Thoughts: Game 28 – Penguins @ Panthers

Penguins 5  Panthers 1

By: Meesh Shanmugam (@HockeyMeesh)

Kunitz (14) (PP) from Neal, Malkin
Vitale (1) from Megna, Engelland
Malkin (7) from Maatta, Letang
Neal (8) from Malkin
Jokinen (9) from Malkin

Goal Assessment

First Goal For (Kunitz)
After a dump-in on the powerplay, Evgeni Malkin races to the left corner of the offensive zone to pick up a puck that Tim Thomas had played from behind the net. Malkin gets the puck and quickly centers it for James Neal as Thomas scrambles to get back into position. The puck goes off of Thomas, off of Neal, and bounces to the front of the net with Thomas laying on the ice. Chris Kunitz skates into the slot and mostly fans on the puck, but gets enough of a shot off to put the puck in the net.
Players contributing to the first goal for: Malkin (39), Neal (15), Kunitz (36)

Second Goal For (Vitale)
Deryk Engelland pinches into the offensive zone to prevent a clearing attempt by the Panthers on the right boards. Engelland prevents the clear and quickly throws the puck towards the net. The shot never makes it to the net, but Jayson Megna picks up the puck in front and manages to put a shot on Thomas. The rebound pops into the air and Joe Vitale crashes the crease as Thomas falls backwards. The puck ends up hitting off of Vitale and going into the net.
Players contributing to the second goal for: Engelland (4), Megna (4), Vitale (6)

Third Goal For (Malkin)
Kris Letang gathers the puck in the corner of the defensive zone and passes it up a few feet to Evgeni Malkin. Malkin carries the puck into the neutral zone and passes it over to Olli Maatta on the left, entering the offensive zone. The Penguins enter the zone with a 4-on-2: Maatta, Malkin, Jussi Jokinen, and James Neal against Mike Weaver and Brian Campbell. Maatta reaches the outside edge of the left faceoff circle and draws Weaver over before passing it back to Malkin on his right inside the faceoff circle. Malkin ends up with an open lane to the net as Campbell is attempting to watch Jokinen in front of him and Neal on the far side. Malkin skates into Thomas, dekes to his backhand, and slides the puck into the net past the left pad of Thomas.
Players contributing to the third goal for: Letang (13), Maatta (9), Jokinen (17), Neal (16), Malkin (40)


Does anyone know what the expectations for Sutter are anymore? (Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

Does anyone know what the expectations for Sutter are anymore? (Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

First Goal Against (Upshall)
Chris Kunitz is in the penalty box for hooking. Brian Campbell picks up the puck behind the net in his own zone and carries it to the neutral zone before passing it up to Tomas Fleischmann at center ice. Fleischmann enters the Penguins zone and pulls up as he draws the attention of all four penalty killers. He then passes the puck to the left to Scottie Upshall, who skates past Brandon Sutter’s coverage as Sutter watches Fleischmann. With a clear lane to the left post, Upshall takes the puck in towards Zatkoff, pulls the puck to his backhand on the crease, and lifts the puck past Zatkoff’s right shoulder.
Players at fault for the first goal against: Kunitz (5), Sutter (5)

Fourth Goal For (Neal)
James Neal steals the puck in the neutral zone from Dylan Olsen and takes it into the offensive zone. Evgeni Malkin skates towards the slot area, so Neal throws the puck that way but Erik Gudbranson lifts Malkin’s stick so the puck moves to the right corner of the offensive zone. Malkin and Gudbranson both chase after the puck with Malkin winning the battle in the corner. Both Jussi Jokinen and James Neal then set themselves up for a shot inside the right faceoff circle, with Jokinen being the man closer to the net and drawing the defense’s attention. Malkin starts taking the puck behind the net but passes the puck to Neal for a quick one-timer that beats Thomas on his glove side.
Players contributing to the fourth goal for: Jokinen (18), Malkin (41), Neal (17)

