Thoughts: Game 11 – Penguins @ Maple Leafs

Maple Leafs 4  Penguins 1

By: Meesh Shanmugam (@HockeyMeesh)

Letang (1) (PP) from Malkin, Martin

Goal Assessment

First Goal For (Letang)
Paul Martin pinches down the left side boards on the powerplay to retrieve a rebound and picks up the puck half way into the zone. He passes the puck to Evgeni Malkin below the goal line. Malkin skates behind the goal as Kris Letang skates from the high slot into the right faceoff circle to give Malkin a passing option. Malkin passes from behind the net to Letang, who smacks the puck towards the net and past Reimer’s right pad.
Players contributing to the first goal for: Martin (6), Malkin (11), Letang (1)

First Goal Against (Bolland)
Whoops. Kris Letang throws the puck into the offensive zone on the powerplay and gives it directly to Dion Phaneuf. As soon as this happens, Dave Bolland breaks out of the Leafs zone past Letang and Paul Martin while Phaneuf immediately passes the puck up to him. Bolland enters the Penguins zone with a clear path to the net and rockets a slapshot past Fleury’s blocker.
Players at fault for the first goal against: Letang (3), Martin (8)

Second Goal Against (Kadri)
Evgeni Malkin skates into the offensive zone with the puck and promptly passes it to James van Riemsdyk. JVR loses the puck at his own blue line, but Morgan Rielly follows it up and passes it back to JVR in the neutral zone. Jussi Jokinen first hits Kadri in the neutral zone, then goes to Rielly as he’s passing the puck, letting Kadri go. The Leafs enter the Penguins zone with a 3-on-2 (4-on-3 if you include Jokinen and Rielly trying to keep up) and JVR passes the puck to the right to Phil Kessel. Brooks Orpik challenges Kessel with the puck, Paul Martin follows JVR skating to the right faceoff circle as if it’s a 2-on-2, and Kessel easily passes the puck to the left to Nazem Kadri, who is about three strides ahead of Jussi Jokinen with an open lane to the net. Fleury goes down into his butterfly as soon as Kadri receives the puck, JVR beats Martin to the net, and Jokinen still can’t catch up to Kadri fast enough to get a solid stick lift on him. With all of this, Kadri moves the puck to his backhand as Fleury makes a desperation pokecheck out of position and Kadri flips the puck into a wide open net.
Players at fault for the second goal against: Fleury (3), Malkin (5), Jokinen (2), Martin (9)

Third Goal Against (Kessel)
Brooks Orpik is in the penalty box for slashing. The sequence begins when Evgeni Malkin races to pick up a puck in the defensive zone and then fails to clear it by basically passing it to Franson at the blue ine (he was looking at Dupuis just a few steps beyond Franson). Phaneuf passes to Kessel on the left, who passes across the ice through the Penguins PK box to Dave Bolland. Bolland tries to center the puck but Fleury gets his stick on it and Bolland retrieves the puck. Bolland passes the puck up to Franson at the point, who sends it back down to Bolland, who passes it behind the boards to the other side where Kessel is. Kessel slides the puck up to Phaneuf at the point, who passes it back over to Franson at the other point. Franson passes the puck down to the goal line where Van Riemsdyk is standing open next to the post. JVR tries to shoot the puck from between his legs, but Fleury makes the initial save. Matt Niskanen comes down to put a body on JVR, but can’t keep him from turning and passing the puck towards the other side of the crease. The puck goes through Deryk Engelland’s legs and to Phil Kessel, who isn’t even being watched on the crease. Kessel taps the puck into the net with ease.
Players at fault for the third goal against: Orpik (3), Malkin (6), Niskanen (4), Engelland (3)

Fourth Goal Against (Bolland)
With an empty net late in the game, Kris Letang picks up the puck behind the goal and tries to pass it up to Evgeni Malkin at the offensive blue line. However, he ends up passing it to Dave Bolland at center ice, who is standing directly in the passing lane. Bolland immediately shoots the puck right back into the zone and into the empty net.
Players at fault for the fourth goal against: Letang (4)

Penalty Assessment

Crosby (tripping): Bad, ends up a step behind Mason Raymond on the boards in the defensive zone and uses his skate to knock Raymond off of his edge.
Jokinen (roughing): Inconsequential, went off with Kessel as they got into a little scrum off of the faceoff.
Malkin (hooking): Bad, chases Morgan Rielly out of the offensive zone and continually keeps his stick parallel trying to get into the hands of Rielly, making it an easy hooking call.
Engelland (fighting): Inconsequential, fought Frazer McClaren late in the period after Clarkson had taken out Scuderi.
Orpik (slashing): Bad, loses a step on James Van Riemsdyk who is skating wide and cutting to the crease. Orpik tries to slash JVR’s stick to stop any shooting attempt but breaks his own stick in the process.

