Thoughts: Game 28 – That’s Per Year, Pens beat Flames 3-1

Published on December 13th, 2014

By: Meesh Shanmugam

Here’s a link to the Postgame Thoughts archive, in case you want to catch up on what you may have missed.

Pens 3  Flames 1

Record: 19-6-3

Goals
Comeau (9) from Malkin, Bortuzzo
Letang (5) from Despres, Spaling
Klinkhammer (4) from Downie, Malkin

Click here to read the goal assessments

Gm 28 - Goals

Penalties
Megna (roughing) – Inconsequential (gets into a scrum with Brodie after a whistle at the Flames net and they both get minors for roughin)
Bortuzzo (tripping) – Unnecessary (uses his right leg behind Raymond’s left leg to take him down to the ice as they go for the puck in the defensive zone)
Megna (tripping) – Unnecessary (uses his right leg behind Raymond’s legs to take him down to the ice as they go for a loose puck in the offensive zone)
Megna (high-sticking) – Careless (falls to the ice and swings his stick up in the air, causing him to hit Engelland in the head)
Hornqvist (hooking) – Unnecessary (tries to lift Gaudreau’s stick and has his blade slide up to Gaudreau’s hands, where Gaudreau pins the stick with his body to draw the penalty)
Downie (unsportsmanlike conduct) – Inconsequential (gets into a scrum with Bollig after Despres hits Smid, and both he and Bollig get unsportsmanlike conduct minors)
Megna (tripping) – Bad (loses the puck to Gaudreau in the neutral zone and then trips him entering the Penguins zone)

Notable Players

Forwards

Gm 28 - Forwards

Evgeni Malkin – Are we out of superlatives to place on Malkin at this point? He led the offense yet again with two assists and a team-leading four shots despite centering a line of Comeau and Megna/Klinkhammer. The only complaint that I had about his game was his propensity for losing the puck, which happened five times. However, three of those were on the powerplay as the Penguins failed to cleanly enter the zone over and over again, so that will be a systematic discussion down below. As for Malkin, he continually looks strong all over the ice and just looks extremely poised and confident right now. All of a sudden, he’s #2 in the scoring race tied with Crosby and Voracek, and just a point behind Seguin. Is he just a night away from #1?

19-6-3 with half of an AHL roster?  Thank these two. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

19-6-3 with half of an AHL roster? Thank these two. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Steve Downie – Downie a) didn’t take a bad penalty, b) showed a flash of offensive talent, and c) was great around the puck to put together one of his most well-rounded games of the season. Though he did spend time in the box, it was for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty along with Bollig when the Flames wanted to start chaos after the Despres hit. As for the flash of offensive talent, Downie made a great read and pass to Klinkhammer streaking into the slot for the final goal of the game late in the 3rd period. It could not have been more perfectly timed and placed than what Downie did. Moving to his work around the puck, I marked him down for a takeaway, a forced turnover, and two broken-up plays. Meanwhile, he didn’t lose the puck once, which had been a growing issue over the past few weeks. Ideally, the Penguins can find a way to tap into this version of Downie more frequently because it’s the best version of Downie.

Jayson Megna – Well, Megna’s performance can be summed up by two moves: 1) he was benched in the 3rd period despite the fact that the Penguins were already playing down a forward with Sill injured and 2) he was sent down to WBS this morning before I could even start this post. Megna took four penalties (1 inconsequential, 3 bad), had two failed clears, lost the puck twice, and had a defensive zone giveaway in a nightmare performance for him despite starting on Malkin’s wing. His night actually started very nicely when he joined Comeau on a 2-on-1 rush for Comeau’s goal. Basically everything after that went into the bad column. I’ll have more thoughts on his demotion below.

Defensemen/Goalies

Gm 28 - Defense

Kris Letang – Letang’s absence was noticeable over the past two weeks and he wasted no time making his presence felt as he returned from a groin injury. Letang scored the second goal of the game on a perfect redirection through Hiller’s legs. He also had two takeaways, two pass interceptions, and two broken-up plays (all in the defensive zone). Though he did have two offensive zone giveaways, Letang’s poise and excellence in the defensive zone this season has been a huge improvement in his game and has contributed to the Penguins offense significantly. He demonstrated this exact thought late in the 3rd period when he stood up Brodie against the boards in the defensive zone, then forced Brodie into a bad pass that Letang intercepted himself, then made a backhanded saucer pass to Downie in the neutral zone to start the play in motion for the final goal of the game. Letang’s skating/transition game has always been a huge plus for the Pens. Now, his defensive game is feeding into it as well. Keeping him in the lineup is vital to getting the most out of this team.

