Thoughts: Game 17 – Penguins @ Blues

Blues 2  Penguins 1

By: Meesh Shanmugam (@HockeyMeesh)

Jokinen (8) (PP) from Malkin, Neal

Goal Assessment

First Goal Against (Reaves)
Matt Niskanen picks up the puck behind his own net and tries to skate it out by going through Alexander Steen. Steen pokes the puck off of Niskanen’s stick, but Niskanen recovers and gets the puck back. Niskanen then blindly throws a clearing pass off the boards that goes to Max Lapierre. Lapierre draws the attention of three Penguins, one of whom is Jussi Jokinen who should be watching Ryan Reaves behind him. Lapierre passes the puck past Jokinen to Reaves streaking alone to the slot and Reaves redirects the puck past Fleury.
Players at fault for the first goal against: Niskanen (7), Jokinen (3)

First Goal For (Jokinen)
On the powerplay, Sidney Crosby loses the puck in the offensive zone to Patrik Berglund. Before Berglund can clear the zone though, Jussi Jokinen steps up on him to force a turnover and allow Crosby to pick the puck back up. Crosby passes the puck down to the goal line for James Neal, who then passes the puck over a stick across the slot to Evgeni Malkin at the right faceoff dot. Malkin pulls the puck back as if he’s going to take a wrist shot, drawing Halak to the top of the crease. He then passes the puck to Jokinen’s stick on the backside of the crease and Jokinen finishes off an easy tap-in on a wide open net.
Players contributing to the first goal for: Crosby (29), Neal (1), Malkin (18), Jokinen (11)

Second Goal Against (Shattenkirk)
Matt Niskanen is battling for the puck behind the Penguins’ net with Jaden Schwartz. Niskanen has positioning and control of the puck, but he falls over as he tries to lean into Schwartz and hold onto his stick. Vladimir Tarasenko swoops in behind the net to pick up the loose puck after Niskanen falls and Tarasenko attempts a quick wrist shot as he comes around the net but is blocked by Evgeni Malkin. The puck ricochets to the left point, where Barret Jackman corrals it and then throws it deep into the zone. Schwartz picks up the puck behind the net and throws it back up to Jackman, who then passes it across to the right point to Kevin Shattenkirk. Shattenkirk wrists the puck towards the net and it gets past Tarasenko waving at it in the slot (properly covered by Malkin). Fleury makes the save with his blocker, but ends up deflecting the puck off of the inside of his blocker, through his five-hole. The puck trickles through and crosses the goal line.
Players at fault for the second goal against: Niskanen (8), Fleury (4)

Penalty Assessment

Engelland (fighting): Inconsequential, decided to drop the gloves to start the game with Ryan Reaves.
Malkin (boarding): Bad-Stupid, Malkin takes three strides gunning for a hit on Vladimir Tarasenko in a situation where there was no way he could hit anything but Tarasenko’s back into the boards (which he did).
Engelland (high-sticking): Bad-Careless, after Chris Stewart skated right past Brooks Orpik, Engelland ran him over on the crease with a big hit. Unfortunately, Engelland was carrying his stick like a baseball bat so it made contact with Berglund’s head on the otherwise good and smart hit.
Glass (misconduct): Inconsequential, received a 10 minute misconduct along with Chris Stewart before a 2nd period faceoff for jostling before the faceoff.
Crosby (hooking): Bad, is backchecking hard on Alexander Steen skating through the neutral zone and gets his stick into Steen’s hands too much.

Player Assessment

Sutter is the only one showing much care for the puck. (Mark Buckner/Getty Images)

Sutter is the only one showing much care for the puck. (Mark Buckner/Getty Images)

Brandon Sutter – Though I do enjoy keeping Sutter in the good column, the Pens aren’t going to accomplish a lot if he is continually leading the pack. Sutter turned in another close-to-perfect game, mostly making an impact on the defensive side. He has kept up his physicality over the past two weeks and forced two turnovers in the neutral zone by using his body. He also had a nice pass deflection in the defensive zone on the penalty kill and drew an interference penalty in the offensive zone shortly thereafter. He still isn’t putting up the points and had a dismal night in the faceoff circle (5/17), but he’s playing great hockey within his role right now.


