Thoughts: Game 21- Penguins vs. Hurricanes

Main Storylines

  • The obvious one: Jordan Staal is playing against his former team for the first time, as is Brandon Sutter
  • There are no lineup changes, meaning Zach Boychuk does not get to play against his former team
  • The Pens are playing their 3rd game without Evgeni Malkin, who has skated a little without symptoms

Hurricanes 4   Pens 1

Kunitz (9) from Crosby, Niskanen

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  • Pascal Dupuis played almost 18 minutes but did not record a shot (nor did Vitale, Bortuzzo, or Engelland)
  • Kris Letang led the team with 3 blocked shots. He also played 29:25, almost 5 minutes more than the next guy (Crosby at 24:31)
  • Sidney Crosby dominated in faceoffs (21/29) while Dustin Jeffrey struggled (2/10)
  • Paul Martin played 18:28 and did not play in the 3rd period
  • The Penguins’ penalty kill was a perfect 5 for 5 but their powerplay went 0 for 5

The Good

Marc-Andre Fleury vs. Carolina

Fleury patiently awaits the defensive breakdown that's about to occur. (Gerry Broome/AP Photo)

Marc-Andre Fleury: Don’t let the four goals against fool you, Fleury played a strong game in net and was the only reason the Penguins weren’t down by four in the first period. He bailed numerous teammates out with clutch saves off of turnovers but was just a step slower than Superman when trying to save point blank shots from the slot. The score should have been much worse than Fleury let it be.

Brooks Orpik: Orpik was basically the only defenseman to not make a major mistake in the defensive zone. He had a quiet game but did everything you could ask for out of a stay at home defenseman. His playing time was very situational based on his 32 shifts (unusually high) while only playing a normal 23:57, but that may have been because of the Martin injury. He also drew a penalty while on the penalty kill in the first period.

Matt Cooke: Cooke tied for the team lead in shots (3), had 3 hits, and added a takeaway in just over 14 minutes of playing time. Combined with the efforts of Jeffrey and Kennedy, Cooke put together a strong forechecking effort and the line as a whole played a little above average. He also did a great job of getting pressure on the points during penalty kills and drew a tripping penalty to get the Pens on the powerplay without retaliating.


Kris Letang: Letang was rightfully thrown under a bus at times for some bad puck decisions in the form of giveaways and errant passes, but his game wasn’t completely horrible. He led the team with 3 blocked shots and had a couple of nice poke checks in the defensive zone. The worst part of his game right now appears to be on the powerplay, where he is showing absolutely no creativity or confidence with the puck. He simply looks unsure of himself when making pass/shot decisions and when deciding if he should pinch or not. Letang needs to get out of his head a little bit and let his instincts take over again.

The Bad

Matt Niskanen: Niskanen’s first period was probably the worst we have seen all season. He had trouble controlling the puck and blatantly gave it away in his own zone twice. He improved as the game went on, but not enough as he had issues with coverage in his own zone and looked clueless on the Hurricanes second goal. He did break the puck out nicely on the only Pens goal, but it wasn’t nearly enough to cover up for his mistakes.

Sidney Crosby: The captain led by example in a big way against the Hurricanes by committing the first giveaway in the defensive zone and also blowing his coverage on the first goal against. Crosby looked confused with Niskanen on the second goal against and then looked flat out lost on the 4th goal against. Whether it was miscommunication, a bad game plan, or just a blip on the radar, this was easily Crosby’s worst game of the season in terms of responsibility and awareness. He was strong on faceoffs and had a nice assist on Kunitz’s goal, but that was it for good things tonight. He looked very ill-equipped to handle longer shifts in the defensive zone, or lost faceoffs.

Robert Bortuzzo: Though I have been rooting hard for Bortuzzo all season, he flat out played his way out of the lineup against Carolina. It started with turnovers, continued with a couple of bad step ups in the neutral zone, continued further with him getting manhandled in the defensive zone, and finished with a meaningless fight (and loss) with less than 2 minutes left. Oh wait, he was called for a hooking penalty as well as he lost positioning. This was the ultimate forgettable game for Bortuzzo, and unfortunately, that will probably cost him a lineup spot on Saturday.

Misc. Thoughts

Paul Martin’s Injury: Martin did not play in the 3rd period and has the dreaded “lower body injury” according to the team. He did not participate in Wednesday’s practice either, so this may be a lingering injury that he is nursing. I won’t attempt to hypothesize beyond that but hopefully he is back soon because the drop-off on defense will be significant for his minutes.

Dan Bylsma during a timeout

Bylsma explains that his team isn't wearing red and should stop passing to players wearing red. (Phil Ellsworth/Getty Images)

Coaching “Problems”: As usual during a loss, fans split themselves into Bylsma lovers and haters. Reality tells us the truth is somewhere in between. While I have questioned Bylsma’s ability to adjust his game plan, pick the right lineup, and utilize the strengths of his team properly, tonight was not on Bylsma. No matter what his game plan is, it’s the players that constantly give the puck away – they need to use their eyes. No matter what positioning he may suggest, players know they need to cover open guys – they need to keep their heads on a swivel and communicate with each other. I have my doubts with this system, but I have far more doubts about the decisions each player is making right now. They need a long introspective look at their own games.

Puck Management: When the Pens lose, their puck management and decision making is flat out HORRIBLE. I have yet to see them completely out-skilled by any team, completely out-worked by any team, or completely get screwed by bad bounces and bad calls. The root problem is always giveaways (sometimes with a side of discipline). If I were Bylsma, I’d make everyone do pushups on the bench for giveaways at this point. There is no simple fix; players need to be smarter and make safer plays.

Boychuk Scratched: This wasn’t a shock by any means, but it was unfortunate and probably a little foolish. Boychuk would have been amped to play against his old team that waived him, and probably amped to show his current team that he deserves a lineup spot. It really could have been a special game for Boychuk had he been inserted into the lineup. Personally, I would have scratched Kennedy, Glass, or Vitale (in that order) to get Boychuk playing. It was a huge missed opportunity to use a motivated player.

Lineup Changes: If Boychuk didn’t play against Carolina, I don’t imagine he will touch the ice again unless a forward gets hurt. Therefore, the forwards will remain the same, but hopefully the lines will change. It’s probably time to drop Neal off of the 1st line and maybe put Dupuis back there just to spread the creativity and skills around the other lines. The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th lines are serviceable and average, but they struggle with creating offense. I would like to see Neal with Sutter, or maybe even Jeffrey to see if it will jump start a 2nd line and some secondary scoring. On defense, it’s a safe bet that Bortuzzo will sit. The question will be if Eaton or Despres takes his spot. This also depends on Paul Martin’s injury, but if Eaton dresses over Despres – it’s time to send Despres down to the AHL for his own sake and development.

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