Thoughts: Game 31 – Penguins @ Bruins

Bruins 3  Penguins 2

By: Meesh Shanmugam (@HockeyMeesh)

Kunitz (17) (PP) from Crosby, Niskanen
Neal (10) (PP) from Niskanen, Despres

Goal Assessment

First Goal For (Kunitz)
On the powerplay, Matt Niskanen carries the puck from behind his own net up the ice and passes it to Sidney Crosby in the neutral zone. Crosby carries the puck straight through the neutral zone, enters the offensive zone, and stops on a dime as every Boston player backs off. He then passes the puck to the left to Chris Kunitz, who has a ton of space because of Crosby’s hard stop. Kunitz skates the puck down the left boards as Kris Letang skates down through the crease, drawing Zdeno Chara to the top of the crease. Kunitz continues down towards the corner as James Neal moves towards the back post, looking for a pass and drawing Chara back to the center of the top of the crease. Kunitz attempts to throw the puck across to Neal, but it hits Chara and bounces into the net.
Players contributing to the first goal for: Niskanen (17), Crosby (49), Letang (17), Neal (21), Kunitz (41)

First Goal Against (Smith)
In the defensive zone, Simon Despres forces a turnover by knocking over Brad Marchand as he had the puck. Chris Kunitz picked up the loose puck, but fanned on his clearing attempt with Patrice Bergeron on him. Bergeron picks up the loose puck still in the offensive zone and passes it to Reilly Smith coming in at the point. Because Kunitz is out of position after the turnover (momentum took him into the corner of the zone), he is not in place to step up on Smith as Despres is properly defending Bergeron. Smith skates into the zone and reaches the left faceoff dot untouched with the puck with Kunitz not there and Sidney Crosby not taking a stride to slide into coverage even though he’s watching the whole play unfold. Smith then rips a slapshot that beats Fleury on his glove side.
Players at fault for the first goal against: Kunitz (7), Crosby (9)

Second Goal For (Neal)
With Neal’s kneeing penalty coming to a close and Rask banging his stick on the ice to make everyone aware, Matt Niskanen holds the puck in his own zone as all of the Bruins back off for a change. Niskanen waits until Neal exits the penalty box and then throws a pass from the defensive zone to Neal at the offensive blue line. Neal has a clear path to Rask skating down the left side of the Bruins zone and he slides the puck through Rask’s five hole.
Players contributing to the second goal for: Niskanen (18), Neal (22)


"After all these years, Meesh?" "Always."

“After all these years, Meesh?”

Second Goal Against (Krejci)
David Krejci throws the puck into the left corner of the Penguins zone and Simon Despres attempts to glove it down and play it. Despres can’t handle the puck and loses a puck battle to Milan Lucic in the corner. Lucic ends up skating the puck around the corner as Despres loses him and lags behind. Kris Letang shifts away from Zdeno Chara in front to step up on Lucic and Craig Adams shifts down low to cover Chara. With the slides in coverage, Joe Vitale does not follow suit and does not cover the slot area. Lucic throws the puck in front and Marc-Andre Fleury gets his stick on it to deflect it past Chara and Adams into the high slot. The puck makes its way to Krejci entering the high slot uncovered. Krejci then slides the puck under Adams and Chara both falling at the top of the crease, past Simon Despres trying to slide in front of the net, and under Fleury’s right pad.
Players at fault for the second goal against: Despres (2), Vitale (3)

Third Goal Against (Chara)
Reilly Smith enters the Penguins zone on the right side with Kris Letang covering him. Letang poke checks the puck away into the right corner, but Smith recovers it and passes it to Patrice Bergeron at the right faceoff circle (loosely covered by Sidney Crosby). Bergeron immediately sends the puck back down to the goal line to Brad Marchand (Olli Maatta’s man), but Maatta is a step too far away to disrupt him and Letang tries to help out. Crosby also closes in on Marchand and poke checks the puck away from him, back to Reilly Smith who is still in the right corner. As Smith gets the puck, Pascal Dupuis drops to the slot to cover a man who is very loosely being covered by Olli Maatta, leaving Zdeno Chara wide open above the circles. Smith passes the puck to Chara, who fires a wrist shot glove-side past Fleury, who was being partially screened by Dupuis.
Players at fault for the third goal against: Maatta (11), Dupuis (6)

Penalty Assessment

Engelland (fighting): Inconsequential, throws a hit into Milan Lucic entering the defensive zone that leads to them pawing at each other and then mutually dropping the gloves.
Neal (kneeing): Bad-Stupid, with Marchand laying on the ground (after an uncalled trip by Crosby), Neal skates through the area and sticks his knee into Marchand’s head. More on the hit later…
Conner (high-sticking): Bad-Careless, gets into a puck battle along the boards and tries to skate around Kevan Miller along the boards. Conner ends up lifting his stick into Miller’s face as he tries to skate by.
Despres (holding): Bad, after he turns the puck over in the neutral zone, Despres gets his arm around David Krejci when Krejci tries to drive towards the outside by the Penguins net.
Kunitz (slashing): Bad-Stupid, skates after Paille on a breakaway against Fleury and slashes him in the hip after he has already taken the shot on Fleury.
Kunitz (tripping): Bad, trips Dougie Hamilton in the neutral zone after Hamilton intercepts a pass and starts skating it back to the Penguins zone.