Marc-Andre Fleury – Oh MAF. Fleury played a great game for the most part. He made 30 saves on 32 shots, including a few point-blank chances when the Penguins slipped up on defense early in the first and late in the third. The first goal wasn’t his fault as Ryan Reaves scored on a nice redirect from the slot. The second goal…that’s a tough one to excuse. Based on the angles, Fleury wasn’t truly screened by Malkin and Tarasenko in the high slot, though he may have been distracted by Tarasenko’s attempt at a deflection. Regardless, Fleury had a sightline for the puck and made the initial save. He just happened to make the save with the inside of his blocker to put the puck through his five-hole and slowly into the net. Perhaps it was just bad luck; it was certainly a tough break. It is partially Fleury’s fault though as he was in position to make the save and that goal was the result of some bad rebound control. You’ll just have that sometimes.

Malkin is reverting to bad habits when pressured. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Malkin is reverting to bad habits when pressured. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Evgeni Malkin – Malkin played a great game without the puck and then made several awful decisions with it. He provided great support in general for the defense with two takeaways on backchecks and two nice pass break-ups. His best moment with the puck came on Jokinen’s goal, when he took the time to fake looking for a shot to draw Halak out and he then passed the puck to Jokinen for an easy tap-in goal. Aside from that moment though, Geno was turnover central. I marked him down for five giveaways on blind/forced passes. Four of those occurred in the offensive zone as he just tried to force things across the ice on zone entries. With Malkin’s current struggle to score, you have to wonder why more of those pucks aren’t going on net instead of into bad situations. His effort was great, but this was one of his lowlights for puck management this season.

Kris Letang – Letang continues to play roughly two periods of good hockey and a period of something that isn’t hockey. On the plus side, he forced four turnovers on the Blues, including one on a beautiful hip check on TJ Oshie against the boards in the first period. He was solid standing up to his opponents early in the game, especially in the neutral zone. As the game wore on though, and as St. Louis backed off, Letang got sucked into turning the puck over frequently. I had him marked for four giveaways (three in the neutral zone, one in the defensive zone), three of which occurred in the 3rd period. He also got caught up in the offensive zone twice in the 3rd period, leading to 2-on-1s the other way both times. Now, that is somewhat expected with the Penguins pushing for a tying goal, but it was excessively risky as early as he started doing it with just a one goal deficit. More on Letang later…

First Line – Kunitz, Crosby, and Dupuis did not play poorly, but they did not play well either. As a unit, they got caught forcing the puck in around the blue line too frequently (just like against New York) and their rare chances were often swept away from the crease with ease. The line’s best chances came completely in the transition game on turnovers. Unfortunately, that doesn’t get the job done against defensively stout teams or teams that hang back at the blue line waiting patiently. If the rest of the offense doesn’t pick it up, the first line is going to have to find a way to diversify themselves on behalf of the rest of the forwards.

Niskanen was due for a few more mistakes than he made early in the season. (Mark Buckner/Getty Images)

Niskanen was due for a few more mistakes than he made early in the season. (Mark Buckner/Getty Images)

Matt Niskanen – For Niskanen, this game was about quality instead of quantity. I only marked him down for two mistakes. Those two mistakes happened to lead to two goals against though. On the first one, he turned the puck over trying to skate through Alexander Steen, then recovered the puck, then blindly turned the puck over to Max Lapierre in the defensive zone still. On the second goal, Niskanen had a chance to take care of the puck behind the net but he got caught up leaning on Jaden Schwartz and it cost him his footing and the puck. Sometimes, it only takes two mistakes to lose a game.

