Thoughts: ECQ Game 4 – Offense stays quiet as Pens lose 2-1 to Rangers in OT

By: Meesh Shanmugam

Rangers 2  Pens 1 (OT)

Series: NYR leads 3-1

Goals
Hornqvist (2) from Lovejoy, Crosby

Click here to read the goal assessments

ECQ Gm 4 - Goals

Penalties
Downie (interference) – Unnecessary (takes three extra strides to hit Girardi behind the play after he passes the puck away)
Comeau (hooking) – Unnecessary (tries to stick-check Stepan twice in the neutral zone and the second attempt gets caught for a split-second on his left glove)
Cole (boarding) – Stupid (loses his stick, puts both hands on the back of St. Louis, and shoves St. Louis down into the boards)

Three Forwards

ECQ Gm 4 - Forwards

Patric Hornqvist
  • Good: Scored a goal, tied for the team-lead with three shots, had an offensive zone takeaway, forced a turnover, and intercepted a pass in the neutral zone.
  • Bad: Had two giveaways and lost track of a coverage in the defensive zone.
  • Overall: Hornqvist did exactly what was expected of him, as usual, as he went to the front of the crease and recorded yet another goal within just a few feet of the net. He scored the only goal for the Penguins by deflecting a wrist shot from Lovejoy so it dropped perfectly through the five-hole of Lundqvist. Aside from the goal, Hornqvist played his usual game as he continued to battle along the boards and in front of the net. He was a little more careless with the puck than usual with a couple of giveaways, but he created much more than he lost in the offensive zone, which is more than most can say.
Hornqvist has been worth every penny this series.  Most others.... (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Hornqvist has been worth every penny this series. Most others…. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Scott Wilson
  • Good: Recorded one shot on net, blocked a shot, intercepted a pass in the defensive zone, broke up a play in the defensive zone, had a takeaway in the neutral zone, and forced a turnover in the offensive zone.
  • Bad: Had a giveaway in the defensive zone.
  • Overall: Wilson only played 6:30 on nine shifts, but he was surprisingly effective and productive with his ice time. His method was simple – chase down the puck carrier and then move the puck forward. I’ve never been big on hits, but he added three of those to his stat line as well as he kept finding ways to get the puck from the Rangers in limited ice time. Looking back on his performance, it’s a shame he didn’t get more ice time, but he definitely showed some NHL potential despite only getting nine shifts.
Blake Comeau
  • Good: Recorded one shot, blocked a shot, forced an offensive zone turnover, and broke up a play in the defensive zone.
  • Bad: Lost two pucks, failed to clear the puck twice from the defensive zone, lost track of his coverage once, and took an unnecessary hooking penalty.
  • Overall: Comeau started on the second line in this game and the main takeaway was that the Penguins don’t have an adequate 2nd line winger to play with Malkin. Comeau’s work in the defensive zone was generally poor and it stifled several attempts to get the 2nd line moving out of the defensive zone. He took another unnecessary penalty, this time by getting his stick into the hands of Stepan on a one-handed stick-check attempt in the neutral zone. It was a weak call by all accounts, but the lesson has been clear with how this series has been called against the Penguins – keep sticks away from hands at all costs. Whether his wrist injury has bothered him to the point that he can’t cleanly play the puck or he’s just the Comeau that we expected in free agency, he was put in situations well above his pay grade and he didn’t handle them well.

Three Defensemen

ECQ Gm 4 - Defense

Paul Martin
  • Good: Assisted on Hornqvist’s goal, recorded one shot, blocked a shot, intercepted two passes, broke up two plays, and had a neutral zone takeaway.
  • Bad: Gave the puck away twice, lost it once in the defensive zone, had a failed clearing attempt, and lost his coverage once, which turned into the first goal against by Brassard.
  • Overall: Martin played 24:40 to lead the team in ice time and he continued to look worn down, just like he has all series. Though he’s making several of the right reads and knows what he wants to do, he has been lacking any sort of burst or energetic push as he just tries to get his job done. He did have a few positive plays, especially when preventing New York from clearing the puck along the boards in the offensive zone. On defense though, he looked physically worn out as Brassard shoved him aside when Nash centered the puck, which gave Brassard time and space to get the puck in the crease and jam it into the net as Fleury was scrambling. It seems pretty safe to say that a heavy workload in March and early April has gotten to Martin.
Ben Lovejoy
  • Good: Assisted on Hornqvist’s goal, recorded one shot, blocked four shots, broke up two plays in the defensive zone, forced a defensive zone turnover, and recorded a takeaway in the defensive zone.
  • Bad: Lost two pucks in the defensive zone, had one failed clear, and lost his coverage on St. Louis in overtime, which led to the game-winning goal for New York.
  • Overall: Lovejoy had a mediocre game in general, but the costly mistake at the end is what everyone is going to remember. On the positive side, he did a good job of at least attempting to get the puck to the net. One of those shot attempts resulted in Hornqvist’s deflection goal in front of Lundqvist. The negative side is quickly summed up by the game-winner though. Lovejoy over-pursued the puck behind the net as he actually skated past St. Louis, who was in place to stop the puck behind the net. Once Lovejoy skated too far, St. Louis had an easy path to get above the goal line to pass the puck across the crease, which led to chaos around the net and Hayes eventually winning the game. Though Lovejoy made fewer mistakes in this game than he has in several others, the weight of this one was enormous.
So...about that Lovejoy trade... (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

