Thoughts: Game 24 – Another injury and another win, Pens top Devils 1-0

By: Meesh Shanmugam

Pens 1  Devils 0

Record: 17-5-2

Goals
Malkin (12) from Comeau, Megna

Click here to read the goal assessments

Gm 24 - Goals

Penalties
Malkin (hooking) – Overly Aggressive (hooks Josefsen in the Devils zone to steal the puck from him in front of the Devils net)
Ehrhoff (interference) – Unnecessary (gets in the way of Ruutu off of a faceoff to keep him away from a loose puck)
Bortuzzo (holding) – Overly Aggressive (follows Brunner into the corner of the defensive zone and grabs the back of his jersey, pulling it back for a holding penalty)
Malkin (roughing) – Inconsequential (gets into a shoving/hugging battle with Henrique as he defends Comeau and they both get minors)
Maatta (roughing) – Inconsequential (gets into a scuffle with Bernier while Malkin/Henrique are engaged and they both get minors as well)
Malkin (roughing) – Stupid (goes after Zidlicky after a whistle at the Devils net and gets a roughing minor for it)
Malkin (misconduct) – Stupid (gets a 10-minute misconduct for starting another scrum out of nothing)

Notable Players

Forwards

Gm 24 - Forwards

Blake Comeau & Jayson Megna – As the injuries keep coming and lines keep changing, Megna-Malkin-Comeau provided some hope that there is at least one line that may come out of this better than it started. After weeks of discussing Malkin’s even-strength production, it certainly seems like Blake Comeau has found a comfortable place on his line that boosts both his production and helps Malkin out. Comeau made two beautiful spinning passes within seconds of each other, the second of which set up Malkin alone in the slot for the only goal of the game. Comeau continues to shoot the puck at will on Malkin’s wing, and since Malkin seems hesitant to do that, it’s a great boost for the line. Meanwhile, Megna easily had his best game of the season as he joined Comeau and Malkin. He fed the puck to Comeau for Malkin’s goal and also added three shots on net. His quickness was very visible against the Devils and it helped the second line pin New Jersey in the defensive zone at times. The line as a whole combined for 11 shots, almost half of Pittsburgh’s output.

Evgeni Malkin – Malkin’s good string of offensively productive games continued, though it would have been nice to see it without the PIMs that followed along. Malkin scored the only goal of the game and combined with Comeau and Megna to form a very formidable matchup against the Devils. Despite being the only goal-scorer though, he gained most of his attention for three minors and a 10-minute misconduct penalty. The first minor for hooking was just on an overly aggressive attempt to steal the puck in the offensive zone. The next one for roughing was inconsequential since he took Henrique to the box with him as he stepped up to defend a hit on Comeau. The last set of penalties (roughing minor, misconduct) were plain unnecessary as he stirred things up after a whistle near the Devils net late in the third period. Geno will always be an emotional player and that will generally bring out the best in him, but just like the Leafs game – he made a poor situational decision given the time left in the game and the score. Yet again, it’s fine in the regular season, but that could be brutal in the playoffs one day.

"I don't know who you guys are, but GENO HUG" (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

“I don’t know who you guys are, but GENO HUG” (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Nick Spaling – While the second line rounded into form nicely, the first line struggled as a group and it was largely due to one of Spaling’s worst games of the season. His puck management was dismal throughout the night as he finished with two giveaways and two failed clears, all on the Penguins side of the ice. He also had a lost coverage in the defensive zone that turned into a 3-on-2 against, but luckily didn’t turn into a goal. Spaling has generally been fine this season, but it’s easy to tell that he’s in over his head on a line with Crosby and Hornqvist. With Kunitz out for at least a couple of weeks though, he might have to get comfortable on the top line quickly.

Defensemen/Goalies

Gm 24 - Defense

Marc-Andre Fleury – This may have been one of the quietest shutout performances of Fleury’s career despite making a reasonable 29 saves. He wasn’t tested too often as the Devils were often limited to long shots from the perimeter and when he was tested on a semi-breakaway, the puck hit the post and Maatta/Sutter combined to clear it out for him. Overall though, Fleury made it look pretty simple and easy as he routinely gloved pucks out of the air and didn’t give up many rebounds at all. The fact that he even had 29 saves came as a surprise to me by the end of the game.

That's one way of earning a shutout. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

That’s one way of earning a shutout. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Christian Ehrhoff – Ehrhoff continues to look more comfortable with his teammates and it has gotten to the point where he’s willing to take chances AND he’s able to get back to make up for them, much like Kris Letang so famously does. Ehrhoff had three pass interceptions (two in the offensive zone) and also three broken-up plays in the defensive zone, two of which came as he chased a 2-on-1 back and broke up a play to avoid a missed coverage. With both Kunitz and Letang out, Ehrhoff finally received some top powerplay time, but it was short-lived with limited opportunities since the powerplay never really set itself up comfortably. With both players out at least another game, Ehrhoff should see more powerplay time on Thursday as well and hopefully will get a chance to unleash his shot from the point a little more.

