Thoughts: Game 29 – Decimated roster falls short as Pens lose 4-3 (SO) to Columbus

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.

Blue Jackets 4  Pens 3 (SO)

Record: 19-6-4

Goals
Comeau (10) from Martin, Klinkhammer
Letang (6) (SH) from Adams, Goc
Letang (7) from Ehrhoff, Malkin

Click here to read the goal assessments

Gm 29 - Goals

Penalties
Ehrhoff (holding) – Bad (tries to pin Jenner to the boards, but loses his balance and then grabs Jenner with his free left arm as he goes down to get the penalty)
Farnham (fighting) – Inconsequential (drops the gloves with Leopold when a scrum builds up after Dubinsky charges Downie and both receive fighting majors)
Downie (roughing) – Inconsequential (gets away from the linesmen with Prout when they go to break up Farnham’s fight and drops the gloves, but receives two roughing minors along with Prout)
Downie (roughing) – Inconsequential (gets away from the linesmen with Prout when they go to break up Farnham’s fight and drops the gloves, but receives two roughing minors along with Prout)
Downie (misconduct, 10 mins) – Inconsequential (receives a 10-minute misconduct along with Prout since they started fighting after the scrum was dead and through the referee trying to break it up)
Hornqvist (slashing) – Bad Call (stick-checks Connauton with one hand and Connauton’s stick breaks, which draws a slashing penalty)
Letang (cross-checking) – Bad (cross-checks Johnson in the lower back as Johnson is going to the front of the net)
Rust (roughing) – Stupid (goes directly after Tropp after he had taken a penalty for charging Farnham and thus negated a potential powerplay by taking a roughing minor)
Rust (roughing) – Inconsequential (drops the gloves with Tropp after the hit on Farnham and both receive roughing minors)
Downie (fighting) – Inconsequential (drops the gloves with Dubinsky during the play and they both receive fighting majors)
Despres (boarding) – Stupid (hits Foligno directly in the numbers on his back into the boards for an easy boarding call)
Comeau (embellishment) – Bad Call (skates in front of the crease as Bobrovsky is picking up his stick and falls when Bobrovsky lifts his stick directly into Comeau’s right shin, which seems like a reasonable thing to do)
Downie (misconduct) – Inconsequential (gets another 10-minute misconduct late in the game for leaving the bench during a timeout, though he wasn’t stirring up anything)
Spaling (hooking) – Bad (tries to reach around Wisniewski to lift his stick and gets his stick into Wisniewski’s hands, which he makes apparent by lifting his hand and falling, but it’s still a hook)

Notable Players

Forwards

Gm 29 - Forwards

Patric Hornqvist – Though Hornqvist has been fairly quiet lately on the scoresheet with injuries and changing lines, he was certainly one of the more fundamentally sound players in a very messy game. He was second on the team with five shots on net and played an integral part on the game-tying goal as he went straight to the front of the net and screened Bobrovsky completely so that Letang could easily score glove-side with less than 11 seconds left. Hornqvist added two offensive zone pass interceptions and an offensive zone takeaway as well to go against one failed clear. Even though his centers have changed frequently lately (Crosby, Malkin, Crosby, Sutter now), his style of play serves a purpose in any situation.

Steve Downie – Downie had a very odd game that ended with 29 penalty minutes, yet not a single bad penalty. He received two 10-minute misconducts and a fighting major, and two roughing minors, though all but one of the 10-minute misconducts was negated by a Blue Jackets player receiving the same penalties. The second of his 10-minute misconducts was just plain weird as Johnston sent him away from the bench to tell a linesman something during the Blue Jackets timeout and then he was given a misconduct for leaving the bench during the timeout. What used to be two minutes for being Matt Cooke is now apparently ten minutes for being Steve Downie. As long as it doesn’t hurt the Penguins on the scoreboard though, it’s not the worst thing in the world.

Downie was a crazy person as usual, but it wasn't costly for the Pens this time. (Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Downie was a crazy person as usual, but it wasn’t costly for the Pens this time. (Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Nick Spaling – In all fairness, Spaling is being given certain opportunities due to the lack of forward depth that the Penguins have, but he didn’t handle it very well against the Blue Jackets. He looked out of sync with his linemates through much of the night and couldn’t find a way to contribute much to the team at all despite playing mostly with Sutter and Hornqvist. The most disappointing part of his performance came on Johnson’s goal, when Spaling focused on Atkinson skating to the front of the net and decided to shove him and slash him in the legs instead of paying attention to the fact that Johnson was trailing the play and wide open while Atkinson was skating directly into Ehrhoff’s coverage. Though it was a chippy game, that lack of focus shouldn’t exist late in a tie game. Spaling hasn’t made many mistakes this season, but this was definitely a glaring one.