So…about that Lovejoy trade… (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Ian Cole
  • Good: Recorded two shots on net, blocked a shot, intercepted a pass in the defensive zone, and drew a tripping penalty.
  • Bad: Lost track of his coverages twice, had a failed clearing attempt, gave the puck away once in the defensive zone, and took a boarding penalty.
  • Overall: Cole joined Comeau with the unnecessary penalty and he joined Martin in looking downright exhausted from playing too much hockey. Though he successfully held up his pairing with Scuderi for a few games, his play has clearly dropped off both offensively and defensively lately. He was getting caught flat-footed in the neutral and defensive zones and the Rangers have successfully figured out that the puck is generally going to go through him when the Penguins are breaking out of the defensive zone. Simply put, Cole wasn’t acquired to play this many minutes (21:14) or in these situations and it’s showing, though at least he wasn’t at fault for a goal against. Overall, it was just a rough game for Cole trying to keep up with everyone and everything.

Four Thoughts

Wanna know why Johnston isn't expressive? He's dead inside from reading injury reports. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Wanna know why Johnston isn’t expressive? He’s dead inside from reading injury reports. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Missing Defense – I cannot emphasize this enough. The Penguins are without Letang, Ehrhoff, Maatta, and Pouliot. Injuries shouldn’t be an “excuse” but let’s face it, a system built on puck-moving defensemen that loses four of its top five puck-moving defensemen is not going to succeed. As the Penguins suffered their third one-goal loss of this series, it’s impossible not to think that getting Letang back or some combination of the others would have been enough to flip the series. The defensive aspect of the defense is fine as they continue to allow only two or three goals. The way the injuries on defense have crippled the offense is the pain point that the Penguins have been dealing with. Failed clears, failed zone exits, a failure to control the puck through the neutral zone, etc. are all because the current defense isn’t built to move the puck. It’s not their fault. They were supposed to be mostly 5-9 on the depth chart. Just watch how many times the Penguins turn the puck over trying to get into the offensive zone and look at the names missing. That’s exactly why the Penguins are losing 2-1 games and down 3-1 in the series instead of winning 2-1 or 3-2 games and up 3-1 in the series.

Missing Offense – That being said, several players on the offense haven’t pulled their weight either. The forwards have done a terrible job of helping with clearing attempts at times (this game: Downie and Comeau). Perron’s lack of production has turned him into a 3rd line winger trying to play next to Malkin. Comeau’s injury/inconsistency/lack of skill has turned him into a 4th line winger trying to play next to Malkin. Malkin’s own injury issues have turned him into an average player trying to be Malkin. The only line that has been functional is the first line as Kunitz, Crosby, and Hornqvist have all gotten the job done with consistency in this series. Despite all of the roster turnover, this team is still currently a one line team trying to beat a solid three line team. Add in the difference in defensive depth, and it’s honestly shocking that the Penguins have kept every game to a one-goal game.

Missing Coaching – I won’t blame Johnston and the staff for the injuries of course, but they haven’t helped themselves in some situations either. With Malkin clearly not playing at 100%, I’ll never understand why he hasn’t been used more with anyone from the first line (hint: Crosby). Malkin on the second line theoretically at least makes the Penguins a two line team, but Malkin at less than a 100% doesn’t make that a reality. If the team is going to be a one line team, they might as well load up with Malkin-Crosby-Hornqvist to try to get more goals out of that one line. Goal-scoring has been the problem, so put your players in the best positions that they can have to succeed. Malkin is in no such position in between Perron and Comeau. The other thing that I found curious was Johnston’s use of the 4th line after the last TV timeout in the 3rd period. The Penguins definitely needed Game 4 and the first line has been the only worthwhile line through the series in terms of offense. I thought it was an odd decision to not use Crosby’s line there, regardless of who the Rangers put out on the ice. Johnston’s plan was doomed as soon as the defense fell apart with injuries, but he’s not making it any easier on himself either.

Series Outlook

I need to preface this section with one thing. I picked the Rangers in 5. This isn’t for bragging purposes, but more to give you my mindset going into this series. I expected an ugly series that would see the Penguins steal a game in MSG and then lose the rest (I have documented proof!) in sloppy fashion as they ran out of energy. The Penguins haven’t lost a single game in sloppy fashion. In my prediction, I would have never guessed that the Pens would be in every single game and there would be (at least) three one-goal losses. The Rangers have underwhelmed me and the Penguins have impressed me in their losses, because I did not think this team had it in them to keep up with the Rangers and hold them back as much as they have.

All of that being said, the series outlook is clearly bleak. The Rangers get three chances to close this series out, starting with Friday in New York. I’m not sure that the Penguins have the talent and energy to play desperate hockey for a full 60 minutes, so I expect a very strong start to Game 5 but I fear that the Rangers will slowly take over as the game progresses and win it in the end. At this point, the biggest thing to hope for is that either Malkin magically heals enough to turn the 2nd line into a factor by Friday or Fleury comes out with a lights-out performance (he has been strong, but not perfect…he needs to be perfect now). In the end, this series is a deeper and better team beating one that was an underdog coming in and decimated by injuries on defense. I’ll finish with what I posted on twitter:

Accurate headline: “Heavy underdog manages to keep games close but doesn’t have the all-around depth to win”
Likely headline: “PENS FAIL”

Take the time to appreciate that there is nothing wrong with the result of the accurate headline. Sometimes, the other team is just healthier, deeper, luckier, and….well, better.

Next Game: Game 5 @ NYR, Friday 4/24, 7pm

Thanks for reading!