Thoughts: Game 30 – Penguins vs Sharks

Penguins 5  Sharks 1

By: Meesh Shanmugam (@HockeyMeesh)

Dupuis (4) from Orpik, Crosby
Megna (3) from Despres
Kunitz (15) from Crosby, Neal
Kunitz (16) (PP) from Neal, Crosby
Letang (6) from Maatta, Vitale

Goal Assessment

First Goal For (Dupuis)
Sidney Crosby recovers a loose puck in the left faceoff circle of the Sharks zone and turns back towards the blue line. As he loops back towards the blue line, Chris Kunitz moves to the top of the crease and Pascal Dupuis moves to the slot. Brent Burns poke checks Crosby and knocks the puck away from him, but it slides to Brooks Orpik at the left point. Orpik takes a wrist shot from the point towards the Kunitz screen. Pascal Dupuis tips the puck before it gets to Kunitz and the puck flies past Niemi’s glove.
Players contributing to the first goal for: Crosby (46), Orpik (9), Kunitz (38), Dupuis (17)

Second Goal For (Megna)
With the Sharks moving through the neutral zone, Simon Despres steps up on Jason Demers above the Penguins blue line and poke checks the puck further into the neutral zone. Jayson Megna picks the puck up on the left boards in the neutral zone and enters the Sharks zone on a 3-on-1 with Joe Vitale and Chuck Kobasew against Scott Hannan. Hannan drops back to cover the slot area and the passing lane to Kobasew as best as he can, but then Vitale skates directly into Hannan to keep him away from Megna as well. Megna brings the puck all the way down to the left faceoff dot and then rips a wrist shot past Niemi’s blocker.
Players contributing to the second goal for: Despres (1), Kobasew (5), Vitale (7), Megna (5)

Third Goal For (Kunitz)
Justin Braun gets the puck in the corner of the Sharks zone and attempts to clear it off the boards, but is foiled by James Neal. Neal and Braun battle for the puck near the boards and it squirts out into the left faceoff circle, just out of the reach of Logan Couture. The puck ends up in front of Sidney Crosby, who corrals the puck and takes a wrist shot to the net as Chris Kunitz is moving to the front of the net. Niemi makes the initial save and Chris Kunitz picks up the rebound as he is skating in front of the crease. Kunitz takes the puck and backhands it into the net as he continues along his path across the crease.
Players contributing to the third goal for: Neal (19), Crosby (47), Kunitz (39)

Fourth Goal For (Kunitz)
On the powerplay, Sidney Crosby wins a faceoff in the right faceoff circle and passes the puck back to Kris Letang at the right point. Letang moves the puck back to Crosby at the edge of the right faceoff circle and Crosby holds it for a little bit before sending it back to Letang again. Letang then passes to Crosby yet again, but Crosby decides to end their game of catch and passes the puck down to James Neal at the goal line. Neal skates to the net and tries to power his way to the top of the crease but loses the puck as defenders converge on him. The puck then slides to Chris Kunitz, patiently waiting at the bottom of the left faceoff circle, and Kunitz fires the puck over Niemi’s blocker before he can slide over for a save.
Players contributing to the fourth goal for: Letang (15), Crosby (48), Neal (20), Kunitz (40)

First Goal Against (Hertl)
Deryk Engelland retrieves the puck in the left corner of the Penguins defensive zone under pressure and throws the puck behind the net for Brooks Orpik. The puck bounces along past Orpik’s stick and gets to Joe Thornton in the right corner. Thornton quickly backhands the puck towards the net, where Tomas Hertl (loosely covered by Brandon Sutter) picks it up on the goal line. Hertl then attempts to center the puck for Brent Burns and Deryk Engelland tries to tie up Burns in front, but the puck goes off of Engelland’s stick and through Fleury’s legs.
Players at fault for the first goal against: Engelland (7), Orpik (14), Sutter (6)

Fifth Goal For (Letang)
Joe Vitale retrieves a loose puck in the Sharks zone near the goal line in the right corner. Vitale takes a quick shot that completely misses the net and wraps around to Olli Maatta at the left point as if it was a pass. Maatta makes a quick one-touch pass to Kris Letang on the right point. Letang stops the puck, winds up as if he’s going to slap it, but then stops and takes a wrist shot with Vitale screening Stalock on top of the crease. Stalock picks up the puck very late because of Vitale’s screen and Letang’s shot beats him on his glove side.
Players contributing to the fifth goal for: Vitale (8), Maatta (10), Letang (16)

Penalty Assessment

Niskanen (interference): Bad, gets caught flat-footed in the neutral zone as the puck goes past him back into the defensive zone, so he throws his body into John McCarthy to keep him from getting to the puck.
Neal (interference): Bad-Stupid, Neal is skating towards the goal line in his own zone and cross-checks Andrew Desjardins in front of him, taking out both Desjardins and Simon Despres as the puck slides behind the net.
Niskanen (holding): Bad, Niskanen loses a step on Joe Pavelski in the corner of the defensive zone and proceeds to wrap both arms around him to keep him from getting to the puck.

