Thoughts: Game 19 – Pens can’t figure out Isles, again, in 4-1 loss

By:  Meesh Shanmugam

NY Islanders 4  Pens 1

Record: 13-4-2

Goals
Malkin (8) from Hornqvist, Spaling

Click here to read the goal assessments

Penalties
Downie (fighting) – Inconsequential (gets into a fight with Hamonic after a few shoves; bad situational penalty since the Pens were in the offensive zone, but inconsequential in results)
Maatta (hooking) – Overly aggressive (hooks Okposo multiple times in the defensive zone until Okposo pins his stick under his arm and finally draws a penalty)
Bennett (roughing) – Inconsequential (gets into a scuffle with Strome after a whistle and both get roughing minors)
Downie (interference) – Stupid (loses his stick, then turns and shoulders Hickey for no reason away from the puck)
Downie (misconduct) – Stupid (gets an extra 10 for causing chaos after the interference penalty and arguing with the ref presumably)
Sill (misconduct) – Inconsequential (gets into a shoving match with Hamonic in the last minute of the game and they both receive misconducts)

Gm 19 - Goals

Notable Players

Forwards

Gm 19 - Forwards

Evgeni Malkin – Malkin continued his strong play from the second half of Friday’s game into a 1-0 lead for the Penguins in Long Island. While the rest of the team fell off after that, Geno still played well. He finished with two broken-up plays in the defensive zone, two forced turnovers in the offensive zone, and also drew a penalty. It took a while, but it looks like Hornqvist is starting to read Malkin better too, which made the second line easily the best one on the night for the Penguins.

 

At least Malkin appears to be finding his highest level again. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

At least Malkin appears to be finding his highest level again. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Steve Downie – Downie didn’t *play* bad with two forced turnovers in the defensive zone and only one offensive zone giveaway, but his penchant for taking bad penalties certainly peaked in this game. After losing his stick in the neutral zone with the puck going into the offensive zone, he turned around and threw his shoulder into Hickey for a blatant interference penalty. He then followed that up with trying to get into a fight and earning a 10 minute misconduct. The Islanders scored on the resulting powerplay and yet again, Downie was in the box for a powerplay goal against (3rd this season). Not that there is a good time for this type of play, but 3rd period in a one-goal game? What happened to Tocchet can keep him under control??

First Line – While the second line was solid, the first line looked like they were too tipsy to carry the puck while thinking they were sober enough to do it. The neutral zone was chaos for the entire group as Comeau and Crosby lost the puck a combined five times and Kunitz added in three giveaways, all in the neutral zone. The players struggled to read each other and were unable to make quality leading passes. They even struggled with deciding when to carry the puck and when to pass it. They were lucky with no goals against scored on account of their mistakes, but the lack of chemistry, even between Kunitz and Crosby, was alarming throughout the night.

Zach Sill – Sill continues to frustrate me because he’s a smart hockey player who just can’t seem to finish his smart ideas. He lost the puck four times in this game and was knocked around quite a bit for a guy who is supposed to throw his body around with speed. I do think Sill has the brains and speed to be in the NHL, but his hands and size continue to betray him and I’m not sure there is a fix for that. Unlike some of the more successful small guys in the league, he is unable to create anything and it’s hard to justify his existence in the lineup when that is combined with the fact that he’s not a defense/PK specialist either.

Defensemen/Goalies

Gm 19 - Defense

Olli Maatta – Maatta stood out as the most consistent defensemen in a game that shifted back and forth crazily. He had three broken-up plays in the defensive zone and a takeaway to counteract a giveaway and lost puck. He did take a bad hooking penalty, but it was hard to blame him as he tested the referee after getting away with at least two hooks in the same sequence. On the offensive side, Maatta made the appropriate read carrying the puck through the neutral zone and started the sequence for Malkin’s goal with a smart dump-in. It’s amazing how reliable this kid is.

Thomas Greiss – Though Greiss allowed four goals, none of them were his fault and he made 31 other saves to even keep the Penguins ahead for most of the game and in it until the end. Greiss made several clutch saves from the slot and crease areas as the Penguins dealt with several defensive breakdowns in high percentage shooting areas. Three of the goals allowed were from right in front of the crease on scrambles where the defense was trying desperately to cover up for mistakes but couldn’t. The other was a redirection that was impossible to defend or stop. As we have seen several times with Fleury, there are just some games where this team doesn’t help out their goalie.

Simon Despres – Despres joined the lineup again after an ugly performance from Bortuzzo the night before and he certainly made his presence felt. He wasn’t great with the puck in the defensive zone (three turnovers), but he was incredibly visible in the offensive zone. I noticed at least five different shifts during which Despres skated deep into the offensive zone to give his forwards another passing option or find a loose puck. He also crashed the net twice in those sequences to disrupt the Islanders a bit. Nothing resulted from his offensive zone prowess, but that ability alone was a good reason to have him in the lineup against the Islanders compared to a Scuderi/Bortuzzo pairing.

Misc. Thoughts

Defensive Change – It will be interesting to see if Bortuzzo rotated out because of his bad performance on Friday night, because it was another game against the Isles, or because of a defensive rotation we might see for a while. Sitting Scuderi in a back-to-back situation and letting Bortuzzo play again after shaking some rust off wouldn’t have been the worst idea in the world to see how each guy reacted. Either way, getting Despres back in was definitely the right move and now we shall watch to see if Bortuzzo has landed himself in the doghouse like Despres did so many times in the past.

Living/Dying on Special Teams – The lack of powerplays for the Penguins is concerning on many levels. It starts with the fact that both teams should be getting several more powerplays and these games are being called like “put the whistle away” playoff games. Beyond that, the Penguins seem to be a two line team again, except perhaps it’s the third line and whichever of the first/second line has decided to show up for the night. That’s not a recipe for even strength success and taking an amazing powerplay off the ice hurts this team quite a bit. I won’t say start taking dives, but the Penguins need to skate through infractions harder to make them more noticeable at least. Meanwhile, the lack of powerplay opportunities means there is no way to counteract a powerplay goal allowed, like maybe one after a stupid penalty by the player who continually takes stupid penalties. If the powerplay isn’t going to take the ice, the Penguins can’t afford to take any stupid penalties. Everyone is looking at you, Downie.

Taking What’s There – The most annoying thing about this game to me was watching the first line trying to skate through the neutral zone through two or three players several times. As I’ve said earlier this season, dumping the puck into the offensive zone is not a bad thing depending on the situation. The Islanders created such a situation through most of the game, and the Penguins even scored the first goal of the game thanks to a dump-in. Despite that, the team, and especially the first line, continued to try to skate through bodies in the neutral zone and turned the puck over an unacceptable amount of times in transition. Possessing the puck while entering the offensive zone is wonderful, but it’s a flawed concept if you can’t get to the offensive zone.

Next Game: 11/24 @ Boston, 7pm

Thanks for reading!