Robert Bortuzzo – Bortuzzo struggled with a heavy forecheck for the second game in a row and he didn’t stand up to the bodies and hits of the Blues very well. He had two neutral zone giveaways, a failed clear, and he flat out lost the puck in the defensive zone after being hit against the boards. After the past two games, one has to question if his big presence may depend more on the opponent than we realized. It looks like he may have to adjust his game a little bit to handle bigger teams.

Misc Thoughts

Other Player Notes – Jussi Jokinen had a great shift on his powerplay goal, both starting and finishing the play. His defensive work was rather shoddy throughout the night though. Tanner Glass had one of his worst games of the season, mostly struggling with clearing chances in the defensive zone. Deryk Engelland played well on defense with Orpik despite his bad penalty. Olli Maatta bounced back with a decent game after he struggled against the Rangers.

Injury Returns – Though the Penguins lost Paul Martin (day-to-day with a lower body injury), they did get Beau Bennett and James Neal back. Unfortunately, it didn’t increase the goal output, but Neal did end up with a powerplay assist. Both players looked pretty good in their returns. Neal was tenacious early on and he didn’t appear to be holding back at all, so that was great news after the opening game mistake of playing him. Bennett had a decent game as well, not looking quite as mobile as Neal, but making smart moves for most of the night. The two wingers only combined for three shots, so hopefully that number skyrockets quickly for the Penguins’ offense.

Engelland Fight – The Engelland/Reaves fight off of the opening faceoff made no sense to me whatsoever (for Pittsburgh). Engelland’s willingness to drop the gloves there led to: 1) the home crowd getting riled up to give their team energy early on, 2) a rotation of five defensemen for the start of the game, and 3) no tangible or intangible benefits whatsoever. I fully understand it from the POV of Reaves, but not from Engelland. That’s also the type of fight I would love to get rid of in hockey.

Letang Cont. – Perhaps it is just me, but Letang looks a little lost with his role on the team right now. He hesitates to both shoot and pass on the powerplay. He seems uncertain of whether he should be passing the puck up from the defensive zone or if he should take the space available and carry it. He even seems unsure of himself when it comes to pinching in and when to do it. Letang has never been the best when it comes to on-the-fly decisions, but this goes beyond his normal lackadaisical play that we’ve seen before. This is purely a guess/hunch, but I have a feeling Letang is struggling to balance his free-skating offensive role with a bigger commitment to defense right now (as likely requested by the coaching staff). With the team struggling on offense lately, he’s holding back more than I would expect until the third period, at which point he is overcompensating. There is something very unnatural with the version of Kris Letang that we’re watching right now and I don’t think it’s necessarily all on him.

How do you beat teams with holographic speed? (Mark Buckner/Getty Images)

How do you beat teams with holographic speed? (Mark Buckner/Getty Images)

East vs West – Are the Penguins a great team in the East but only a good one in comparison to the West? It’s something to consider. Here are the Western games so far: 3-2 win over Edmonton, 4-3 (SO) win over Vancouver, 1-0 loss to Colorado, 2-1 loss to St. Louis. In quick summary form: Probably should have been a bigger win, good game, frustrating loss, outplayed. Not exactly the best trend against the West so far. Games against Nashville and Anaheim in the next week should prove to be very interesting.

Simple Hockey – For the second game in a row, the Penguins showed no ability to just dump the puck in and chase it down to create chances. Turnovers increased as the game went on, especially in the neutral zone and at the offensive blue line, and the Blues didn’t have to change anything stylistically. The Pens somehow managed fewer shots each period (9-6-5). This team has to learn to simplify things when nothing is working – even a shot from the neutral zone has a chance of going in. Those passes through three people across the ice aren’t going to work when teams are hanging back though. Get the puck in deep, put the puck on net. Two lessons the team hasn’t learned quite yet over the past two games.

Veterans Day – Make sure you check out Casey’s fantastic article: Hockey and the Second Great War.

Pens Record: 11-6
Next Game: Wednesday, 11/13 vs Philadelphia, 8pm

Thanks for reading! (Sorry for the two-day delay!)