Thoughts: Game 22 – Penguins @ Capitals

Penguins 4  Capitals 0

By: Meesh Shanmugam (@HockeyMeesh)

Martin (2) from Crosby
Bennett (1) from Malkin, Niskanen
Crosby (11) (PP) from Neal, Kunitz
Neal (2) from Martin, Malkin

Goal Assessment

First Goal For (Martin)
On an offensive zone faceoff, Sidney Crosby slightly wins the draw to the right. Evgeni Malkin keeps his man tied up against the boards on the faceoff circle so Crosby can reach for the puck and push it back to Paul Martin at the point. As Martin gets the puck at the point, Chris Kunitz skates in front of Braden Holtby for a screen. Martin takes a wrist shot from the point that goes past Kunitz and surprises Holtby as it goes past his glove.
Players contributing to the first goal for: Malkin (24), Crosby (33), Kunitz (24), Martin (13)

Second Goal For (Bennett)
Beau Bennett wins a puck battle just outside of the offensive blue line and he passes the puck back to Matt Niskanen at the defensive blue line. Niskanen passes the puck across the ice to Evgeni Malkin at the offensive blue line. Malkin pulls back from the offensive blue line to center ice and draws over two Capitals. He then passes to Bennett entering the offensive zone with a gap in the defensive coverage. Bennett skates to the right side and fires a wrist shot from just above the right faceoff dot that beats Holtby’s right pad on the far side.
Players contributing to the second goal for: Niskanen (14), Malkin (25), Bennett (5)

Crosby's PP goal brought out a primal roar from the king of the NHL. (Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

Crosby’s PP goal brought out a primal roar from the king of the NHL. (Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

Third Goal For (Crosby)
Chris Kunitz picks up the puck behind Washington’s net on the powerplay after Karl Alzner deflected a Crosby pass there. Kunitz moves the puck to the corner for Evgeni Malkin and then goes to the crease. Malkin picks up the puck and skates it along the boards all the way up to the point. As Malkin skates the puck up, James Neal moves from the blue line to the right faceoff circle and Sidney Crosby abandons the right point, cuts through the slot, and moves to the left faceoff circle. Malkin then skates the puck back down to the hash marks on the right faceoff circle as Neal moves to the corner. Kunitz moves up from the crease area (because he was cross-checked in the back by John Carlson) and ends up at the inside of the right faceoff circle. Malkin passes the puck across the faceoff circle to Kunitz, who makes a one-touch pass to the goal line to Neal, who makes a one-touch pass across the crease to the bottom of the left faceoff circle to Crosby, who drops to one knee to one-time the puck past Braden Holtby’s blocker on the short side.
Players contributing to the third goal for: Malkin (26), Kunitz (25), Neal (4), Crosby (34)

Warning: Watching this may lead to pregnancy.

Warning: Watching this may lead to pregnancy.

Fourth Goal For (Neal)
Evgeni Malkin steals the puck from Jason Chimera in the defensive zone below the goal line and slides the puck up the boards to Pascal Dupuis. Dupuis holds the puck for a second and moves it back to Malkin as he comes up the boards. Malkin cuts to the middle of the zone, where two Capitals pursue him, and he moves the puck over to Paul Martin in open space. Martin carries the puck into the neutral zone and slides it along to James Neal at center ice. Neal enters the offensive zone with Dupuis on his left and then cuts to the left as Dupuis makes a bee line for the net, pulling both Capitals’ defenders away from Neal. Neal then skates the puck to the top of the left faceoff circle and rips a wrist shot past Holtby’s glove.
Players contributing to the fourth goal for: Martin (14), Malkin (27), Dupuis (14), Neal (5)

Penalty Assessment

Adams (tripping): Bad-Stupid, tries to wrap his arm and stick around Tyson Strachan to poke check a puck in the offensive zone when he’s behind Strachan. He ends up tackling Strachan in the process.
Kunitz (tripping): Bad, can’t stop a pass in the offensive zone on the powerplay and ends up tripping Strachan when he reaches out for the puck in the corner.
Glass (hooking): Bad-Stupid, hooks Steve Oleksy in the offensive zone to prevent him from leaving the crease area as Craig Adams is carrying the puck behind the net with complete possession.

Player Assessment


Paul Martin – Even with solid goaltending and some very pretty goals, nothing could keep Paul Martin from the top spot after the Washington game. Martin was absolutely perfect on the night, making 10 above average plays by my count (the average per player is usually around 3) and making 0 mistakes that I saw. In list form, here are the great things Paul Martin did: scored a goal, forced a turnover on the penalty kill, blocked six shots, intercepted a pass on the penalty kill, broke up a pass in the neutral zone, used his poke check to prevent the Caps from entering the defensive zone (and forcing them to go offside), assisted on Neal’s goal, and stole the puck in the defensive zone behind the net. There might not be another game all season where you see a defenseman get that involved and not make any mistakes in the process.

Goal celebrations are fun! (Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

Goal celebrations are fun! (Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

Evgeni Malkin – Geno FINALLY moves out of the Noteworthy column with a fantastic game in which he played a role in all four of the Penguins’ goals. On the first goal, it was a nice tie-up on the faceoff to allow Crosby to get the puck. On the third goal, he set the whole powerplay in motion by carrying the puck up to the blue line and then back down into the zone for the tic-tac-toe-crazy shot play. On the 2nd and 4th goals, he had assists. His +/- and point totals won’t completely show it, but none of the Penguins’ goals occur without Malkin playing as well as he did. Aside from his offensive production, he had a blocked shot on the powerplay (yes, on the powerplay), forced a turnover in the defensive zone with a hit, and also had a takeaway in the defensive zone. He did make a couple of mistakes with a giveaway in the defensive zone and deferring on a great shooting chance in front of the net, but Malkin really can’t get much better than this (yes, I know, goals).