Player Assessment

Fleury looked extremely shaky as he wouldn't budge from the top of the crease. (Vincent Pugliese/Getty Images)

Fleury looked extremely shaky as he wouldn’t budge from the top of the crease. (Vincent Pugliese/Getty Images)

Marc-Andre Fleury – Despite what Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski may have thought about Fleury and his performance (shaky?!), I’ll take the goalie stopping 44 of 45 shots any night of the week. I’ll admit, Fleury scrambled a bit at times, but good luck finding a goaltender who doesn’t in a 44-save effort. MAF looked great in net all night, especially when it came to handling loose pucks around his pads. He did a great job of keeping his pads down at all times (Spring ’13 Fleury would have surely let some of those trickle in) and he basically did everything necessary to give the Penguins an easier win than it should have been. He was especially big on the PK, making eight saves on the Penguins’ first two penalty kills to thwart any comeback effort from San Jose. It’s completely safe to get excited about him at this point.

Sidney Crosby – Crosby put together another three-assist night as he took advantage of Malkin’s absence from the lineup to boost his scoring lead a bit. Crosby and Kunitz worked great as a duo all night with a rotating linemate through much of the game. Crosby’s most impressive work on the ice actually came in the neutral zone though, where he forced two turnovers and also provided great puck support for Kunitz on zone entries. Another thing of note: He was 1 for 9 in faceoffs after the first period but rallied back to finish 8 for 19. One of those faceoff wins against Joe Thornton turned into Kunitz’s powerplay goal. Way to adjust, Sid.

Chris Kunitz – Goals and more goals, Kunitz added two more to his season total (16) and also provided a nice screen on the deflection by Dupuis as he continues to do great work in front of the net. Both of his goals came from within two feet of the crease. The first one was off of a rebound in front and the second was when a loose puck slid over to him across the slot. Kunitz certainly knows where to be and he’s doing a great job of finishing his chances with authority right now.

Kris Letang – Despite two amazingly blatant giveaways (one in the defensive zone, and another tape-to-tape pass to an opponent on the point), Letang handled himself rather well against some tough matchups. Of course, the one time I want to put Letang in the good column, advanced stats suggest he had a poor game, but that’s why I’m not an advanced stats guy. Despite the two giveaways, Letang helped the team out in a variety of ways. He drew a hooking penalty, scored a goal, set the play in motion for Kunitz’s PP goal, had a couple of steals in the neutral zone, and won a couple of puck battles against the boards in the defensive zone. He also did have a misread on defense that allowed a semi-breakaway on Fleury, but that wasn’t completely his fault with Maatta stepping up much further into the neutral zone than he normally should. Overall, I thought Letang contributed to the team more than he was a detriment, and that’s all we’re looking for, right?

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Joe Vitale – Vitale may have been the most underrated player of the game as he jumped between all four lines after the Dupuis injury and really made a significant impact too. He was rewarded with 14:28 of playing time (okay, everyone was rewarded because of the big lead) and finished with an assist on Letang’s goal and 3 hits in the game. He also did a great job on the goal by Megna when he essentially ran interference into Scott Hannan to prevent him from even extending his stick towards Megna to prevent a shooting chance. Maybe it’s actually a statement to how Dupuis has played so far this year, but Vitale seamlessly joined Crosby and Kunitz several times and provided a nice forecheck for those two as they took care of the puck-handling. It was a solid move by Bylsma to move him up.

Simon Despres – Despres may just get a permanent spot here at this point. Aside from one giveaway behind the net, he looked great all night. I am constantly impressed by his crease presence (two intercepted centering passes) and his ability to stand up people along the boards (created two turnovers in the defensive zone that way). Add in the strong decision to step up into the neutral zone and poke check the puck to send Megna off on a 3-on-1, and Despres is contributing everywhere. None of this even highlights his most dazzling play: he managed to steal the puck with two Sharks bearing down on him in the defensive zone and then he skated past/through both of those Sharks and another Sharks’ forward to lead a rush into the offensive zone. Despres is just playing top-notch hockey right now.

