Thoughts: Eastern Conference Semifinals Game 7 – Rangers 2 Pens 1

Rangers 2  Pens 1

Rangers win the series 4-3.

By: Meesh Shanmugam (@HockeyMeesh)

Jokinen (7) from Maatta, Malkin

Game 7 Leaders
Shots: Martin (5)
Missed Shots: Maatta, Martin (3)
Blocked Shots: Martin (4)
Hits: Niskanen (6)
Ice Time: Martin (28:10) … Glass (6:09)
Faceoffs: Sutter (11/17) … Malkin (8/16)
Team PP: 0 for 1 (0%)
Team PK: 1 for 2 (50%)

Final Playoff Leaders
Goals: Jokinen (7)
Assists: Crosby, Martin, Malkin (8)
Points: Malkin (14)
Shots: Neal (49)
Missed Shots: Crosby (21)
Blocked Shots: Martin (38)
Hits: Kunitz (40)
Ice Time/game: Martin (27:19) … Vitale (9:17)
Faceoffs: Goc (55/94, 58.5%) … Malkin (42/92, 45.6%)
Team PP: 7 for 49 (14.3%), 3 SHG allowed
Team PK: 43 for 53 (81.1%), 3 SHG for

ECS Gm 7 Goal Assess

Final Goal Assessment for the Playoffs: Geno came to play.

Player Assessment

Martin was so reliably that Fleury didn't even open his eyes out of trust. (Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Martin was so reliably that Fleury didn’t even open his eyes out of trust. (Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Paul Martin – Paul Martin finished the game as you would expect him to, leading the team in ice time, shots, and blocked shots. He had four poke checks, including a diving one to block off a lane to the net, which caused turnovers in the defensive zone. He also intercepted two passes in the neutral zone. As for mistakes, he had two neutral zone turnovers and that was about it. He was the most dependable Penguins defenseman and the man who was trying to get the puck on net the most. He was…Paul Martin.

Marc-Andre Fleury – Fleury faced as much pressure as anyone in Game 7 and his biggest task was just don’t give up a soft goal. He succeeded, but it still wasn’t enough as his offensive support consisted of just one goal yet again. Fleury had to deal with several odd-man breaks throughout the game and handled most of them relatively well, making big saves on Dan Girardi in the slot and Derek Stepan late in the game. The two goals he did allow were on complete defensive breakdowns. The first one was on a 4-on-2 against as Brian Boyle received the puck in the slot alone and caught Fleury perfectly as he was moving side to side and had to open up his legs to try to cover most of Boyle’s options. The second goal was on the penalty kill as Kris Letang went down to block a shot that never came and the PK was left scrambling in a hopeless situation around the net. Fleury did his job in Game 7 and for the first time in several years, the exit isn’t on him.

Apparently the injured players were the best ones. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Apparently the injured players were the best ones. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Jussi Jokinen – Jokinen, with his wrist hurt so badly that he couldn’t go through the handshake line with his right hand, still managed to score the only goal for the Penguins on a big rebound from Lundqvist. The hand/wrist issues probably explain a lot of Jokinen’s play, which had developed some turnover issues in the playoffs. I marked him down for three defensive zone turnovers, a failed clear, a neutral zone turnover, and two offensive zone turnovers. Even with a bad wrist, that was a lot to stomach in a game that meant so much. However, he did score the only goal and had two offensive zone takeaways, so credit to Jussi and his hurt wrist for still producing.

Evgeni Malkin – Malkin looked a little too amped early in the game and it led to a few turnovers before he started to make any sort of impact. He finished up with four turnovers (two defensive, one neutral, one offensive) that mostly occurred in the first half of the game. Once he found his focus though, Malkin was a hawk in the offensive zone. He had three offensive zone pass interceptions and he assisted on Jokinen’s goal in the second period. By the time he had reached that level of play though, the Rangers were basically backing up and shutting everything down, limiting Malkin’s ability to dominate anything.

Brandon Sutter – Sutter did his best to boost the offense as he did frequently in the playoffs, but a variety of linemates and Henrik Lundqvist stopped him. He had three offensive zone takeaways, including one on the penalty kill, and forced two turnovers with poke checks. Several of his opportunities died on the sticks of other players though, such as Gibbons and Neal. On the bad side, he had two neutral zone turnovers and was partially at fault for a costly second goal against as he got caught in no-man’s land with poor awareness while Brad Richards was coming in from the point uncovered.

$$$$$$$$ (Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

$$$$$$$$ (Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Matt Niskanen – It was a spectacular season, solid postseason, and disappointing ending for Matt Niskanen. He was partially at fault for both goals against. On the first one, he first turned the puck over and then made a bad read and stepped up on Derek Dorsett, leaving a 3-on-1 situation against Olli Maatta and Fleury. On the second one, he was in the penalty box watching helplessly after tripping Derick Brassard. He also added in two defensive zone giveaways and an offensive zone turnover. On the good side, he had three great stand-ups at the blue line that prevented zone entries and he also forced two turnovers with poke checks. In the end though, the two goals against is all that matters.

