Thoughts: ECQ Game 3 – Slow start (again) dooms Penguins in 2-1 loss to Rangers

By: Meesh Shanmugam

Rangers 2  Pens 1

Series: NYR leads 2-1

Goals
Hornqvist (1) from Crosby, Cole

Click here to read the goal assessments

ECQ Gm 3 - Goals

Penalties
Cole (cross-checking) – Unnecessary (cross-checks Glass in the back on top of the crease while the puck is out at the point)
Martin (cross-checking) – Unnecessary (cross-checks Zuccarello directly in the back as he’s trying to play the puck behind the net, knocking him over for a penalty)
Kunitz (cross-checking) – Inconsequential (cross-checks McDonagh and McDonagh slashes him back, so they each get sent off for minors)
Perron (roughing) – Inconsequential (gets into a holding/shoving match with Boyle near the net and they each get a minor)
Kunitz (roughing) – Inconsequential (received a minor penalty at the end of the game for getting into a scrum with Moore)

Three Forwards

ECQ Gm 3 - Forwards

Patric Hornqvist
  • Good: Led the team with six shots on net, scored the only Penguins goal, blocked a shot, drew a penalty, forced two offensive zone turnovers, broke up a play in the offensive zone, had a takeaway, and intercepted a pass in the defensive zone.
  • Bad: Lost the puck once in the neutral zone, lost track of a coverage in the defensive zone, and had one failed clearing attempt.
  • Overall: Hornqvist shined yet again in a tight-checking game as he made his presence felt physically and also on the scoreboard. Any time he was on the ice, he could easily be found fighting along the boards for a puck or working around the net to get to rebounds and Lundqvist. He scored the team’s only goal when he found the puck in the slot after it bounced around a mass of sticks and legs (while he was cross-checking nearby Rangers’ defensemen). By the time the puck got to his stick, Lundqvist had no clue where it was and Hornqvist was easily able to throw it into a mostly wide-open net. Hornqvist is doing a great job of continually driving Lundqvist crazy, but he still needs more help.
Hornqvist has been as good as advertised in front of the net. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Hornqvist has been as good as advertised in front of the net. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Max Lapierre
  • Good: Recorded two shots on net, forced two turnovers, intercepted a pass in the neutral zone, and had a takeaway in the defensive zone.
  • Bad: Lost two pucks, including one in the offensive zone that eventually led to the second goal against.
  • Overall: Lapierre’s penalty kill work and his willingness to pester and get in the face of everyone in this series has been a big boost from his regular season performance. Though he isn’t necessarily getting on the scoreboard frequently, his efforts have generally tilted the ice in favor of the Penguins frequently. Despite the overall good play, he was caught with a little bit of bad luck after a sequence that included a missed penalty call, a turnover, and a goal against. Lapierre did a great job of reading the play and skating the puck forward near the end of the Rangers 2nd powerplay. As he crossed center ice, he was blatantly hooked and lost control of the puck/lost his path and speed towards the center of the Rangers zone. Lapierre recovered though and he carried the puck into the right corner of the zone, where he proceeded to turn it over as Yandle knocked him off of it and the Rangers went bursting the other way. The resulting rush ended with Kreider’s goal. There was definitely a blown call, but Lapierre did recover well enough so that the turnover was not a result of the missed penalty. Unfortunately, it was a good game with a bad result for Lapierre.
Evgeni Malkin
  • Good: Intercepted two passes and blocked two shots.
  • Bad: Recorded no shots, lost the puck four times (three in the offensive zone), had one neutral zone giveaway, and lost track of a coverage in the defensive zone.
  • Overall: Much has been said about Malkin’s apparent health, and well, how he hasn’t looked healthy in quite a while. After Game 2, he admitted he was around 85% but getting better. Whether he’s getting better or not, he wasn’t making the right decisions in Game 3. Malkin looked quite focused on getting the job done by himself, which led to several turnovers as he tried to skate through multiple players despite not having his regular speed or any burst in his legs. All three of his offensive zone turnovers occurred as he entered the Rangers zone against two or more defenders and he was insistent on trying to skate through them. That’s often a turnover for 100% healthy Malkin, let alone injured Malkin. Perhaps his attempts to force the play are a sign that he’s getting healthier, but the high turnover number and zero shots on net suggest that he’s not there yet. Malkin has to either play within his current limits or the staff has to give him some help, whether that’s through more shifts with Crosby, some shifts with Sutter, or a rotation with the better performing wingers. Malkin playing injured is one thing, but hurting the team while playing injured is something they can’t afford against the Rangers.

