Thoughts: Game 17 – Third line scores and Fleury saves in Pens 4-0 win over Montreal

Published on November 19th, 2014

By:  Meesh Shanmugam

Pens 4  Canadiens 0

Record: 13-3-1

Goals
Bennett (1), unassisted
Downie (3) from Letang, Bennett
Sutter (5) from Bennett, Downie
Crosby (8) (PP) from Malkin, Hornqvist

Click here to read the goal assessments

Penalties
Spaling (holding) – Unnecessary (gets into a battle for positioning along the boards with Desharnais and uses his free arm and left leg to pin Desharnais to slow him down)
Malkin (hooking) – Unnecessary (follows Sekac off of the boards in the defensive zone and wedges his stick down on Sekac’s right leg at a parallel angle just long enough to get called for a hook as Sekac is falling)
Martin (tripping) – Careless (loses his balance behind the Penguins net and reaches out to try and play the puck, which puts his stick in a tripwire position to take out Galchenyuk)

Gm 17 - Goals

Notable Players

Forwards

Gm 17 - Forwards

Beau Bennett – After three games of playing roughly ten minutes per night and looking underutilized, Bennett finally got a chance to translate his preseason success into the regular season. It turns out, that would be all the offense the Penguins needed on the night. Bennett finished with a goal and two assists while playing 13:50 on the left wing of the third line. His first goal was set up as a gift from Nathan Beaulieu, who turned the puck over to Bennett in the Canadiens zone. Bennett accepted the puck, took it to the slot, and fired a hard wrister that beat Price’s blocker. He proceeded to get a second assist on Downie’s goal with a nice setup to Letang in the high slot from the left corner, and then he set up Sutter’s goal with a nice pass to the high slot from the right corner. As usual, he still seemed prone to moving towards the right side of the zone, but it never put him out of position as he, Sutter, and Downie formed a very strong third line.

*If* Bennett can stay healthy, we may see a lot of this happening. (Francois Lacasse/Getty Images)

*If* Bennett can stay healthy, we may see a lot of this happening. (Francois Lacasse/Getty Images)

Steve Downie – Speaking of Downie, he recorded an easy tap-in goal thanks to a great look from Kris Letang and also earned the second assist on Sutter’s goal by moving the puck to Bennett as they exited the Penguins zone. Most importantly, there was no typical Downie penalty!

Downie continues to show flashes of talent and ability when he’s not stuck in the mindset of being a pest and taking penalties. Being a pest is great, but I’ll take two even-strength contributions on the scoreboard over his feistiness any day. I’m guessing that his calm demeanor won’t make it through a weekend home-and-home series with the Islanders though.

Marcel Goc – At what point do we question how Goc is playing instead of how his linemates are pulling him down? As a whole, the fourth line did plenty of chasing the puck in the defensive zone, but it’s tough to blame Goc’s linemates for two offensive zone giveaways and a failed clear in the defensive zone. He still hasn’t looked nearly as good as he did with the Panthers and even with subpar linemates, he has looked worse lately than I would have ever expected in Pittsburgh. His talent level is more than niche center for specific faceoffs, but that’s not what we’re seeing right now.

Defensemen/Goalies

Gm 17 - Defense

Marc-Andre Fleury – I’m not sure there is any point in the past decade when you could have told me Fleury would be leading the league in shutouts and I would have believed you. Yet here we are, just 17 games into the season, and Fleury is leading the pack with 4 shutouts. These aren’t exactly perfect team efforts either. Fleury earned this one early in the game, highlighted by a dazzling stretch across the crease to make a stop with his right pad on Sekac cutting in front of the net. After a quiet second period, he was tasked with stopping the Canadiens by himself as he dealt with a 2-on-0 situation and also a couple of open shots from the middle of the zone. Fleury continues to look calm and efficient with his movements though. This game was actually a little sloppier than usual for the franchise goalie, but he got the job done as he has continually done this year. I daresay Fleury is improving long after many thought he peaked.

