Thoughts: Game 16 – Penguins @ Rangers

Rangers 5  Penguins 1

By: Meesh Shanmugam (@HockeyMeesh)

Letang (3) (PP) from Kunitz, Malkin

Goal Assessment

First Goal Against (McDonagh)
Brian Boyle tries to skate along the boards with the puck in the corner of the Penguins’ zone but gets pushed off the puck by Olli Maatta. As Maatta separates Boyle from the puck, Robert Bortuzzo comes in to pick it up and take it behind the net. Bortuzzo gets hit by Benoit Pouliot, but stays with the puck. With Boyle, Maatta, Pouliot, and Bortuzzo all behind the net, Bortuzzo still gets his stick on the puck and pushes it out towards the goal line as Boyle backs into him for a hit. Bortuzzo ends up putting the puck in front of Boyle, who then smacks the puck towards the faceoff circle. As Boyle does this, Ryan McDonagh reads the play perfectly and skates in towards the puck while Evgeni Malkin loses track of McDonagh (and fails to read the play). McDonagh corrals the puck and beats Fleury’s blocker with a wrist shot before Malkin can recover on the play.
Players at fault for the first goal against: Bortuzzo (3), Malkin (7)


Look carefully to the right and you will see Niskanen's stick doing nothing. (Scott Levy/Getty Images)

Look carefully to the right and you will see Niskanen’s stick doing nothing. (Scott Levy/Getty Images)

Second Goal Against (Stepan)
With the puck along the boards high in the Penguins zone, Matt Niskanen pushes Mats Zuccarello out of the zone and forces him into turning the puck over to Dustin Jeffrey on the boards. Jeffrey skates the puck out of the Penguins zone along the boards and tries to sidestep Mats Zuccarello in the neutral zone. He can’t get around Zuccarello cleanly and then turns the puck over to Chris Kreider at center. Kreider moves the puck up to Zuccarello at the blue line and Zuccarello just flips the puck into the middle of the Penguins’ zone. Matt Niskanen, who had started to move towards Zuccarello (despite Kris Letang being there already), gets caught flat-footed once the puck is in the air and struggles to get into position. Niskanen sees Derek Stepan entering the zone with more speed and a better angle on the puck and he does nothing to hinder him whatsoever, allowing Stepan to put a beautifully placed wrister past Fleury’s blocker.
Players at fault for the second goal against: Jeffrey (1), Niskanen (6)

Third Goal Against (Boyle)
Dustin Jeffrey skates the puck into the offensive zone and tries to make a centering pass to Jussi Jokinen that gets picked off by Anton Stralman. The puck bounces up to Brad Richards, who skates it through the neutral zone and into the offensive zone on a 2-on-2 with Carl Hagelin against Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen. As Richards enters the Penguins’ zone, he passes the puck to Brian Boyle joining the play and the puck slides past the outreached stick of Dustin Jeffrey, who fails to cover Boyle after originally turning the puck over to begin with. Boyle takes a wrist shot and Orpik tries to drop to a knee to block the shot, but screens Fleury instead as the puck goes past Fleury’s blocker.
Players at fault for the third goal against: Jeffrey (2), Orpik (4)

A neat look at how the puck managed to slide under Lundqvist. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

A neat look at how the puck managed to slide under Lundqvist. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

First Goal For (Letang)
On the powerplay, Evgeni Malkin prevents a clearing attempt by the Rangers in the corner of the offensive zone. Malkin passes the puck up to Kris Letang at the left point and Letang then passes the puck across to Sidney Crosby on the boards across the ice. Crosby passes the puck to the center of the blue line, where Martin returns the puck back to Crosby. Crosby sends the puck across the middle of the zone to Letang, who passes back to the point to Martin, who passes it back to Crosby, who then sends the puck down to the goal line to Evgeni Malkin. Malkin pushes the puck to the crease where Chris Kunitz battles to get a shot off. As Kunitz keeps swatting at the loose puck, Lundqvist can’t cover it. Letang sneaks in from his position at the left faceoff circles, finds the loose puck, and jabs it under Lundqvist for the powerplay goal.
Players contributing to the first goal for: Martin (11), Crosby (28), Malkin (17), Kunitz (20), Letang (5)