Four Defensemen

ECQ Gm 3 - Defense

Brian Dumoulin
  • Good: Recorded one shot on net, blocked two shots, and broke up three plays.
  • Bad: Had one giveaway in the defensive zone.
  • Overall: Dumoulin started the game very tentatively and he struggled in the first period as the Rangers kept dumping the puck into the corner and forcing him into puck battles with their speed to the puck. As the game progressed though, he figured out the game plan and looked a little quicker and more comfortable with the puck. It resulted in a strong third period as the Penguins activated the defense more and Dumoulin took advantage of his opportunities to skate through the neutral zone and move the puck. Dumoulin and Chorney appeared to be the most competent pair in the third period when it came to simplifying puck movement, getting the puck to the offensive zone, and at least attempting to get it to the net. Dumoulin looked especially strong on his skates late in the game as the Penguins put a significant amount of pressure on the Rangers. He may not have the ability to drive the team’s offense right now, but he made significant strides in this game alone for handling the Rangers and helping the Penguins push the puck forward.
Paul Martin
  • Good: Broke up three plays, blocked four shots, and intercepted a pass in the defensive zone.
  • Bad: Took an unnecessary penalty, gave the puck away once in the defensive zone, and lost track of two coverages in the defensive zone, one of which led to Kreider’s goal.
  • Overall: Perhaps it was the wear and tear (and maybe there is a lingering injury at play?) as the regular season ended, but Martin has not looked like himself through most of these playoffs. His play has been average at best and his ice time has surprisingly not led the defense as Cole has taken over that role. He did come up with a big pass interception on the crease to prevent a sure goal that would have put the Penguins out of the game. However, he was also partially at fault for the 2nd goal against. The play occurred when he was playing wing after coming out of the penalty box, but went deep into the defensive zone to chase Brassard, which left the points open and forced the other forwards into a hopeless rotation so they couldn’t defend passes as Kreider eventually scored on an unfortunate bounce off of the backboards. Martin’s overall play has been quiet and the Penguins will need more from him if the offense is going to stand a chance against the Rangers.
Martin has been surprisingly quiet in this series. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Martin has been surprisingly quiet in this series. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Rob Scuderi / Ian Cole
  • Good: Both players figured in on the only Penguins goal. Cole had two takeaways, a pass interception, and a broken-up play in the defensive zone. Scuderi had two defensive zone pass interceptions and a broken-up play in the neutral zone.
  • Bad: Both players were partially at fault for the first goal against. Scuderi had four giveaways, two failed clears, and a lost coverage on that goal against. Cole had three giveaways, a failed clear, a lost puck, a lost coverage on the goal against, and took a bad cross-checking penalty.
  • Overall: The Scuderi/Cole pairing had a rough night in terms of puck management, often because the puck would get dumped-in to Scuderi’s side of the ice and the Rangers were ready to pounce on him in the corner and chase Cole if Scuderi made the quick pass to him. Scuderi’s clear attempts along the boards continue to be a problem against a fast Rangers team and Cole is getting forced into plays that are leading to turnovers in the defensive zone. On top of it, Cole took another bad penalty, which has quickly become a problem for him in this series. The pairing was on the ice (mostly) for the first goal against as Scuderi waited next to the bench to change as Yandle made a perfect pass to Hagelin streaking into the Penguins zone for a breakaway. Cole was somewhat caught in no-man’s land, but he did see Hagelin breaking and made a hesitant move towards him, which wasn’t enough to get into the passing lane as Hagelin went past him. Meanwhile, Scuderi should have continued playing hockey if no one was ready to change for him, but instead he waited by the bench on an extremely slow line change that gave Hagelin plenty of room for a breakaway. It was just a messy play all around and both defensemen could have played it better. To their credit, both guys also factored into the only Penguins goal as Scuderi made a nice pinch into the zone to keep the play alive and Cole got the puck to the front of the net for Crosby and Hornqvist to battle for. Overall though, this pairing was definitely part of the reason for the team’s slow start.