Fifth Goal For (Jokinen)
Dmitry Kulikov has the puck in the Panthers zone and fans on it while he’s stickhandling in the left faceoff circle. Evgeni Malkin swoops in to steal the puck as Kulikov over-skates it. Malkin then quickly throws the puck to the middle of the zone, where Jussi Jokinen is waiting in the high slot to one-time the puck past Clemmensen’s glove.
Players contributing to the fifth goal for: Malkin (42), Jokinen (19)

Penalty Assessment

Team (Too Many Men): Bad-Stupid, Olli Maatta comes onto the ice and accepts a pass from Evgeni Malkin before Deryk Engelland is off the ice completely. Maatta knows better than to play the puck there and he had plenty of time/space to let it go.  Also, Malkin should have noticed the change before passing.
Malkin (Hooking): Bad, Malkin tries to lift the stick of Scottie Upshall in the defensive zone but he gets his stick into Upshall’s hands and around his torso.
Crosby (Interference): Bad Call, with the puck coming towards the corner, Crosby stick-lifts Tom Gilbert and knocks his stick right out of his hands. The puck was nearby and it was a normal play in the course of hockey, just with an unusual result.
Kunitz (Hooking): Bad, breaks up a pass in the defensive zone on the backcheck, but can’t control the puck so he ends up hooking Nick Bjugstad as he skates by for the puck.

Player Assessment

Zatkoff was willing to do anything to make a save against Florida. (Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

Zatkoff was willing to do anything to make a save against Florida. (Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

Jeff Zatkoff – Zatkoff may have finally put the “we need a backup goalie” crowd to rest with a very strong performance against the Panthers. He finished with 39 saves on 40 shots, and those were hardly just weak shots from the point. By my count, he had at least six above-average saves in the game. He also handled himself well on a couple of blown coverages and a 3-on-1 situation. If Zatkoff can continue performing at a level near this one, the Penguins have their answer at backup goalie.

Evgeni Malkin – Have a city criticize a guy unfairly for a month or so and apparently the guy will just explode and give everyone the middle finger via scoring production. Geno had a four point night (1g, 3a) and also notched three takeaways to essentially take over the ice every time he had a shift against Florida. He did have some minor transgressions – a hooking penalty and three offensive zone giveaways, but he even recovered on two of those giveaways to keep the Panthers from turning them into chances. Malkin still might not be playing his best hockey yet either, which should be a frightening thought for everyone. One big change in his game – going to the front of the net. His goal came from driving to the net and deking Thomas to the ground. He also had several shifts where he went to the crease, and even tried to screen Thomas, when Jokinen or Neal had the puck around the perimeter. Malkin is adjusting and the numbers are showing it.

James Neal – Weird, Neal and Malkin in the same section. It’s almost like this has happened before. Neal finished with two points (1g, 1a), and also helped out on the 3rd Penguins goal by drawing a defender over to him even though he didn’t factor into the goal, point-wise. He had two takeaways to offset his two giveaways and generally played a strong forechecking game with Malkin. The combination of Malkin/Neal is just driving defensive pairings crazy as no one knows who to prioritize in coverage.

Simon Despres – Despres is playing with a level of consistency that has not been seen from him before in the NHL and he is doing it extremely well. His positioning was just about perfect with three intercepted passes on the crease and his battle level was impressive with two takeaways along the boards in the defensive zone. Additionally, he was strong on the point in the offensive zone when it came to moving the puck around and also running subtle interference for his defensive partner at times. Aside from one failed clearing attempt, Despres played a perfect game and continues to impress. Can he keep it up?

Jussi Jokinen – Jokinen has been quiet as of late, but he managed to play a part in three goals despite only recording one point (1g). On both the third and fourth goals, Jokinen put himself in position to draw a defender away from both the puck carrier and the eventual shooter. Finally, he scored the 5th goal on a one-timer from Malkin in the slot. Jokinen’s biggest asset to the second line may not have anything to do with his production at all. His ability is best seen if you watch how he moves around the zone to create more space for Neal and Malkin as those two run amok on offense. At times it leads to odd-man breaks the other way, but he did everything perfectly against Florida.