Hit Assessment

Orpik Hit (on Eriksson)
As the Bruins try to clear the puck from the their zone on the first shift of the game, Patrice Bergeron goes behind his own net and throws the puck off the boards towards Loui Eriksson. The puck bounces off the boards and comes up to Eriksson on his left side, rather than his right side where he is initially looking. Meanwhile, Brooks Orpik is stepping up to hit Eriksson to prevent the clear. Eriksson gets caught looking right to left trying to pick up the puck with his peripheral vision as Orpik skates through him with a hit. Orpik does not actually takes strides into the hit, he glides into it after the puck bounces in a way that catches Eriksson off-guard. He also doesn’t leave his feet. The principal point of contact ends up being Orpik’s gloves on Eriksson’s shoulder and then his upper arm ends up hitting Eriksson’s head as they collide. It was a clean hit, made much worse by the fact that Eriksson never knew Orpik was coming as he was focused on the odd bounce from the puck behind him. Eriksson left the game and has been diagnosed with a concussion.

Neal Knee (on Marchand)
Brad Marchand has the puck in his own zone by the blue line and tries to move to his backhand to protect the puck against Sidney Crosby. Crosby’s stick hits Marchand in the skates and he goes down to the ground but still nicely plays the puck out of the zone to Shawn Thornton (I point this out because Thornton has the puck and is looking up ice when the Neal hit occurs, so he doesn’t see it in real time). As Marchand was on the ground playing the puck, James Neal started to skate his way through the zone to exit it and went towards Marchand. After Marchand played the puck, Neal didn’t change his course towards the puck, but instead turns his skates and veers a little towards Marchand and extends his left skate towards him, kneeing him in the head. It was an extremely dirty play and I fully believe he knew exactly what he was doing. Marchand returned to finish out the game.

Thornton Jumping (on Orpik)
As Brooks Orpik and Gregory Campbell argue after the whistle with a linesman in between them after the Neal sequence is over, Shawn Thornton skates over to Orpik from behind, grabs his left shoulder, and pulls Orpik off-balance (using his skate to take Orpik down to the ice). Thornton then shoves Orpik’s face with his forearm, puts an elbow into his face as he puts a knee on his chest to keep him down, and then punches him twice in the face before two linesmen and Letang break them apart. It was an extremely dirty “play”. Players immediately called for a stretcher. Orpik was unconscious for a bit and taken to the hospital. He was released after the game and cleared to fly back to Pittsburgh with the team.

*I’m not fully expanding on the Dupuis slash on Chris Kelly because there are about 10 of those slashes in every game during attempts to play the puck and it wasn’t extraordinary by any measure.  Kelly is out 4-6 weeks with a broken ankle though, the slash just hit him in the wrong spot where there is no protection.

Player Assessment

"Yeah, I put hair gel on my blade. Puts every shot 6 feet wide. It's hilarious!" (Steve Babineau/Getty Images)

“Yeah, I put hair gel on my blade. Puts every shot 6 feet wide. It’s hilarious!” (Steve Babineau/Getty Images)

Kris Letang – Letang watched his ice time skyrocket with the loss of Orpik and he led the team in all situations (7:19 PP, 4:12 PK, 19:47 even strength) for 31:18 overall. He handled himself quite well through a messy game, occasionally looking overly reactive to a hit, but not taking any stupid penalties at least. He ended up with 4 blocked shots (mostly on the penalty kill), two takeaways in the defensive zone, and two pass interceptions in the neutral zone. He also forced two additional turnovers in the defensive zone with his poke check. Finally on the good side, Letang did a great job on Kunitz’s PP goal by skating through the crease and forcing Chara to shift his positioning into an advantageous situation for the Penguins. As for his mistakes, he had two giveaways in the defensive zone and also failed to clear the puck on the PK on an easy opportunity. Overall though, it was a really strong game for Letang.