Fourth Goal Against (Callahan)
Craig Adams overskates a loose puck in the neutral zone along the benches and then gets boxed out from it by Brad Richards. Richards passes the puck to Ryan Callahan who is just exiting the Penguins zone and he passes it along to Carl Hagelin, who enters the Penguins zone with the puck. Hagelin peels back to the right point as he is being challenged by Olli Maatta, Tanner Glass, and Deryk Engelland. He takes a quick shot to the net that goes in between Maatta and Glass and gets deflected by both Richards and Callahan on its way past Fleury’s glove.
Players at fault for the fourth goal against: Adams (3)

Fifth Goal Against (Brassard)
Olli Maatta intercepts a pass between Rangers in the corner of the defensive zone, but then promptly gives the puck away to Derick Brassard at the right faceoff circle. Brassard takes the puck to the boards and then backhands it behind the net. The puck hits Maatta’s stick behind the net, but hops over it and gets to Derek Dorsett. Dorsett carries the puck to the bottom of the left faceoff circle and then makes a behind-the-back pass towards the crease. The puck hits Bortuzzo’s stick blade and bounces to the crease. Brassard, already skating towards the net through the slot, just taps the puck in for an easy goal.
Players at fault for the fifth goal against: Maatta (6), Bortuzzo (4)

Penalty Assessment

Orpik (interference): Bad, gets tied up with Derick Brassard in front of the net while the puck was being played around the perimeter. Orpik ends up getting his stick between Brassard’s legs and knocking him over.
Kunitz (cross-checking): Bad-Stupid, takes an extra shot at Mats Zucarello after the play ends, likely in retaliation for Zucarello getting into it with Crosby at the end of the previous shift.
Kunitz (roughing): Inconsequential, gets into a scrum with Zucarello towards the end of the 2nd period after the cross-check and both get called for roughing.
Vitale (interference): Bad-Careless, Matt Niskanen has the puck in the defensive zone and Joe Vitale is skating back through the zone to create movement, but Vitale skates into and knocks over Ryan Callahan who already has his positioning set.
Adams (cross-checking): Bad-Stupid, cross-checks Chris Kreider four times against the boards in a puck battle. It somehow took all of them to draw a call.
Glass (cross-checking): Inconsequential, gets into a tussle with Derek Dorsett on a faceoff and they both go off for minors.
Glass (fighting): Inconsequential, proceeds to fight Dorsett after the whistle had blown for each of their minors.
Bortuzzo (slashing): Bad-Stupid, hits JT Miller twice on the penalty kill and the second one gets called since it was after Miller passed the puck away.

Player Assessment

Defense wins championships, but requires more than 1 player playing it. (Scott Levy/Getty Images)

Defense wins championships, but requires more than 1 player playing it. (Scott Levy/Getty Images)

Brandon Sutter – Yes, there was actually a decent player in the lineup. One of my favorite quotes from the third Mighty Ducks movie (a trilogy I generally hate due to unrealistic hockey) is “Unlike scoring, defense never quits.” For as frustrating as Sutter can be on offense, he follows that theory perfectly. He was great on the penalty kill and had two pokechecks that forced turnovers in the defensive zone. He even did a little in the offensive zone, drawing an interference penalty and getting a takeaway as well. At least someone stuck to his game.