Player Assessment

D'Agostini showed good offensive zone prowess. (Graig Abel/Getty Images)

D’Agostini showed good offensive zone prowess. (Graig Abel/Getty Images)

Matt D’Agostini – Certainly not the player I was expecting to start this section off with, but D’Agostini had a great first game as a Penguin. He clearly has a knack for finding the puck in the offensive zone and he doesn’t hesitate to shoot at all. He drew a cross-checking penalty, intercepted two of Toronto’s breakouts in their zone, and also had a takeaway in the defensive end. He finished with 4 shots (and another 2 missed) in just 13:01 of playing time. D’Agostini looks like a more skilled Kennedy replacement if he can stay healthy (a lingering problem for him).

Brandon Sutter – Since the Penguins were insistent on turning the puck over in between the red line and Toronto’s blue line, Sutter got a chance to shine in the neutral and defensive zones. He played a more physical game than we are used to seeing, landing 4 hits and causing 2 turnovers in the process. He also looked good in the defensive zone, breaking up a couple of centering passes. It was a much better effort than he showed against the Islanders.

Olli Maatta – Maatta ended up being the most trustworthy defenseman of the game for Pittsburgh, which says a lot about both how he played and how everyone else played. He looked exceptionally strong in 1-on-1 situations and was not afraid to throw a hit against some bigger Toronto bodies. He even forced a turnover in the defensive zone on 1 of his 4 hits. The only mistake he made was on a clearing attempt that didn’t get out of the zone immediately, but he recovered nicely so it didn’t turn into anything.


Marc-Andre Fleury – Fleury played a solid game for the most part, making 26 saves on 29 shots, and he looked especially impressive with his glove. There was absolutely nothing he could do on the 3rd goal against (the Leafs’ powerplay goal). His first goal against (the shorthanded one) was a bit deflating as it was a long slapshot from just inside the blue line, but it was also one hell of a shot. The second goal was a mess for the whole team, including Fleury. He basically took himself out of the play a bit by not staying up and staying square to Kadri. For all we know, Kadri may have still scored on the play, but Fleury didn’t make a high-percentage decision there.

Malkin continually looked for high risk, high reward plays. (Graig Abel/Getty Images)

Malkin continually looked for high risk, high reward plays. (Graig Abel/Getty Images)

Evgeni Malkin – Let’s start where everyone wants to start, Geno and his turnovers. The NHL statistician was kind and only marked him down for two giveaways (maybe he only counted giveaways that led to goals). By my count, Malkin lost the puck twice in the neutral zone and once in the offensive zone. On top of that, he flat out gave the puck away twice in the offensive zone and once in the defensive zone. Two of those giveaways, as highlighted above, led to goals against. No matter how you look at it, that’s incredibly poor decision making and inexcusable for any player. Now, Geno did do some things right. He assisted on the only goal, had a takeaway in the offensive zone, and had a much stronger forechecking and backchecking effort than on Friday night. Sadly, none of that counts for much when the problem is turnovers leading to goals. More on Malkin later. (Oh yeah, he took a hooking penalty too.)

Kris Letang – I’m trying to give Letang some leeway as he gets back into the swing of things, but he’s making it difficult. On the plus side, he scored the only goal, broke up a couple of plays in the defensive zone, and provided decent puck support in the neutral zone for the forwards. One aspect that looks very off in his game so far is positioning. He is skating fine, but not necessarily in the right places. I don’t mean in a pinching way either, just overall in every zone. As for the other things I marked down…Letang had two giveaways that led to goals – one was the shorthanded goal and the other was the empty netter. He also had a really odd offside on the powerplay where he skated ahead of Kunitz, who had the puck (postioning?). I think Letang will settle down in a few games, but bringing him back with a new defensive partner and some new systematic changes for 3 games in 4 days didn’t do him any favors.

Sidney Crosby – Adding to the “best players who didn’t show up” list, Crosby joined Malkin in throwing away puck possession at the offensive blue line. The only plus I had for Sid was one takeaway in the offensive zone. Beyond that, it was a tripping penalty, losing the puck in the offensive zone three times, and failing to clear the puck from the defensive zone once. Crosby may not have had the clean, clear-cut giveaways that some of the other players had, but his puck possession wasn’t much better.

Paul Martin – Martin is on an inconsistent slide that I cannot explain right now. He had a decent first half of the game with an assist on the powerplay goal, two good pokechecks that forced turnovers, and two nice broken up plays in the defensive zone. However, he was also partially at fault for the shorthanded goal against as he gave Letang no support as Bolland broke out of the zone. In the second half of the game, Martin made a couple of bad passes and shots in the offensive zone that sent the puck the other way. He also played the Leafs’ 3-on-2 horribly on the 2nd goal against and showed no awareness of the situation at all.

Misc Thoughts

Other Player Notes – Pascal Dupuis isn’t playing “bad” necessarily, but he has looked lost on the first line recently. Deryk Engelland makes a much better 4th liner than defenseman. The Penguins depth forwards (Glass, Vitale, Adams) generally had good games and were more successful at getting the puck into the zone than the skilled forwards.