Brandon Sutter – Sutter had a decent game, breaking up two passes in the defensive zone and earning a neutral zone takeaway, but he made a rare gaffe on the PK that allowed the Panthers to score their only goal. With Florida entering the zone on the powerplay, Sutter got caught watching the puck carrier and not watching Upshall skating down the boards past him towards the net. When Sutter realized the puck was about to be passed to Upshall, he was pretty much in a position to do nothing and almost tripped over himself in the process. That’s certainly not something you will see from Sutter often.

Cover someone. Play defense. Do something. (Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images)

Cover someone. Play defense. Do something. (Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images)

Kris Letang – He only makes $3.5 mil, he only makes $3.5 mil, he only makes $3.5 mil…. It would be nice if Letang could find a way to catch up to the rest of his defensive teammates in regards to limiting mistakes. More than half of Zatkoff’s best saves came with Letang in front of him, often not doing a whole lot. He had his good moments with an assist and two takeaways in the defensive zone. He had far too many bad ones though. By my count: two failed clears, two giveaways, two chances for the Panthers where he simply wasn’t covering anyone, and a questionable rush up ice that led to a 3-on-1 coming back the other way. Let’s hit that last one specifically. With a 5-1 lead late in the 3rd period, Letang decided to jump up in the play and get ahead of the forwards. The play was broken up and it went back the other way for a 3-on-1 against Maatta. Zatkoff played it perfectly and made a couple of beautiful saves in the process. Why is there any need to jump up in a 5-1 game? Sure, it’s probably harmless if Florida scores there, but shouldn’t defensive hockey be the focus at that point? The amount of times I managed to say “what are you doing” in a 5-1 win was just far too many in this one.

Misc Thoughts

Crash the net and good things long as you don't wear 14. (Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images)

Crash the net and good things happen…as long as you don’t wear 14. (Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images)

Other Player Notes – Chris Conner was on his way to the bad section until he blocked a shot with his head. Gotta respect a man who blocks shots with his head. Sidney Crosby didn’t do much of anything in this game. In fact, he only has one goal in his last five games, so how long until the fanbase attacks him? Craig Adams played one of his best games in a while (read: no mistakes). Deryk Engelland continues to do a solid job of making it difficult to remove him from the lineup.  It was great to see Joe Vitale finally get a goal, and he did it by crashing the net as much as he could every shift.

Disallowed Goal – Brad Boyes had a goal taken away due to a kicking infraction. Personally, I thought the call was wrong. He took a normal skating motion towards the slot and ran into Despres. When his leg hit Despres, it shifted a bit so it looked like Boyes was trying to kick the puck in even though it just moved due to making contact with Despres. I don’t think there was any kicking motion at all. Either way, hooray disallowed goal!

Free Bortuzzo…Eventually – At this point, a healthy Penguins team has nine NHL capable defensemen. Nine (Orpik, Martin, Scuderi, Letang, Maatta, Niskanen, Bortuzzo, Engelland, Despres). Letang aside, it’s impossible to truthfully say any of these guys have played poorly in their most recent games. Letang being Letang, that argument doesn’t matter anyways. I would love to see Bortuzzo in the lineup – he has a higher upside than Engelland, is younger, and is generally a better skater and better with the puck. He also can fight and add toughness, much like Engelland. However, Engelland has played so well these last few games that I can completely understand leaving Bortuzzo in the press box. In the end, I’m not sure Bortuzzo or Engelland really has a spot on this team in the future, whether it be near future (team gets healthy) or distant future (defensive pipeline coming up). Perhaps Bortuzzo will be Lovejoyed eventually, we shall see.

Ticket Sales – I don’t usually tackle non-roster thoughts here, but it was impossible to miss how hard the broadcast was pushing ticket sales during the Panthers game. The scrolling message under the score had ticket offers and discount codes at least four times and the Penguins are offering a discount on all Monday night games for the rest of the season. What happened to this rabid fan base? Prices too high? So used to winning that we just wait for the playoffs now and save our money until then? Just apathetic until the spring? If you ask me, the sellout streak is a sham because of how often student rush has probably saved it.

Pens Record: 18-9-1
Next Game: Tuesday, 12/3 @ NY Islanders, 7pm

Thanks for reading!