Brian Gibbons – Gibbons was moved up to the first line and it wasn’t a move that did him much good. He had two offensive zone turnovers, fanned on a shot attempt in the offensive zone, had a defensive zone turnover, and was partially at fault on the first goal against as he fell behind his man backchecking from the Rangers zone. He was unable to provide any spark for the team after doing a great job of it in Game 6 and he provided almost no tangible benefit at all in Game 7. He just proved what we all knew, he’s not a first line player.

Chris Kunitz – Another player who provided no tangible benefit on the first line was Chris Kunitz. He had two offensive zone giveaways, a neutral zone turnover, lost a defensive zone puck battle, and also failed to stay back for pinching defensemen twice as he actually pinched in from the point both times. Perhaps it was a product of Crosby, but Kunitz certainly didn’t look like himself and had a quiet game, far too quiet for a first-liner in a Game 7.

Misc. Thoughts

Other Player NotesSidney Crosby had another average game. He broke up an offensive zone pass and drew a holding penalty, but he had an offensive zone giveaway and was partially at fault on the first goal against as he couldn’t keep up with the Rangers on the backcheck. Crosby’s playoffs will be remembered worse than they were, but he was a painfully average player the whole time. Olli Maatta struggled at times, allowing two 2-on-1s against on bad plays in the neutral zone. He did finish with an assist though and forced two defensive zone turnovers as well. James Neal helped out on the only goal and also took a bad penalty that negated the only powerplay. He finished with four shots on net but still couldn’t find a way to solve Lundqvist.

This will probably be the last second guessing of Bylsma in Pittsburgh. (Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

This will probably be the last second guessing of Bylsma in Pittsburgh. (Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Second Guessing – I was happy to see Crosby and Malkin broken up at the start of the game, but I was surprised they weren’t used together more frequently (all the time) in the third period with the Penguins down a goal. Elsewhere in the lineup, the Tanner Glass for Beau Bennett move will certainly take a lot of heat, especially since Glass played only 6:09. I felt like it was a foreseeable move because Bennett had been struggling and Glass brings “hits” and “grit” and all those things coaches seem to like in the playoffs. In the end, with the Penguins losing by a goal though, it was a tough move to swallow. I don’t believe Bennett would have made a difference, but he certainly would have had a better chance to. Playing Gibbons on the first line was a mistake as well. I would have gone with Lee Stempniak there personally. Gibbons is a great 3rd/4th line spark, but he is not meant to bring Kunitz and Crosby out of a slump with a regular shift. Stempniak did well with those two after the trade and had the skills to survive a full game there; he was under-utilized in the end.

Series Recap

  • Game 1: “Fatigued” Rangers start quicker than Penguins and then outlast them for overtime win. L 3-2 (OT)
  • Game 2: Penguins finally “get to their game” in dominant fashion, tie the series. W 3-0
  • Game 3: Crosby finds a goal and Fleury records his second straight shutout as Pittsburgh takes over. W 2-0
  • Game 4: Penguins put the Rangers on the brink of elimination with another strong performance. W 4-2
  • Game 5: Rangers rally behind Martin St. Louis in victory as Penguins are slow to show up. L 5-1
  • Game 6: Mother’s Day in MSG: Rangers use St. Louis as a rallying cry again to force Game 7. L 3-1
  • Game 7: Lundqvist has all of the answer as the Penguins exit with a dormant offense again. L 2-1
One more headshot before we go? (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

One more headshot before we go? (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Fleeting Thoughts – The only time where I felt the Penguins truly wanted Game 7 more than the Rangers and acted like it was the latter half of the third period. It was possibly a sign of a team that was too confident in their talent. … The Rangers finished the series with three powerplay goals while the Penguins only had one. That was an unacceptable special teams battle to lose in this series and this is the consequence. … Many more thoughts to come in a Part 2 to this post that will be looking ahead at the many questions about this team.