Hopefully Scuderi won't be out for long. (Graig Abel/Getty Images)

Hopefully Scuderi won’t be out for long. (Graig Abel/Getty Images)

Scuderi Injury – Even with the loss, the absolute biggest concern from this game was Rob Scuderi’s injury. He was hit awkwardly by David Clarkson at the end of the first period and was seen leaving the game with crutches and an orthopedic boot on his foot. Bylsma said he didn’t have a definitive update and I imagine we will hear more about him on Monday morning. The Penguins are fortunate to have Bortuzzo, another stay-at-home defenseman, to step in at least, but he’s not Scuderi’s caliber of course. Three things will likely happen while Scuds is out. 1) Bortuzzo will play with Maatta again and that pairing should be strong. 2) Niskanen will end up with Letang, leading to some chaotic shifts and also additional firepower from the defense. 3) There will be more odd-man chances against Fleury/Zatkoff. It doesn’t matter who Scuderi has played with, he has been exceptional at stopping odd-man rushes early in the season. Those are going to increase without him there to erase the mistakes of others. Hurry back Scuds.

First Line Woes – Even with the Kunitz/Crosby 2-on-1 goal on Friday night, the first line has not looked like itself in the past two games. Puck possession has dropped, all three guys are losing the puck more frequently, and they seem unable to get the puck in deep. Their transition game is still wonderful, but the Leafs certainly made a concerted effort to stay back to prevent it. The line as a whole will have to look to dump the puck in more, whether it’s to go retrieve it or to back the defense further into the zone to create more room for rushes later on. They have to cut down on playing with the puck around the blue line.

More on Malkin – While the first line has had problems, they don’t come near the ones that Malkin has had. First off, the hooking penalty was not lazy. He was skating the whole time and just trying to disrupt Rielly. Malkin does this to basically everyone, the question is usually whether his stick gets caught under a guy’s hands or not. It’s not a bad habit, but it’s one he has to be more careful with based on how referees look for hooking (parallel stick and even a flinch by the opposing player). Basically, Malkin makes it easy for other players to buy a hooking call. As for his production and giveaways, look at his linemates for both. Malkin still has a respectable 10 points in 11 games that will absolutely increase when Neal returns. Jokinen is decent, but let’s not kid, Malkin hasn’t had a ton of help. Moving on to the giveaways, Malkin certainly needs to cut down on them. He isn’t alone though. A big difference between Crosby’s line and Malkin’s line is Crosby’s linemates erase/fix his giveaways far more than Malkin’s do. On the 2nd goal against, Malkin turns the puck over and Jokinen makes the wrong read to take himself out of the play going the other way. I have complete confidence that Dupuis or Kunitz would play that situation correctly if Crosby did the same thing. Kunitz and Dupuis are very strong with puck support for Crosby and very smart defensively. Malkin has never had that type of support. I’m not being a Malkin apologist, he still must cut down on the giveaways, but his are frequently more noticeable because he doesn’t have the same help that Sid has. There’s a reason Malkin looked so good with Kunitz before and it’s hardly just about offense.

Officiating – I’m not blaming the game on refs by any means, but it was weird how they put their whistles away for both teams after the first period. It affected both teams equally, so at least that part was consistent, but I’m not sure how the game switched from everything being called to nothing being called.

Reimer played very well, but the Penguins could have made it more difficult for him. (Nathan Denette/AP Photo)

Reimer played very well, but the Penguins could have made it more difficult for him. (Nathan Denette/AP Photo)

“Hot Goalies” – The most popular excuse from the Root Sports crew after the game was the Penguins keep running into hot goalies. There is no question Giguere, Nabokov, and Reimer have all played well. Hot goalies though? Giguere is the only one I would put in that category. The Penguins scored on Nabokov just fine and had a complete breakdown. Against Reimer, it was a lot of long shots or wrist shots with a clear view. High shot totals are not the same as quality shot totals. And sometimes neither is valuable without screens and traffic in front. This isn’t a “hot goalies” losing streak.

Frustrated Penguins – Know what the Penguins do when they can’t score? Pass the puck more, try to deke around every player, and try to win on pure talent. It’s understandable but it’s frustrating. Talented players want to step up and let their talent shine in pressure situations and when their team is losing. The Penguins have a lot of talented players. Sometimes, an ugly goal is necessary though. The Penguins completely failed when it came to dumping the puck in, crashing the crease, and disturbing Reimer in the 3rd period. Someone has to get this team to simplify their game when things aren’t going perfectly. Stretch pass to the offensive blue line (frequently intercepted anyways) and then trying to skate through a wall of three players does not work.

Pens Record: 7-4
Next Game: Monday, 10/28 @ Carolina, 7pm

Thanks for reading!