Marc-Andre Fleury – Fleury stopped 26 out of the 27 shots he faced and could have come away with a shutout if he would have limited his shots faced to only 26. The one goal that Fleury did allow was off of a shaky rebound when he made a stop with his glove, but couldn’t catch the puck and instead knocked it to the opposite side of the crease where Gaudreau found it for a goal. Aside from that one mistake though, Fleury was fairly solid. His best moment came on Byron’s shorthanded breakaway when Fleury poke-checked the puck away from Byron before he could even decide what his move was going to be. Overall, even with the bad rebound that led to a goal, it was a good game for Fleury.

He may not stop every breakaway, but Fleury is  as dependable as it gets when the team in front of him fails. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

He may not stop every breakaway, but Fleury is as dependable as it gets when the team in front of him fails. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Simon Despres – Big hit aside (more on that later), Despres had a strong game and continues to improve with his pass/shoot/carry decisions with the puck. He drew a penalty and also assisted on Letang’s goal with a nice, low, hard shot from the right point that Letang could easily skate into for a redirection. For as much as Despres has been around the puck lately, I was very happy with only one offensive zone turnover, even with nothing on the takeaway side. Though he’s playing the least amount of time of the defensemen, he is definitely playing at a higher caliber than a typical 6th defenseman.

Misc. Thoughts

Despres Hit – No matter how staunchly anyone wants to defend or attack this hit, the truth is it’s a very difficult hit to assess. Smid is dropping low to play the puck, Despres is looking for the hit instead of the puck, Despres seems to make initial contact on Smid’s head, but does Smid putting himself in a vulnerable position negate that? Does Despres seeing that mean he is at fault? Is it a problem that Despres is going for the hit instead of the puck? Your opinion on this hit largely depends on how you view hockey (play the puck/play the man) and how you view vulnerability (keep your head up/avoid hitting players in bad situations). Personally, I view this as a bad hit because of the head contact (I’m in the middle of play the puck/play the man but lean towards avoid hitting players in bad situations over keeping your head up). Despres leaned down into the hit slightly and launched up through it and through Smid’s head because of his unfortunate positioning. If you take away the latter part, I’m probably less inclined to call it a bad hit. But the action of pushing through the hit is the part that bothers me about this one. Is it suspendable? I don’t know. I think it should be, but I don’t trust the NHL to consistently punish this type of hit because of the borderline vulnerability and the players involved (Smid is not a big name; Despres doesn’t have a history of taking out players). Take a look at several angles for yourself:

Powerplay Woes – The powerplay was incredibly frustrating to watch as they turned the puck over several times in the neutral zone and when trying to gain the offensive zone. I have said this in several posts and will continue to repeat it – the puck needs to be dumped in when teams are clogging up the blue line to prevent carry-ins. Carrying the puck in and maintaining puck possession is a wonderful thing, but teams have definitely started to adjust their play accordingly and the Pens need to do a better job of reading/reacting to the situation. For the most part, the powerplay was unable to get set up in the offensive zone due to turnovers, but they did force two turnovers after dumping the puck in twice and gained possession in the offensive zone that way. Every night will be a different story with a different opponent, but the Penguins better get comfortable with resorting to dump-ins when they need to.

Megna Down, Rust/Farnham Up – Bobby Farnham and Bryan Rust were called up this morning as a result of Sill getting injured and Megna being sent down after a horrible game. Megna’s demotion goes way beyond last night if you ask me. This started in training camp. I firmly believe that the new regime has not been very high on Megna from the start (it’s in one of the preseason postgame thoughts) based on how early they sent him down before the season started and perhaps the idea that he was a better player under the old staff than he will be under the new staff. Though he received several opportunities since his most recent call-up, he never really looked that great aside from some good periods with Malkin and Comeau (which was then immediately broken up until there were more injuries). In general, I don’t see much of a future with Megna in Pittsburgh unless it’s out of necessity. As for the call-ups, I’m excited to see Rust, who has been tearing it up in WBS. Farnham, on the other hand, strikes me as a faster/tougher/not-as-smart Zach Sill. There’s nothing good about that.

Injury Updates – Crosby will miss at least one more game with whatever has caused his face to swell up. The team says it’s not mumps and Dave Molinari is reporting that it could be due to an infected gland that came about after a scrum vs Carolina. Zach Sill has an upper body injury and is expected to miss two weeks. Beau Bennett and Chris Kunitz have both started/tried to skate recently, but it certainly appears both of their timelines will be longer, if not twice as much, than the two weeks that were originally given. Moving to rumored, and likely bad, news. Olli Maatta has been placed on the IR retroactively and the Pensblog is saying it might be an injury to his surgically repaired shoulder, which could be a long-term issue. I’ve learned in my days to never bet against the Pensblog with news like this. Hooray for defensive depth.

Final Note – There was no video tribute for Deryk Engelland. How soon they forget.

Gm 28 - Letang (Gene J. Puskar-AP)

Letang was not impressed. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Next Game: 12/13 @ Columbus, 7pm

Thanks for reading!