Thoughts: Game 22 – Pens get half the production for half the effort, lose 4-2 to Carolina

By:  Meesh Shanmugam

Hurricanes 4  Pens 2

Record: 15-5-2

Goals
Letang (4) from Crosby, Spaling
Hornqvist (11) from Crosby, Kunitz

Click here to read the goal assessments

Gm 22 - Goals

Penalties
Crosby (goalie interference) – Unnecessary (bumps Ward as he skates in front of the crease and knocks Ward off balance, which draws a penalty)
Ehrhoff (tripping) – Unnecessary (puts his stick into Semin’s right ankle as he’s skating by to trip him up from chasing Maatta in the offensive zone)
Maatta (tripping) – Bad (pokes the puck away from Nestrasil and then tries to reach for the puck again, tripping Nestrasil in the process)
Crosby (misconduct) – Stupid (receives a 10-minute misconduct after the empty netter; it didn’t affect the game, but quite unnecessary)

Notable Players

Forwards

Gm 22 - Forwards

Evgeni Malkin – Geno was a little more lackadaisical with the puck in the offensive zone than he had been over the past two weeks, but he’ll get a pass on that for his fantastic backchecking and defensive work in this game. On the offensive side, he was quiet, especially once Goc went out and the lines went into a crazy rotation of combinations. He did get multiple shifts with Crosby, but the two weren’t able to connect for a goal. In the defensive zone, Malkin forced four turnovers and skated back hard frequently as the Penguins regularly lost track of their coverages and turned the puck over in the neutral zone. While the team’s effort wasn’t great, Malkin didn’t take a shift off in this one.

Sidney Crosby – Crosby had the primary assist on both goals to give him a solid offensive night. The bone to pick with Crosby, however, is his…we’ll say recklessness. It started with an uncalled spear (to the groin or midsection of Lindholm, replay was tough to read). It continued on to a goalie interference penalty and his reaction to it. It was a “soft” call, but bumping the goalie is bumping the goalie (and he was in the box for a goal against). It made its way to reckless indifference as Riley Nash skated into Crosby’s elbow. That wasn’t a dirty play by Crosby, but I’m fairly certain he knew what was going to happen and was okay with it. Finally, it ended with a 10-minute misconduct after the Canes final goal, presumably for taking the loss/calls a bit poorly. Crosby’s offensive work was nice, but let’s just say I wasn’t impressed with the rest of his game/his attitude. I like it just a bit better when Crosby gets irritated/angry and then turns that into a hat trick.

#WingersForEachOther? (Keith Srakocic/AP Photo)

#WingersForEachOther? (Keith Srakocic/AP Photo)

Steve Downie – Where art thou, Steve Downie? While he did make it through his 3rd straight game without a penalty, those games have been filled with lots of nothing. Downie had three giveaways and lost the puck three times in the neutral zone in a generally poor effort. Since he has toned his feistiness down, it appears his hockey skills have disappeared as well. So here’s a difficult question to answer – is it better to have a Downie penalty and productive shifts or no Downie penalty and no productive shifts? It’s a surprisingly difficult question to answer.

Fourth Line – Marcel Goc left the game in the 1st period after blocking a shot and the 4th line (Sill/random center/Adams) was a trainwreck the rest of the way. Both Sill and Adams were at fault for Carolina’s second goal with bad neutral zone play and they were unable to do anything with the puck all night. To Sill’s credit, he did have a couple of offensive zone pass interceptions, but he lost both of those pucks shortly thereafter. The fourth line at 5-on-5 is a major concern when the Penguins want to or need to roll four lines.

Defensemen/Goalies

Rob Scuderi – Almost by default, I thought Scuderi was one of the better defensemen (2nd to Letang) against the Hurricanes. I will freely admit that this is because he was often slow to leave the defensive zone and that left him in solid position when the Penguins turned the puck over in the neutral zone. Either way, it generally got the job done and he even helped out with Hornqvist’s goal by stepping up on Rask and forcing the turnover that started the play moving forward. He also had a couple of nice pinches into the offensive zone to keep the play alive for the Penguins. Simplicity works well when it comes to Scuderi.