Four Thoughts

Slow Start – The Penguins struggled to control the puck for any extended period of time for the first half of the game and it buried them in the end. They have actually kept up with the Rangers very well in this series, but they cannot afford to have a slow start or not play a complete game against a team that is deeper than them at every position. The fact that the shot total/score was close demonstrates that the Penguins can at least keep pace with the Rangers when they’re pushing the play, but the result emphasizes that the Penguins still need to play almost perfect hockey from start to finish to get the win. The slow start wasn’t completely on the Penguins though…

Rangers Adjust – In Game 2, the Rangers were fairly insistent on using their speed to skate down the boards to try and beat the Penguins defense to the outside. The Penguins adjusted to this by shifting more support over as one defenseman slowed the entry down and the other played the puck. The Rangers backed off of these entries in Game 3, instead choosing to dump the puck into the corners and attack loose pucks at full speed. Scuderi and Dumoulin were the early victims of this as they struggled to play the puck from the corners in the first period as pressure came quickly from Rangers forwards. The result was several turnovers and the Penguins generally struggling to get control of the puck and get out of their zone early in the game. As the game progressed, the Rangers backed off and allowed the Penguins to step up a bit, but the Penguins will need to find a way to dictate the play earlier in Game 4.

Vigneault has done work on and off the ice to help the Rangers out. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Vigneault has done work on and off the ice to help the Rangers out. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Defensive Contributions – The biggest difference between the two teams right now is, not surprisingly, how the defense is handling the puck. This is a given with Letang, Ehrhoff, Maatta, and Pouliot out of the lineup, but it’s a much bigger difference than I expected when looking at the goal assessments through three games. The Penguins’ defense is a net +1 in terms of goal contributions so far. The Rangers’ defense is a net +11. The biggest reason the Penguins are losing this series right now is simply because they don’t have the defensemen necessary to move the puck forward and jump into the play like the Rangers do. The only way the team can combat it is by getting more help from the forwards, but even that comes with limited abilities. When it comes to breakouts, rushing the other way, and defensemen jumping into the play, it’s like the Penguins are almost always playing shorthanded right now. That’s just the injury reality that they were given. It’s important to note that when the Penguins did look good in the third period, it featured the defense stepping up with every chance they could get. The Penguins need to find a way to competently steal that page from the Rangers’ playbook, though I’m not sure competently is possible given the actual roster.

Media Posturing – I’ve found the press conferences to be rather interesting in Johnston’s first run at the NHL playoffs as a head coach. Vigneault, Lundqvist, Hagelin, etc. are not shy at all when it comes to using the media to play head games and perhaps pass along thoughts to officials. There has been plenty said about the play around Lundqvist’s crease. Meanwhile, the Penguins as an organization seem not so interested in playing the media game as they quietly go along with their business. Perhaps that’s just the type of guy that Johnston is, much like how he’s not a shootout guy so the team didn’t focus on it during the regular season. Kudos to him as a person, but I have no doubt that all of these comments by Vigneault and Lundqvist exist to plant seeds in heads of officials. The Penguins may be a bit gun shy to do the same after a rough season of dealing with the referees. I’m not sure there is a right way to approach this, but I don’t blame the Rangers for making the comments that they do. It’s worth trying to get every edge that you can in the playoffs. I wouldn’t mind seeing the Penguins play that game either.

Series Outlook

The Penguins head into Game 4 on home ice with a chance to even up the series. The series so far has been: Game 1 – moral victory after slow start, Game 2 – big win, Game 3 – somewhat moral victory after slow start. As I stated above, the Penguins can definitely stay with this Rangers team, even with their depleted defense, but they have to find a way to control the puck early in the game. The next step – giving Scuderi and the rest of the defense more help if the Rangers continue to dump the puck in and attack heavily. The chess match shall continue into Game 4 and it definitely looks like both coaches are up to the task, but Johnston has had some pieces stolen along the way. In the end, the wild card might be Fleury, who will probably have to outright steal a game for the Penguins at some point in this series. Hopefully he takes Game 4.

Next Game: Game 4 vs NYR, Wednesday 4/22, 7pm

Thanks for reading!