pouliot immediately passes the puck across the ice back to Kevin Klein at the Rangers blue line. Klein then passes the puck up to Derrick Brassard entering the Penguins zone. Brassard enters the middle of the Penguins zone and then passes the puck to his right for Mats Zuccarello along the boards. Zuccarello skates half way down the right side boards into the Penguins zone and then pulls up as he’s pressured by Kris Letang. Zuccarello passes the puck back to Klein at the right point, who takes a quick wrist shot that is deflected on net by Pouliot in the slot. Fleury makes the save and has the puck bounce in front of his pads. Sutter, who had been engaged with Brassard next to the net, releases on Brassard as he loses track of the puck. Meanwhile, Fleury tries to cover the puck but has it knocked away by Brassard before he can get his glove down on the ice. Paul Martin also tries to get a stick on the puck but he misses it as well. As no one is able to play the puck, Brassard ends up kicking it with his left skate and it flies up into the air over Fleury, who is down on his stomach. Brassard, who is next to the net, then punches the puck towards the crease with his right glove and finally twists to shoot the puck into the vacant net with his stick as he stands over Fleury.
Players at fault for the third goal against: Sutter (2), Martin (5)

Penalty Assessment

Jokinen (roughing): Bad-Stupid, joins a scrum around Fleury’s crease after a whistle and specifically shoves Kreider three times (once in the face) after the referee yells “hey, that’s it”
Penguins (too many men): Bad-Stupid, Olli Maatta jumps on the ice to change for Kris Letang without paying attention to where the puck is, so the Penguins are caught for too many men when the puck comes back near Maatta and Letang during the change.
Bennett (interference): Bad-Stupid, is driving towards the Rangers net and sees Martin St. Louis skating towards him to cover him. Bennett then extends his arms into St. Louis, shoving him to the ground/into the net for an interference call.
Kunitz (roughing): Bad-Stupid, skates into an altercation between Crosby and D. Moore at the end of the 2nd period and takes Moore down, throwing a couple punches at his head.
Crosby (cross-checking): Inconsequential, gets into a scrum at the end of the second period where he hit a few people and got called for cross-checking Marc Staal, but also drew a penalty against Brian Boyle for cross-checking.
Neal (tripping): Bad-Careless, reaches for a puck in the offensive zone and gets his stick in between Dominic Moore’s legs, taking him down in the process.
Bennett (high-sticking): Bad-Careless, chases down a loose puck against Derick Brassard in the defensive zone and tries to lift the stick of Brassard, missing and hitting him in the face.
Neal (10 min. misconduct): Inconsequential, (hard to tell because NBCSN didn’t have a replay or cover it), appears to skate to Brian Boyle well after a whistle and attempts to start an argument/scuffle.
Letang (roughing): Inconsequential, gets into a scrum with Kevin Klein after the game ends and gets two for roughing as Klein gets two for slashing.

Next Game: Game 7 vs NYR: Tuesday, 5/13, 7pm
Series tied at 3.

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