Simon Despres – Despres contributed to a goal, was at fault for a goal, and was at fault for several of the team’s turnovers throughout the night. He helped out on Hornqvist’s goal after Scuderi forced a turnover by getting the loose puck and moving it up to Kunitz to set the play in motion. On the other hand, he was partially at fault for Dwyer’s goal when he abandoned his side of the ice to step up into the neutral zone, which gave Dwyer an empty lane to skate down and shoot the puck from. That was one of his two missed coverages in the defensive zone. The other problem with his game was four giveaways, including two in the defensive zone. Much like the Islanders a weekend ago, the Hurricanes are the type of opponent that Despres should play against and be useful against, but he wasn’t all that he could be against Carolina at all.

Olli Maatta – Maatta had a rough night from start to finish against Carolina, often getting pinned in his own zone and also having quite a bit of bad luck on a few shifts. The first goal against went off of the back of his right leg past Fleury. He also ended up in the penalty box for tripping on Carolina’s final goal, which was an empty netter. He had two giveaways in the defensive zone and, even worse, two blatant lost coverages on defense in the slot area. For all of his troubles, he did end up leading the team with four blocked shots. Overall though, Maatta definitely struggled to keep up with the quick-moving Canes in terms of both their forecheck and their constant movement around the offensive zone.

Maatta's tripping penalty put the game away for the Canes. (Keith Srakocic/AP Photo)

Maatta’s tripping penalty put the game away for the Canes. (Keith Srakocic/AP Photo)

Misc. Thoughts

Forward Problems – Despite having the 2nd best offense in the league, the Penguins forward group is not what it was a few weeks ago and is falling apart quickly. Chris Kunitz continues to look awkward no matter who he is with. He started on the 2nd line with Malkin/Spaling, moved up to the first line with Crosby/Hornqvist, then he was dropped to a line of Sutter and Comeau/Spaling/Downie when Malkin and Crosby were put together. With each group, Kunitz struggled on pass/shot decisions and played generally quiet hockey. Something is very off with his game right now. … While I haven’t been impressed with Marcel Goc this season, losing him for any period of time will hurt the Penguins depth even further. The fourth line wings are not good and though Goc hasn’t been good, he was at least a half-step above them to make the line a little better. Losing him will just highlight the lack of forward depth even further. … Blake Comeau had a great start to the game but then went quiet after the Kunitz switch occurred and Comeau dropped into a rotation of wingers. This move essentially made the Penguins a one-line team when they had been getting chances from their top two lines. It was reminiscent of last year’s playoffs in the wrong ways. I understand the move to put Geno and Crosby together to create offense, but I view that as a last couple of minutes thing with this roster because the rest of the group is very unlikely to produce right now. … Has anyone seen Jayson Megna do anything?

Inconsistent Officiating – The refs were bad in this game, but not because they made bad calls. They were bad because they didn’t make all of the calls. I had no problem with any of the penalties that were called against the Penguins; by the book, they were all penalties. The biggest issue I had was specifically a blatant hook on Malkin that wasn’t called as he entered the offensive zone. Both teams got away with interference at times and stick infractions in general, so it would be nice to see either everything called or nothing called, not some in between version that I can’t logically explain.

Do the refs care what happens to the Penguins? (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Do the refs care what happens to the Penguins? (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Lack of Powerplays – Speaking of, there are rumors going around that the Penguins haven’t received as many penalty calls since early in the season because of Crosby’s antics (swinging his stick against the glass on a non-call against the Rangers). The numbers support this. The reasoning though…is flimsy. Aside from Malkin’s effort skating through the neutral zone, when was the last time one of the Penguins skated his absolute hardest through obstruction to draw a call? Ehrhoff and Malkin are the only two that have been doing it recently that I can remember. A big part of the optics in drawing penalties is “keeping your feet moving” (that’s why guys like Sill and Gibbons routinely draw penalties). I don’t believe the Penguins have done a wonderful job of that, as shown by their generally lackluster play over the past few weeks. The powerplays will come back when this team starts performing like they did in the first month of the season.

More Bad Hockey – As stated above, the Penguins played yet another mediocre game and still had every chance to win this one against a lesser opponent. Give Carolina credit, they worked hard for their win and didn’t quit on a single shift, even when they had to weather the storm for the first five minutes of the game and it looked like the Penguins would have a 60-minute, 5-on-5 powerplay. In the long-run, this loss is probably meaningless. It’s just a bad game early in the season for a team that’s still learning about itself. In the long-run, the end of that statement is what matters. What will the Penguins take away from the loss against Carolina? I hope the final takeaway is that they need to skate hard against everyone.

Next Game: 11/29 @ Carolina, 7pm

Thanks for reading!