Robert Bortuzzo – Bortuzzo had a quiet game with the puck, but he was an absolute menace away from it, which also might cost him some money or time with the Department of Player Safety. From the very first shift, Bortuzzo went after Jagr and was more than willing to throw his body at any Devils player anywhere on the ice. It cost him his positioning at times, but he generally did a decent job of getting back into the play on most hit attempts. The hit that everyone will now remember though is the one that the Department of Player Safety has looked at and scheduled a meeting about. Bortuzzo crushed Jagr in the corner of the Penguins zone on what was probably a borderline hit in terms of contact, but was definitely a late hit in terms of timing. The puck was across the slot from the corner when Bortuzzo made the hit, but both refs said they didn’t see the hit, so nothing was called. Given that late hits and interference occur in every game, it’s tough to say what the punishment for Bortuzzo will be. A fine at minimum, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he is given a couple of games. Bortuzzo has gotten away with some questionable hits over the past year and a half or so and it’s hard to think the Department of Player Safety hasn’t noticed.  (For what it’s worth – I would give him two games, but most of what I want suspended around the NHL isn’t suspended anyways.)

[Hit] Bortuzzo on Jagr (By @JustPuckIt)

[Hit] Bortuzzo on Jagr (By @JustPuckIt)

Misc. Thoughts

Role Players Succeeding – They may not be a good group at 5-on-5, but give credit to Ebbett, Sill, and Adams for doing some fantastic work on the penalty kill against New Jersey. Ebbett and Sill did a great job of pinning the Devils in their own zone to end the PKs and Adams had a takeaway and a forced turnover in the defensive zone as he sprung Sutter for a couple of nice shorthanded chances. Even Jayson Megna received some PK time and had a nice shorthanded chance using his speed. While some of these guys are much maligned for their inability to contribute offensively, it’s nice to see them contribute anywhere that they can.

Johnston's biggest learning curve may have been figuring out how to use his role players.  (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Johnston’s biggest learning curve may have been figuring out how to use his role players. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Injury Notes – And here’s the long list… Chris Kunitz is out at least a couple of weeks with a fracture in his foot. Scott Wilson left the game early with a leg injury and will be evaluated over the next day. Kris Letang was placed on the IR with a groin injury to make room for Wilson’s call-up and will miss at least another game. Marcel Goc was a possibility to play last night but sat out with a bruised foot. Sidney Crosby and Robert Bortuzzo both missed the morning skate due to illness but both played in the game and appear to be fine (though, Bortuzzo’s hearing might cost him games in a different way). That’s all there is for the *recent* updates.

Injury…through Puck Possession? – If you listen to the Marek vs. Wyshynski podcast, Jeff Marek made an interesting comment on Monday that might relate to some of the Penguins injury woes. He suggested that with an increase in puck possession, a team might also see an increase in injuries (using Detroit as a constant example over the years). The theory makes some sense since a team that holds the puck isn’t doing the hitting and is instead getting hit. Now, the Penguins have dealt with a significant amount of non-hockey injuries (stroke, blood clots, cancer, etc), but they have also lost their fair share of guys to bumps and bruises for varying periods of time. I have no evidence to support this theory, but it is an interesting one to consider as the Penguins seems to lose a guy every game.

Trade Time? – With the injury to Kunitz, the Penguins are really testing their depth limits at forward, and especially at wing with call-ups from WBS. There can (and will) always be more call-ups, but it’s getting more and more difficult to overlook the abundance of defensive depth in combination with the lack of forward depth. Eventually, it just makes too much sense to make a trade to balance those positions out. Is now (or soon) the right time though? No GM wants to trade from a position of necessity that costs them leverage, but the Penguins could be approaching that point quickly. However, the injuries have been piling one while fringe NHLers (Galiardi, Setoguchi, etc) have passed through waivers untouched. I’m more inclined to trade a pick for a depth player or claim one of these fringe guys rather than making a big splash at this point in the season. We’ll have to wait and see what Rutherford can dial up.

Practicing Dump-Ins – According to Jason Mackey of the Trib, the Penguins were working on their dump-ins and dump-and-chase methods in practice on Monday. This was music to my ears for a team that looks like they have forgotten how to dump-and-chase successfully. As teams have clogged up the neutral zone on Pittsburgh, there have been a couple of goals in the last few games that started with dump-and-chases. However, the majority of the team seems more willing to lose the puck skating through the neutral zone than to give up the puck willingly on a dump-in. I certainly don’t want to go back to last year’s dump-and-chase tendencies, but a well-balanced team can possess the puck or dump-and-chase depending on what is available to them in the neutral and defensive zones. I’d like to see this team turn into a well-balanced one.

Flash vs Intelligence – One final note, this one again coming from Marek vs Wyshynski on Monday, brings up the topic of 4th line fringe players and I’ll say Zach Sill and Craig Adams specifically. Marek was discussing whether he’d rather have the fast, flashy guy who can’t read the play well but can get to it quickly, or the slow guy who can barely skate but knows what’s going to happen ahead of time. The Penguins weren’t discussed specifically, but the conversation reminded me of Sill vs Adams. Sill has his fans due to his flashy speed and willingness to hit. Meanwhile, Adams has his fans due to previous experience, grit, and general knowledge of how the play is going to go, especially on the PK. Forgetting the fact that neither can handle the puck at all, which guy would you prefer? Give me slow and intelligent any day.

Next Game: 12/4 vs Vancouver, 7pm

Thanks for reading!