Defensemen/Goalies

Gm 29 - Defense

Rob Scuderi – The Penguins had to defend a 5-on-3 and a 4-on-3 against the Columbus, and right on cue, Scuderi probably played his best game of the season (or at least had his best results). Scuderi seemed to baffle the Blue Jackets powerplay just by staying low in the slot, dropping to one knee with his stick blocking passing lanes, and sometimes even laying down on the ice. Columbus forwards just stared at him several times, passed the puck directly into him twice, and couldn’t seem to get over the idea that Scuderi was blocking off that area. Scuderi finished the night with a defensive zone takeaway, two forced turnovers, and three broken-up plays, mostly due to his PK prowess. His strong performance wasn’t limited to the PK though. He played a decent 5-on-5 game as well, mostly limiting shots to the perimeter as Columbus didn’t know how to handle the immobile defenseman. Almost 30 games into the season, it’s getting safe to say that Scuderi is having the bounce-back season that many of us weren’t sure he could accomplish.

As everyone takes turns getting injured, Scuderi is dependably getting his job done. (Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

As everyone takes turns getting injured, Scuderi is dependably getting his job done. (Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Kris Letang – Letang had a rough start with poor coverage on Foligno for the first goal against and he joined the team in performing poorly through the first period, but the rest of his game was lights out with a shorthanded goal and a 6-on-5 goal to tie the game with the extra attacker. Letang’s puck management in the offensive zone wasn’t great, but his ability to get the puck out of the defensive zone and through the neutral zone was a necessity for a group of Penguins forwards that seemed to struggle with their breakout reads. As if that wasn’t enough, Letang scored a beautiful shorthanded goal on a 2-on-1 with Adams when he received the puck on the right side of the slot, cut to the front of the net on his backhand, and flicked the puck past Bobrovsky’s blocker with ease. He came up clutch again with less than 11 seconds left as he one-timed an Ehrhoff pass past Bobrovsky’s glove with Hornqvist in front for the screen. The big takeaway from that second goal is the simplicity of just putting the puck on net with a guy like Hornqvist in front. Letang made the smart, simple play instead of trying to overpower the goalie like he has attempted to do on so many shots. There really isn’t any facet of his game that hasn’t shown improvement in the two games since his return from injury.

Thomas Greiss – Greiss played a fairly decent game throughout the night, but he looked subpar (thanks to Fleury being the other goalie on the roster) when it came to the penalty shot and the shootout. He made a few big saves on the PK and couldn’t be reasonably blamed for any of the three goals against for what amounted to an average night in net. However, he did look downright foolish in the shootout as his lack of “athleticism” was on display in the form of not being able to recover after he decided to move a certain way. Greiss will usually win a positioning battle in comparison to Fleury, but there is no denying that Fleury handles a shootout and desperation saves better. More on this thought later.

Misc. Thoughts

Bad Calls – After several games of very few penalties being called, this game was insanity, partly due to the “budding rivalry” and partly due to the roster makeup that now includes Farnham to go along with Downie’s unhinged demeanor. It generally evened itself out aside from Sutter getting beat up by everyone in the first period. While I certainly don’t mind a tightly called game, the amount of bad/questionable calls ruined the idea. Both Hornqvist (slashing) and Comeau (embellishment) were called for penalties that were questionable at best and truthfully, were just plain bad calls. The embellishment call was even more outrageous after Boone Jenner dove in the air when being hooked by Despres on a breakaway. There was no question Jenner should have received a penalty shot for what Despres did, but that was absolutely embellishment based on Jenner’s feet flying in the air for a hook at his waist. I guess messy officiating is to be expected in a messy game?

Fleury and Shootouts – After the game, several people suggested/asked about the idea of putting Fleury in for penalty shots and shootouts when Greiss starts. On paper, it is a great idea since Fleury is certainly one of the most dominant goalies in those situations in the league. However, it is not something I would want to see. Putting in a cold goalie who hasn’t faced a shot in 3ish hours/isn’t in the mentality to play necessarily seems ripe for a bad performance, or even worse, an injury. We’ve seen goalies (including Fleury) struggle just because they don’t see a shot for several minutes of game time, so how would Fleury do after sitting for the entire game? He would probably steal a point here and there, but I would bet on his numbers being worse in such situations. Additionally, I would hate to see him come in after sitting around just to pull a muscle in the shootout, which is a situation that lends itself to crazy stretches and desperation moves more than regular gameplay. For me, it’s a risk not worth taking for the minimal gain.

"Wait, he can go left AND right?!" (Jay LaPrete/AP Photo)

“Wait, he can go left AND right?!” (Jay LaPrete/AP Photo)

Mumps and Injuries – Well, Sidney Crosby officially has the mumps. He will miss the game on Monday but could be cleared to play as early as Thursday (after possibly infecting the entire team and reporters this past week). Though there is no official word on Maatta yet, the Penguins did say they are seeking a second opinion on him, and there are impossible-to-ignore rumors going around that his season is probably done. Of course, nothing is official, but I’m just going to assume his season is over and move on. Bortuzzo didn’t play in the 3rd period against Columbus and Harrington was recalled on Sunday. There is no word on his injury yet, but at least this one is hockey related?

Next Game: 12/15 vs Tampa Bay, 7pm

Thanks for reading!