Thoughts: ECQ Game 1 – Pens can’t overcome poor start in 2-1 loss to Rangers

By: Meesh Shanmugam

Rangers 2  Pens 1

Series: NYR leads 1-0

Comeau (1) from Lovejoy, Spaling

Click here to read the goal assessments

ECQ Gm 1 - Goals

Kunitz (goalie interference) – Unnecessary (drives to the crease and gets tied up with a defenseman as he continues straight into the back of Lundqvist for a penalty)
Chorney (interference) – Overly aggressive (throws a shoulder into Glass to knock him over two strides away from the puck for an interference penalty)
Comeau (roughing) – Overly aggressive (gets into a holding battle with Moore for the puck but gets his glove into the face of Moore so it turns into a roughing penalty)
Perron (slashing) – Stupid (two-hands Hagelin on his right arm behind the Penguins net for a penalty)
Downie (cross-checking) – Stupid (puts a big hit on Zuccarello, then cross-checks him in the back of the neck and keeps pressing down on his head until it’s called)

Three Forwards

ECQ Gm 1 - Forwards

Blake Comeau
  • Good: Scored the only goal for the Pens, had two shots on net, recorded a neutral zone takeaway, and intercepted a pass in the defensive zone.
  • Bad: Had two giveaways, took an overly aggressive roughing penalty, and was in the penalty box for the 2nd goal against because of that penalty.
  • Overall: Aside from his roughing penalty, which appeared to be called solely because he got his glove into Moore’s face, Comeau had one of his better games of the last month. He was generally efficient at moving the puck forward in the neutral zone, rotated well with his linemates in the offensive zone, and earned a promotion back to Malkin’s line in the 3rd period. He had the only goal for the Penguins when he knocked Zuccarello away from a loose puck and then went to the net to shoot Lovejoy’s rebound in for a goal. His presence on the 2nd line even boosted Malkin in the third period as Geno tried to take over the game. The Penguins will need another flash or two of early-season Comeau to succeed in this series.
The 4th line found success by going to the net. (Mary Altaffer/AP Photo)

The 4th line found success by going to the net. (Mary Altaffer/AP Photo)

Sidney Crosby
  • Good: Forced a turnover and broke up a play in the defensive zone, intercepted a pass in the neutral zone, and had four takeaways (three in the offensive zone).
  • Bad: Lost the puck three times in the defensive zone and lost track of his coverage once in the neutral zone, which partially led to the first goal against.
  • Overall: Crosby had a few solid shifts in the offensive zone when he was cycling down low and skating around the net, but he never found his rhythm after barely playing in the first period. Due to the parade to the penalty box (4 penalties) in the first period, Crosby played less than 4 minutes in the first and finished the game with less than 20 minutes of ice time. It didn’t help that he was partially at fault for a goal just 28 seconds into the game, when he hesitated on stepping up on a pass and also allowed Brassard to skate behind him uncovered to eventually get a rebound goal. His puck pursuit was great on the night (four takeaways), but his defensive zone puck possession wasn’t so great (three lost pucks) to even his performance out a bit. He wasn’t bad, but he needs to be a lot better for the Penguins to have a chance in this series.
Daniel Winnik
  • Good: Broke up a play in the defensive zone.
  • Bad: Gave the puck away once in the offensive zone and lost the puck three times.
  • Overall: Winnik started the game on the first line, received plenty of PK time in the first period, was benched for 7ish minutes in the 3rd period, and eventually finished the game on the 3rd line. His performance left a lot to be desired as he was unable to hold on to the puck or move it around the offensive zone in general. Though his recent games with Crosby and Hornqvist have looked great, all three seemed to be out of sync after the PK-filled first period and Winnik never recovered to perform at his previous levels. It will be interesting to see if he goes back to be being a bottom-six forward or rejoins the top line in Game 2. He’ll definitely have to play better than this to stay on Crosby’s wing.

A Goalie and Two Defensemen

ECQ Gm 1 - Defense

Marc-Andre Fleury
  • Good: Stopped 36 of 38 shots he faced and bounced back nicely after a rough first goal just 28 seconds into the game. Among some of his bigger saves were: stopping a Hagelin wrist shot in the slot after Malkin turned the puck over, a glove save on McDonagh on a rebound at the left side of the crease, a kick-save on Boyle from the left circle, a one-timer save on Hagelin from the right circle, and a nice shoulder save on Miller streaking down the right side on an odd-man rush.
  • Bad: Gave up a huge rebound on the first shot of the game, which led to Brassard’s goal 28 seconds in.
  • Overall: Fleury’s start left plenty to be desired for a team that was a heavy underdog entering the series, but he settled down to play a solid game and keep the Penguins within striking distance of the Rangers. He weathered the storm for the most part on the penalty kill in the first period, allowing just one goal on four chances. On that goal, he was screened by Spaling and the puck also nicked Spaling’s skate, which altered it just enough that Fleury’s save attempt ended up deflecting the puck into the net instead of stopping it cleanly. He was a brick wall for the rest of the night and it was clear that the first period did not hurt his confidence, especially on his shoulder save on Miller streaking down the right side in the 3rd period as Fleury stood tall to make a shoulder save instead of dropping into his butterfly like he often does when he isn’t sure of himself. Fleury certainly played well and wasn’t the reason for the loss, but he might have to be perfect for the Penguins to last in this series.
The Pens could have done without this start, but Fleury was solid the rest of the way. (Mary Altaffer/AP Photo)

The Pens could have done without this start, but Fleury was solid the rest of the way. (Mary Altaffer/AP Photo)