James Neal – Neal joined his linemate in playing a solid game at both ends of the ice. He scored the 4th goal on a vicious wrist shot and he had the primary assist on Crosby’s goal, making a perfect pass across the crease at a tough angle. Neal also showed off some great skating skills with a tenacious backcheck to help Fleury out and also a neutral zone takeaway. He did turnover the puck once, but aside from that, it was a solid game for Neal.

Brian Gibbons – Gibbons didn’t even reach the 10 minute mark for ice time but he was surprisingly productive whenever he played. He received some early penalty kill time with Adams in the box and looked fine in the system. He also drew a cross-checking penalty, forced two turnovers in the defensive zone, and had a takeaway in the offensive zone. His speed and clear desire to stay in the lineup should keep him in the lineup barring any major mistakes. Aside from losing the puck once in the neutral zone, Gibbons did his job well.


Olli Maatta – Matta played a decent game and seems to be getting more comfortable with Kris Letang each night, but he had several offensive zone giveaways (fanning on the puck twice) and had a turnover in the defensive zone. Surprisingly enough, Letang was there to back him up for all of his mistakes, so no damage was done at all. It still seems like Maatta played his best hockey with Bortuzzo, but this pairing is coming along much better than I expected.

Kris Letang – As for the other half of the pairing, Letang did a solid job of backing up Maatta and had an understated night in the offensive zone. He finished the game with 6 shots on net, 4 of which came in the 1st period, but none of which drew him into a bad situation. He also looked good in the defensive zone with a nice 1-on-1 play on Ovechkin and a couple of pass breakups in the defensive zone. As usual, the biggest concern with him is the turnovers. He had one in each zone, including a giveaway in the defensive zone on the powerplay which almost turned into a goal for Washington. Overall though, he played okay and seems to play a little smarter with Maatta.

Kunitz is doing great in the offensive zone, but he needs to be better elsewhere. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Kunitz is doing great in the offensive zone, but he needs to be better elsewhere. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Chris Kunitz – Kunitz is doing a lot of great things in the offensive zone, namely his screen on the 1st goal and his assist on the PP goal. He is doing an awful job with the puck in the defensive zone though. His turnover problems continued with three giveaways in the defensive zone which is just far too many for a forward, let alone anyone really. He also took a tripping penalty in the offensive zone while the Penguins were on the powerplay. The offensive work is nice, but he needs to clean up his performance in the defensive zone.



Misc Thoughts

Other Player Notes – Sidney Crosby was solid with an amazing goal and an assist as well. He also turned the puck over a bit too much though with a giveaway in the defensive zone and two in the offensive zone. Beau Bennett had a rather quiet game aside from his goal, which was a result of Holtby not having his angle at all. Brooks Orpik had a very solid night and shut down Ovechkin any time they were both on the ice together. Matt Niskanen also had a good night, recording an assist and using a great poke check to stop Ovechkin twice. Marc-Andre Fleury was perfect in making 18 saves for a shutout, though he wasn’t tested all that much honestly.

Crosby admires his work on a beautiful PP goal. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Crosby admires his work on a beautiful PP goal. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Shot Totals – After the first period, it was 17-6 Penguins. After the 2nd, 32-14 Penguins. Final: 40-18 Penguins. Pittsburgh: 17-15-8, Washington: 6-8-4. There is simply nothing more you could ask for when it comes to shots for and shots against. The Penguins also quickly realized Holtby was a little shaky after Martin’s surprising goal and they attacked at every chance possible. They had no urge to go through anything like the Anaheim 1st period again and they implemented everything they learned quickly. With any luck, the Penguins will duplicate it on Friday and then add another 10 shots for Geno. The Penguins also took a majority of their shots from around the top of the faceoff circles, in an area where forwards hadn’t backchecked to them but defensemen were backed up too far to do anything. They opened up gaps against the Capitals well and shot at very advantageous times.

Neutral Zone Movement – The team used a few new methods to create space for puck movement which allowed rushes for shots and open room for skating. Some of it was by design, and some of it was purely thanks to skill. One thing that changed was how the team skated towards the blue line and the Capitals defensemen. I noted Neal, Malkin, and Crosby especially for pulling up around the blue line to draw defenders over so they could pass the puck into open space for another player to get a shot. It worked beautifully when Malkin backed towards the red line and passed to Bennett so he could rush into the zone for his goal. The team also utilized a lot more speed to push the Caps into certain positions that opened up room for the defensemen. The Penguins essentially forced the Capitals into situations they couldn’t defend rather than forcing the puck into bad situations.

Fleury’s Workload – We’re coming up on another set of back-to-backs and Fleury has played the last 7 games, so it seems likely that Zatkoff would (and he really should) start a game this weekend, probably Friday. At least one thing going for Fleury in the last few games is he really hasn’t seen many shots, but who is to say whether shot total or even the routine of starting a game is what wears at a goalie by the end of the season. Fleury is anticipating plays better than I have seen in a very long time and is certainly on top of his game. The big question is do the Pens take advantage of that now and risk wearing him out or do they sit him more (with no guarantee he still won’t wear out). I don’t envy the coaching staff with these decisions as they try to plan for scenarios that will occur in five months. Also, Fleury should quickly be working his way into the discussion for Team Canada. His GAA and Save % are better than Luongo and Smith right now and his GAA is better than Price’s (but Price has him on Save %). If that does happen, I’m guessing it’s not something the staff was planning for or calculating into Fleury’s projected numbers.  Good luck, coaching staff.

Pens Record: 14-8
Next Game: Friday, 11/22 vs NY Islanders, 7pm

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