Goal Assessment

First Goal Against (Boyle)
In the Rangers zone at the right faceoff dot, Sidney Crosby wins a faceoff to his right to Brian Gibbons. Gibbons moves the puck back to the right point for Matt Niskanen. Niskanen tries to shoot the puck towards the net as he is quickly pressured by Brian Boyle, but the puck hits off of Boyle’s leg and bounces to Derek Dorsett high in the middle of the Rangers zone. Olli Maatta and Niskanen immediately start skating back towards the defensive zone and are at center ice as Dorsett reaches the Rangers blue line. Meanwhile, Anton Stralman starts skating out of the Rangers zone a step ahead of Gibbons after they both got tangled up and Dominic Moore starts skating out several strides ahead of Sidney Crosby after Crosby was caught too deep in the zone on the turnover. Dorsett carries the puck down the left side boards on a 4-on-2 with Boyle, Stralman, and Moore against Niskanen and Maatta. As he reaches the Penguins blue line, Niskanen lunges to knock him into the boards as he passes the puck towards the middle of the ice, isolating Maatta for a 3-on-1. Boyle takes the lead of the three Rangers as they form a triangle and he takes Dorsett’s pass in the middle of the ice and moves it to Moore, who is to his back right. Meanwhile, Maatta is forced to back up as Boyle continues to skate towards the net. Moore carries the puck to the inside edge of the right faceoff circle, drawing Maatta down to block the passing lanes, and then he slides the puck under Maatta’s stick back to Boyle in the slot, now 1-on-1 with Fleury. Fleury moves laterally to stay with the puck and Boyle shoots it through his five-hole just as he opens up to move across the crease.
Players at fault for the first goal against: Niskanen (7), Gibbons (1), Crosby (3)

First Goal For (Jokinen)
Evgeni Malkin dumps a puck into the Rangers zone from center ice and the puck rolls through the right corner behind the Rangers net. Henrik Lundqvist goes back to the stop the puck and plays it back into the right corner quickly as James Neal pressures him. The puck goes past Ryan McDonagh in the corner and gets to Malkin, who was skating hard down the right side boards to pressure McDonagh. Malkin jabs the puck back around the boards so it goes to Neal behind the net. Neal passes it back to Malkin in the right corner and Malkin moves the puck across the ice up to Olli Maatta at the left point while all five Rangers are low in the zone and watching Malkin. Maatta gets the puck, steps up to fake a slapshot, and then takes a slapshot that is stopped by Lundqvist. The rebound bounces out to the bottom inside corner of the right faceoff circle, where Jussi Jokinen stops it and then wrists it past Lundqvist’s left shoulder before he can get into position.
Players contributing to the first goal for: Neal (8), Malkin (14), Maatta (5), Jokinen (11)

Second Goal Against (Richards)
Matt Niskanen is in the penalty box for tripping. Brandon Sutter gets the puck in the Rangers zone and centers a pass for Brian Gibbons. The pass flutters past the stick of Gibbons and bounces off of the boards to Chris Kreider, who starts the Rangers breakout. Kreider carries the puck down the left side boards to the red line on a 3-on-2 with Martin St. Louis and Ryan McDonagh against Kris Letang and Olli Maatta. Kreider passes the puck at center ice to St. Louis, who moves it to Ryan McDonagh entering the Penguins zone along the right side boards. McDonagh pulls up with the puck at the right point as Letang hovers in open space in the slot, St. Louis moves down the right side boards, and Maatta stops a few feet in front of him. Meanwhile, Gibbons is following Kreider, who is moving to the crease, and Sutter enters the zone and moves towards McDonagh from the blue line. McDonagh quickly throws the puck across the ice to Derek Stepan, who is following in the wake of Gibbons/Kreider with tons of space. Stepan gets the puck at the top of the left faceoff circle and Letang leaves the slot to drop in front of a potential shot. Stepan brings the puck down to the left faceoff dot and then makes a centering pass instead of shooting as Letang slides past him. Maatta breaks up the centering pass and the puck moves below the goal line, but Martin St. Louis is right there to backhand the puck towards the high slot. The puck goes past Kreider and Gibbons on the crease and gets to Brad Richards, who is uncovered in the slot as Sutter didn’t see him skating in from the blue line and Letang is still trying to recover from dropping to the ice. Richards proceeds to throw a wrist shot past Fleury’s right shoulder into the net.
Players at fault for the second goal against: Niskanen (8), Letang (6), Sutter (3)

Penalty Assessment

Neal (holding): Bad-Stupid, chases down Marc Staal behind the Rangers net on a Penguins powerplay and uses his left hand to pull Staal back in front of the ref, earning a holding penalty.
Niskanen (tripping): Bad-Careless, reaches for a puck in Derrick Brassard’s legs in the defensive zone and gets his stick in between Brassard’s legs, taking him down.
Malkin (slashing): Inconsequential, gets into a wrestling match with Ryan McDonagh after a save by Lundqvist and both go off for minors.

Next Game: Preseason Game #1, September.
Rangers win the series 4-3.

Thanks for reading!