A year ago, I would have assumed this ended in a goal. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

A year ago, I would have assumed this ended in a goal. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Deryk Engelland – While Engelland was at fault for the only goal against due to an iffy pass behind the net for Orpik and then redirecting the puck through Fleury’s five hole, that was still his only mistake in a game where he played some tough minutes. Engelland was frequently the man assigned to Joe Thornton and he did a masterful job on Thornton at times, being extremely physical and being an overall thorn in his side. Engo ended up with a takeaway in the defensive zone from Thornton and also two blocked shots right on the crease in a solid defensive effort overall. The goal against sequence was ugly, but he was pretty much shut-down the rest of the way.

Chris Conner – Conner provided some nice energy in this game and even won a puck battle against two Sharks, much to my surprise. However, he still has that slight problem of getting knocked off the puck too frequently on account of his size. He ended up with two turnovers solely because he was knocked off the puck along the boards. His head is always in the right place, but he needs to execute a little faster before getting knocked around before it comes back to hurt the team.

Nisky just wanted to hold on to his memories of TK. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Nisky just wanted to hold on to his memories of TK. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Matt Niskanen – Niskanen’s defensive play was okay, but he got into penalty trouble again with an interference and a holding penalty. Both penalties were in situations where he was going to get beat completely if he didn’t take them, but he had defensive support behind him still. The frequency with which he lost a step on San Jose’s forwards was certainly troubling though. Penalties aside, he ended up with two giveaways in the defensive zone. One was just comical as he dropped the puck for Tyler Kennedy behind the net. Whoops. The best work he did on the night was preventing three zone entries by standing up the puck carrier at the blue line. Overall though, the penalties need to disappear.

Brandon Sutter – I’m 99% sure this is the first time I’ve ever written this about Sutter – he missed several of his assignments in the defensive zone against the Sharks. One of them was on the goal against, where he drifted a little far from the crease area and didn’t notice that Hertl had dropped low to create a 2-on-1 situation against Orpik. By the time he reached Hertl, it was too late to stop his centering pass. It wasn’t just the goal though. I marked him down for three other times where he was just late in getting to his man (allowing a shot) whether it was via backchecking or sliding in defensive coverage. Part of it may have been the constant rotation of linemates for everyone, but that is certainly a performance I don’t expect to see from Sutter again.

Misc Thoughts

Other Player Notes – Chuck Kobasew made his return from injury and looked good in general. He had a pretty quiet night but he was in all the right places, which is all you really ask for with him. Jayson Megna looked comfortable with Jokinen/Neal, and with everyone else as he ended up with a goal on a vicious wrist shot. Andrew Ebbett had another strong game and has added a decent amount of grit along the boards.

Mirage Result? – The final score of 5-1 is wonderful to see, but not at all indicative of the actual game. Fleury bailed the Penguins out several times (#NoDisrespectToLoganCouture) and the shot attempts were far more than what you’d like to see. Forgetting shot attempts even, the Penguins were outshot 45-30 and that wasn’t because they had a big lead. They were outshot 24-15 in the 2nd period as they managed to outscore the Sharks 4-1. That’s clearly not a normal result. Allowing a team like the Sharks to get 24 shots in one period will almost always end in disaster. In the end, the defense played okay but not nearly as strong as the score suggests and not strong enough to beat a team like the Sharks on most nights.  That’s hardly limited to defensemen; the forwards didn’t have a banner night helping out either.

Injury Report – This is never-ending, isn’t it? Evgeni Malkin left the gameday skate with a lower-body injury and is considered day-to-day. Pascal Dupuis left the game after about 5 minutes in the 2nd period and he also has a lower-body injury. I watched his last shift several times and couldn’t find a single thing to suggest he was injured or how he got his injury. The last time the camera pans over him, he is doing a dead sprint to the bench and skating fine. Rob Scuderi and Tanner Glass are both starting to skate again. Glass is expected to join the team again soon (next week?) and Scuderi is still 2-3ish weeks away. That’s all on the injury updates for now. Perhaps Duper’s injury will move Engelland back to forward and get Bortuzzo back into the lineup?

**Update: Malkin will not make the trip to Boston but Dupuis will.  Andrew Ebbett is now out with a broken ankle.  Brooks Orpik didn’t skate today as he took a maintenance day.

Depth – SPEAKING OF, Bortuzzo has played just once in the past 12 games now. Engelland has played great, so I can’t really say anything against him, but leaving Bortuzzo in the press box for the 2nd season in a row surely cannot help his development. I’d love to keep him, especially long-term, but I’m not sure how that plan will work out with Despres playing incredibly well and more prospects looking to come up as soon as they can. With all of that as a base, please check out my article on Bortuzzo’s current situation:

Pens Record: 20-9-1
Next Game: Saturday, 12/7 @ Boston, 7pm

Thanks for reading!