Evgeni Malkin – Truthfully, I don’t believe Malkin played nearly as bad as most people are saying. He definitely took a couple of steps back from the weekend though. Against Columbus, Malkin was playing perfect positional hockey and appeared to simplify his game to cut down on mistakes. That strategy went out the door against New York and he looked visibly frustrated at times despite even saying that he was just focused on playing smart hockey earlier in the week. Malkin had a good start to the game, forcing a turnover on his first shift and providing great puck support early on. He even added an assist and drew a penalty later in the game. However, his biggest issue on the night was poor awareness. He was a step slow in reading the play on the first goal against as McDonagh realized where the puck was going before he did. He also gave up the puck twice in the offensive zone because he didn’t properly read how the Rangers’ defense was shifting. In general, Geno looked like he wanted to push the play a certain way (with or without the puck) rather than going with a read-and-react mentality.

Jayson Megna – Megna had a decent night but it was a relatively quiet game for him. He had a couple of great moments: 1) Covering a 2-on-1 on defense when Bortuzzo and Orpik were both caught out of position and 2) Knocking over Benoit Pouliot to steal the puck and then forcing Pouliot into taking a delay of game penalty for putting his glove on the puck while he was down. Overall though, he looked like a depth winger who may be in over his head a little bit on the 2nd line. He had a giveaway in the offensive zone, failed to clear the puck on the boards in the defensive zone, and drifted in coverage a couple of times (once losing his positioning for a hit).

Paul Martin – Martin looked downright awful in the first period but he steadied his game as the rest of the team fell apart. In the first period alone, he made a pass up the middle in the defensive zone for a giveaway, gave the puck away behind his own net, lost the puck in the neutral zone, and lost a puck battle in the defensive zone on the powerplay. He also got knocked off the puck in the offensive zone on the powerplay early in the 2nd period. Despite all of this, Martin was brilliant without the puck in the defensive zone for the majority of the game. He had three pass break-ups in the slot (2 on the PK) and two strong pokechecks that led to takeaways. He is filling the Scuderi role very well, but his puck management has been inconsistent this season.


Dustin Jeffrey – Perhaps we should all admit that the coaching staff knew what they had in Jeffrey more than most of us thought. I marked him down for three turnovers (the NHL had 0, so that tells you how worthwhile that stat is) and two of those directly led to goals. The first one occurred when he attempted to skate around Zuccarello in the neutral zone and apparently didn’t have a plan for the fact that Kreider was there too. The second one occurred in the offensive zone as he tried to force a pass to the middle that was smartly read by Stralman. Not only did he turn the puck over there, but then he failed to cover Boyle properly on the rush going the other way, allowing Boyle to get the puck and score. I would be shocked if Jeffrey is in the lineup on Saturday unless injuries absolutely demand it.

Olli Maatta – Maatta’s first shift of the night foreshadowed the rough game he was about to have. The Rangers clearly made an effort to knock him around early in the game (and they also tripped him twice without getting penalties) in an effort to rattle him. To Maatta’s credit, he never truly appeared to be rattled, but he lost several physical puck battles along the boards throughout the game. The worst part of his night came on the final goal, when he intercepted a pass in the defensive zone and then passed the puck directly to Derick Brassard. As the play continued, he had a chance to atone for his mistake but couldn’t stop the puck behind the net and lost positioning on Derek Dorsett, who centered the puck for the impending goal. It was one of the rare games where Maatta has looked like a 19-year-old for physical reasons.

Bortuzzo played a small game with his big body. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Bortuzzo played a small game with his big body. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Robert Bortuzzo – Bortuzzo joined Maatta in having a rough night and unexpectedly also struggled with the Rangers’ physical game at times. He was partly at fault for both the first and fifth goals against. On the first goal against, he was knocked off the puck behind the net, had a chance to move the puck again, but then was hit again and played the puck into an area where only Rangers could get it. On the fifth goal against, he was just slow to react as the puck bounced to his stick and then bounced away as he played the role of pylon on the crease. For probably the first time all season, the third pairing looked like a third pairing on defense.