Matt Niskanen – Niskanen also had a great game on defense. In his own zone, he had two takeaways. In the offensive zone, he appeared to calm Letang down when they were on the point together on the powerplay. Also, Niskanen ended up with two assists – one on the breakout to Crosby for Kunitz’s goal, and the other with a beautifully patient pass to Neal as he exited the penalty box. Niskanen’s awareness of the situation and willingness to wait for everything to develop was perfect on that play. He did have a couple of ugly giveaways, one leading to a breakaway on Fleury, but he did much more good than bad in the game.

Can you score without being a dbag? (Steve Babineau/Getty Images)

Can you score without being a dbag? (Steve Babineau/Getty Images)

James Neal – (Note: I am not including how dirty his kneeing penalty was in evaluating for player assessment purposes) Neal contributed to both goals, putting himself in position to draw Chara into an awkward position on the first goal and scoring the second one with a very nicely placed shot under Rask’s pads. He also had a couple of offensive zone takeaways. What kept him from the good section was a stupid/unnecessary kneeing penalty and three offensive zone giveaways. He adopted Malkin’s old “throw the puck somewhere” strategy when passing a bit and it cleared the Penguins out of the offensive zone a couple of times. Hockey-wise, it is encouraging to see how well he is playing in the offensive zone without Malkin though.

Simon Despres – Despres had a really strong start to the game but fell off significantly as the game went on. He did a great job along the boards in the defensive zone in the first period, winning two puck battles. He also drew a holding penalty behind his own net as he played Iginla pretty well throughout the night. He ended up with an assist on Neal’s goal and continues to look good in general. However, he had two moments that really detracted from his game. One was a neutral zone turnover which led to him taking a holding penalty so he could keep David Krejci from getting a clear lane to the net. The other was on the game-tying goal, where he couldn’t handle the puck in the corner, got knocked off of the puck, and then lost a step on Lucic to set everything in motion for the goal against. It was the first tough game we have seen from Despres this season.

Chris Kunitz – Kunitz seemed to be involved in everything not considered dirty in this game. He drew a cross-checking penalty and a high-sticking penalty to give the Penguins penalty of PP time. He scored on the PP on an attempted pass that bounced in off of Chara. He also had a couple of neutral zone takeaways. On the downside though, he had the giveaway that led to the first goal against and took two penalties (slashing and tripping). There was a little more Kunitz in the box score than one would have liked to see.


Olli Maatta – Maatta played over 22 minutes in this game and probably learned a lot. That’s great for the future, but it wasn’t so great against Boston. I marked him down for three giveaways in the defensive zone and another in the offensive zone. He was also partially at fault on the 3rd goal against as he had bad gap coverage on Brad Marchand and then drifted again when Reilly Smith had the puck in the corner. Maatta just appeared to be in a little over his head for most of this game. It was also the first game where we saw a visible emotional reaction from him after dealing with Marchand. One of his most amazing qualities so far this season has been his ability to skate away from everyone, so I wouldn’t be shocked if that pulled him off of his game for the first time. Learn Maatta, learn.

Misc Thoughts

Other Player Notes – Poor Chris Conner. After the chaos on the first shift, he is the one who took the worst of it on the next few shifts as he got levelled three different times. Way to pick on the big opponents, Boston. Pascal Dupuis definitely looked a little slower and a little less physical, so hopefully he can shake off whatever nagging injury he has soon. Crosby was generally good with a couple of offensive zone takeaways and an assist, but he started to give the puck away in the offensive zone a little too much. Chuck Kobasew’s defensive work is perfection for a winger.

Get well soon, Orpik. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Get well soon, Orpik. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Controversy Abound – Where to even start… As I discussed above, I believe Orpik’s hit was clean and a situation of bad circumstances with the pass and positioning. Neal and Thornton did things that don’t belong on a hockey rink. If I was made NHL dictator for a day, I would give Neal and Thornton 25 games each. I’m serious. Both players demonstrated ill intent, and whether it’s during the course of the play or after, none of it belongs in the game. Neal has always been a dirtier player than many would want to admit and it’s glossed over because of his scoring ability. Watching his left skate turn into Marchand is disgusting though. Want to get it out of his system? Punish him severely. I want Thornton to get the same severe punishment. I want both players to know…no, I want all of hockey to know…that any action with intent to injure is heinous and will be punished severely. Counterargument: every play is intent to injury with big hits, slashes, etc. There’s a difference. Every hit is with intent to hurt – you want the guy to ache, feel sore, need an Aleve. Intent to injure is….well a purposeful knee to the head or a slew foot and several punches to a defenseless player.