If you're arguing against Fleury at this point, you're trying too hard. (Francois Lacasse/Getty Images)

If you’re arguing against Fleury at this point, you’re trying too hard. (Francois Lacasse/Getty Images)

Olli Maatta – Maatta returned to game action quicker than anyone expected after having surgery to have a tumor removed and he looked like nothing had happened by the end of the game. The first period was certainly a rough start for him with a couple of defensive zone giveaways and some general confusion in the defensive zone. As the game went on though, Maatta returned to his normal self and was the only defenseman than actually improved as the game went on when it got messy in the third period. Maatta continually talks about his brush with cancer as if it was just a blip on the radar. Last night, he made it look that way too. Beyond hockey, the way he has handled everything at such a young age is just plain inspirational.

Everyone Else – I wasn’t impressed with the defense as a whole against the Canadiens. Paul Martin had a great first period and then trailed off to continue his string of inconsistent games (I’m still ignoring you, Errey and Steigy). Kris Letang helped out on two goals, including a beautiful pass to Downie for a tap-in, but his puck management left a lot to be desired (four giveaways, one lost puck, one failed clear). Once Maatta got up to game speed, Ehrhoff looked fine and that pairing turned out to be solid for most of the game. The Despres/Scuderi pairing was a mixed bag and did a lot of chasing in the defensive zone at times. Despres had a few shifts where he may have been a little too insistent on jumping up into the play. There will be more on the defense, with Bortuzzo in the press box, in the misc. thoughts below.

Misc. Thoughts

Closer Than the Final

Not that I’m using Corsi as my basis necessarily, but I was actually underwhelmed by the Penguins at several points in this game and didn’t feel that the scoreboard matched the performance at all. Montreal had plenty of offensive zone time, but they missed plenty of shots to go along with that and also had quite a few blocked and deflected away. The Penguins struggled with puck management as a whole, but the third line was extremely opportunistic with their chances and Fleury was solid. The one thing I do continually love in the defensive zone is how quickly and efficiently the team is getting to rebounds and clearing them away from Fleury to prevent second chances. Fleury looks like a different goalie in some ways this year, but the lack of second chances from the middle of the zone is probably the number one reason his numbers have skyrocketed. I don’t know if it’s by design, or by luck (probably some combination), but Fleury kicked several big rebounds directly to his players in the defensive zone, which made all of their jobs easier. As a whole though, I don’t think they could put together the same effort against Montreal this season and end up with that nice of a result.

Letang had trouble at times while using his air stick. (Francois Lacasse/Getty Images)

Letang had trouble at times while using his air stick. (Francois Lacasse/Getty Images)

Who Sits? – With Maatta returning to the lineup, Bortuzzo was tagged as the healthy scratch over Despres or Scuderi. This will be a very interesting situation for the coaching staff to handle. Martin/Letang and Ehrhoff/Maatta are set; there is no reason to even look at any of them. Despres, Bortuzzo, and Scuderi are a very interesting (and honestly, luxurious) group of third-pairing defensemen to have. Despres has the highest upside but is prone to mistakes and penalties. Bortuzzo is pretty middle-of-the-road and slots well into a third pairing position. He has provided more offensive upside than expected so far this season and he has cut down on his recklessness, which is the biggest improvement in my eyes. Then, there is Scuderi, who has a target on his back from last season and due to his contract, but hasn’t played poorly this year. Scuderi provides a steady presence and has played very well on the PK lately. There are arguments to playing and sitting all three of these guys. Remove contracts from the equation; those are already being paid. At the current time, I would probably rank them Scuderi > Despres > Bortuzzo, all within a millimeter of each other, and play the top two until someone gets hurt or has a bad game. Unfortunately for Despres, this would probably be déjà vu for him, but all three really do deserve playing time right now.

Islanders Ahead – Just a little something to get you amped up for the home-and-home this weekend…

Next Game: 11/21 vs NY Islanders, 7pm

Thanks for reading!!

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