Misc Thoughts

Other Player Notes – Matt Niskanen played well for most of the game but I doubt even he can explain what he did on the 2nd goal against. He saw where the puck was going over his head and he saw Stepan had the angle and speed to beat him. For some reason though, he didn’t take any step to impede Stepan and didn’t exactly give it his all to get to the puck (dive maybe?). It was not a good looking play. Kris Letang was up and down throughout the night and scored the only goal for the Pens. Much like the rest of the D, he was knocked off the puck far more than usual and it led to turnovers. One very positive note on Letang – he was the only player to go talk to/comfort Fleury on the ice after the 2nd period ended. I like seeing him take that step for his goalie. Brooks Orpik took a bad interference penalty, had a couple of giveaways, and looked foolishly out of position when he went for a hit (the one Megna covered for). The first line looked pedestrian, another rarity for how this season has gone.

This picture pretty much summed up the game. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

This picture pretty much summed up the game. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Goaltending – Going through the goals, Fleury didn’t have much of a chance at most of them. The first goal looked odd as he flailed a little bit since he was deep in the crease with the puck behind the net at first. The second goal was just a perfect shot by Stepan. The third goal was largely due to a screen by Orpik. Watching it in slow motion, Fleury doesn’t even react until the puck is past Orpik. The fourth goal was a crazy set of deflections. Finally, the fifth goal was a bad bounce off of Bortuzzo’s stick that neither Fleury nor Bortuzzo anticipated. Five goals is a lot, but it appears the only one that Fleury may have reacted poorly to was the first one (and even that’s tough with how the puck came out in front). On the other side of the ice, Lundqvist made several fantastic saves and really shut the Penguins down early on to give the Rangers a chance to stay in the game and take over. He deserves a lot of credit for shutting the door as well as he did.

Turnovers – The Penguins looked a half-step slow all game and made several mindless turnovers throughout the night. As a group, they did not anticipate most plays well and therefore passed the puck into bad situations or tried to skate through far too many players. There was never a movement to dump the puck in as the game went on and the Rangers just continued to prey on loose pucks. Additionally, the Penguins lost most of the puck battles along the boards and were completely knocked off the puck several times. To add to all of it, there was almost no recovery speed (or sometimes attempts – Crosby, Orpik) to make up for mistakes. Whether it was a lack of focus, system issues, or being hungover, the Penguins did not bring their best work to any facet of the game. Schemes do not trump player stupidity and talent does not trump hunger for the puck. The Rangers wanted it more, were willing to do more for it, and completely outplayed the Penguins in the process. No injuries, specific players (even Jeffrey), or any other excuses caused that loss, the Penguins just didn’t show up physically or mentally for a 60 minute game.

Adams Cross-Check – The cross-checking call on Craig Adams was a hilarious display of my complaint from after the Columbus game. Adams cross-checked Kreider four times before drawing a penalty. That should be three times too many for the rule book, but for some reason it’s not. Adams even argued the call afterwards. I can’t blame him, why call the fourth but not the first three? What exactly is the standard here??

Injury Report – Pascal Dupuis left the game after the 2nd period. I watched his last few shifts but couldn’t identify any incident that led to this, nor could I find any time where he appeared to be in any discomfort or pain. He didn’t practice today and the Penguins called it a maintenance day. Whatever was bothering him, I wouldn’t expect him to be out for too long. James Neal practiced with the team today and will return in the next few games depending on his practice time. Beau Bennett is also practicing and is a candidate to return on Saturday.

Trade Notes – Just a random interesting note here from the Marek vs. Wyshynski podcast. They had a Capitals writer on, Chuck Gormley of CSN, and they were discussing the trade market. Gormley said the Capitals were looking for a 4th defenseman and that half of the league was doing the same thing. While it would never work with Washington, that will be an interesting trade market for Shero to exploit around the trade deadline since the Penguins essentially have five top 4 defensemen when (and if) healthy.

Pens Record: 11-5
Next Game: Saturday, 11/9 @ St. Louis, 8pm

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