Brian Dumoulin
  • Good: Broke up two plays in the defensive zone.
  • Bad: Had a giveaway and a lost puck in the defensive zone.
  • Overall: Dumoulin made his playoff debut as the Penguins finally used a 6th defenseman with no cap limitations holding them back anymore. There was talk before the game about how he looked nervous and his pairing (with Chorney) would be one to watch, but he settled into the game pretty well. He appeared to be a little jumpy in the first period as he struggled to control the puck, but his confidence grew as the game continued and he started to make smarter decisions to take his time as plays were developing. He even made a nice assertive play to skate the puck down low for a wraparound attempt, though it was stopped by Lundqvist. Dumoulin only played 10:20 in his playoff debut, but he could turn into an underrated asset if he starts the next game as well as he finished this one.
Ian Cole
  • Good: Led the team with three blocked shots, broke up three plays in the defensive zone, intercepted a pass, and had a takeaway in the defensive zone.
  • Bad: Had four giveaways (two offensive zone, two defensive zone), lost track of his coverages three times, and had a failed clearing attempt.
  • Overall: Cole led all skaters (from both teams) with 26:06 of ice time, which may have pushed his limits a little too much in Game 1. His puck management was subpar, mostly because he kept trying to chip the puck in the corners and along the boards past opposing forwards, who were often quick to intercept those pucks. It appeared that Cole generally underestimated the speed against the Rangers, which is also a problem he had against the Islanders in the second to last game of the regular season. It struck me as more of an unfamiliarity issue than anything. That was also the cause of his three lost coverages as the Rangers looked faster than Cole was ready for while they skated around and past him. It was a rough Game 1 for Cole, but he did luck out with not a single mistake ending up in the back of the net. I would hope he has less ice time in Game 2, but he’ll surely be more prepared for the speed that the Rangers will bring either way.

Three Thoughts

Positive Takeaways… – After a terrible first period, the Penguins at least rebounded to turn a laughable game into a competitive one. The 4th line had some strong shifts in the 2nd period, leading to Comeau’s goal when Comeau kept Zuccarello from getting a rebound and Lapierre caused chaos for Lundqvist by interfering with his stick as Comeau picked up the next rebound to score. The 5-on-5 play was much more even than many would have expected and the weak-on-paper defensive group handled themselves fairly well despite being outmatched in terms of size and speed. The team clearly made an effort to get to the net to disrupt Lundqvist, which will surely continue as the series progresses. The Penguins looked like a team that could give the Rangers a series, especially if Ehrhoff and/or Pouliot return in Game 2 or 3.

…but WAIT – All of that being said, the positives mostly look positive because of how the team struggled down the stretch and how bad the first period was. Not to throw a wet blanket on the positives, but the offense still couldn’t score (one goal, from the 4th line), which has been the problem for over a month at this point. As I said in the Pensburgh roundtable, the defense can handle itself and Fleury is trustworthy, but the offense needs to get going for the Penguins to make this a series. A 2-1 loss still puts the team down 1-0 in the series. You also have to wonder if the Rangers underestimated the Penguins after the first period and this was the result – still a Penguins loss in which they still couldn’t solve the Rangers. Lundqvist was very sloppy with his rebound control and the Rangers looked very beatable, but was that the best chance the Penguins will get? Is it possible they didn’t capitalize on their best opportunity? It’s just something to consider…the positives may be a bit overblown heading into Game 2. The offense still needs to find a way to explode for this team to win.  Also, maybe cut down on the penalties…especially the stupid ones…Downie…

Plays like this might pave the way for Scott Wilson quicker than anticipated. (Frank Franklin II/AP Photo)

Plays like this might pave the way for Scott Wilson quicker than anticipated. (Frank Franklin II/AP Photo)

Player Usage – Mike Johnston’s playoff debut was…frustrating. Crosby played less than four minutes in the first period as the Penguins trotted out the penalty kill over and over again. The result was Crosby playing less than 20 minutes in the game. He’s conditioned to handle more than that and he’s quite capable of playing the penalty kill, even if it’s the last few seconds of it just to get him more ice time and create more opportunities for him. The Rangers are clearly a better team from top to bottom, so there is no reason that Johnston shouldn’t be maximizing his use of his best players. Other issues cropped up, especially in the third period. Crosby and Malkin didn’t join forces until the very end of the game, when it was just too late to get an offensive spark from the two. Down 2-1 in a very winnable game in the 3rd period, I was surprised that they weren’t put together earlier. It’s the playoffs, there’s no reason to hold anything back right now. Speaking of, after a TV timeout with a faceoff in the defensive zone with around 5 minutes left in the game, Johnston opted for the 3rd line instead of playing either of his superstar centers. I understand maybe not playing Malkin or Crosby in that situation to save them for an offensive zone opportunity, but there is no reason to keep both of them off of the ice when the desperation is building to tie the game. If Johnston is going to keep them separated late in the game, he might as well rotate them so one is almost always on the ice that late in the game, especially after a TV timeout. There is no good reason to underutilize your stars in the playoffs when the team is losing from start to finish and within one shot of tying it for more than half of the game.

Series Outlook – There were plenty of positives and some negatives from Game 1. In general, the Penguins basically stayed the course from some of their better losses in the last month. Those games, like this one, still ended with a loss though. It’s just Game 1 and it’s an expected loss when you look at a 7-game series. Never panic until your team loses a home game has always been my thought process (which can be altered in the event of road wins, of course). The Pens showed promise, but they didn’t show enough to make me question my original prediction (Rangers in 5). The offense needs to find a way – plain and simple. Let’s see if they can do it.

Next Game: Game 2 @ NYR, Saturday 4/18, 8pm

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