Sadly though the NHL and NHLPA have agreed to rules that can’t/won’t punish either player stiffly enough. Neal will have a phone hearing which limits his suspension to a maximum of 5 games. He is no longer considered a repeat offender because his last suspension was 20 months ago (18 months is the limit). I hope he gets all 5. Thornton will have an in-person hearing which *allows* (not requires) the NHL to give him a 6+ game suspension. He is not a repeat offender. I can still hope he gets 25 games even if they screw up Neal’s punishment, which they already have in my opinion.  Realistically, Neal probably gets 3-4 and Thornton 7-8 as we all comment about what a joke this is.

I know what many of you are thinking, Neal and Thornton’s actions had different severities and shouldn’t be punished the same or looked at the same. I shall argue you’re wrong. They both crossed the line of decency in hockey and both should be punished as such. These aren’t hits from behind where everyone is already in motion or a guy happens to turn his back at the wrong time. These are both conscious decisions to attack a player, Neal was just sneakier. I don’t care what Thornton did in comparison to Neal or vice versa. Both should be punished as harshly as possible to get it all out of their systems and the game. I don’t care what Marchand did to Neal before. I don’t care what Thornton has done to anyone before. These are two plays that the NHL should be embarrassed by and each play should get punished severely for the sake of everyone.

“Respect” – Both Thornton and Neal showed an amazing lack of respect for their hockey-playing peers. Again, it doesn’t matter what players have done to them before. If someone disrespects you, you aren’t supposed to go out for revenge. That’s flawed logic on so many levels. If they wanted to settle scores, there were several ways it could have been done. Scoreboard is always my favorite, but clearly we were past that. Thornton challenged Orpik, Orpik declined. Orpik has that right as does every player, which they should. If you still want to “punish” Orpik, just lay a clean check on him EVERY SINGLE TIME he has the puck. It’ll wear on him, I promise. That’s how you’re supposed to get out your aggression, not attacking him. As for Neal, how about challenging Marchand to a fight if you’re that upset with him? Or even just lay some body checks into him if he declines? Thornton didn’t know how to handle a guy who declined under “The Code.” Neal said eff it to “The Code” and went straight to dirty. The lack of respect for each other is disgusting. And don’t tell me hockey doesn’t have respect. Just a month ago, I wrote a paragraph in this section about how awesome Jared Boll was because he hit Letang from behind and protected him as much as he could to ensure Letang didn’t get hurt. Two years ago, I said the same thing about Matt Martin because he wrapped his arms around Brian Strait to protect him from a hit from behind. There are plenty of hard-hitters and enforcers that understand their role and respect other players and the game. The problem is those that don’t and get all the attention for it.

Sidenote: Huge props to three Bruins players:  Patrice Bergeron for helping medical personnel get the stretcher out to Orpik.  David Krejci for skating his team doctors down to Orpik and the Penguins staff.  And Tuukka Rask, a goalie, who was skating medical personnel down the length of the ice to help out.  When was the last time you saw a goalie assisting people down the ice?  I’m sure there are more decent Bruins than that, but those three were very noticeable when I re-watched the game. (Thank you @MikeDarnay for the video links there.)

(Edit: videos aren’t currently working. But it happened. I promise.)

Hockey Culture – A certain washed-up pest decided to weigh in on twitter and added, “maybe lying on the ice knocked out will make u think twice.” I’m completely ignoring his name because it doesn’t matter. The problem is that he is not alone. Several players, analysts, fans, etc. have that mentality when it comes to hockey. It’s bad for the sport and it’s bad for the human race. It is embarrassing to constantly try to promote a sport that proceeds to get into the news for that kind of attitude. Who remembers any of the goals from this weekend? Who remembers hits from Rinaldo, Thornton, Neal, and Phaneuf? Get out of your own way hockey, it’s time to grow up and act like an adult.

Communication with Fleury – Oh yeah, there was a game with hockey, how about that. We’ve all watched Fleury struggle with puck-handling, especially behind the net in recent weeks. The growing issue: communication with Kris Letang and Olli Maatta. When you see Fleury turn it over behind the net, I’m willing to put a 90% chance on it being that pairing on the ice. Twice in the past two games, I’ve watched Maatta and Letang go behind the net on both sides and force Fleury into a decision where no one tells him where players are coming from. That trio needs to learn to communicate asap.

Engelland Thoughts – Several thoughts on Engelland, so there might not be a fluid progression here. Engelland continues to play well, and much better than anticipated, so I have no problem with him in the lineup (and well, now he kinda has to play with everyone hurt). I was very surprised to see him on the 2nd powerplay over Simon Despres though. Engelland does a great job of getting the puck to the net, but he isn’t anything near the puck mover that Despres is. Also, Engelland iced the puck twice on the powerplay. That alone should get him kicked off. Credit where credit is due, he’s playing well, but putting him on the powerplay is a joke. Next set of thoughts – if Engelland challenges Thornton to a fight, does it all end there? Does Thornton get it out of his system and Engelland gets credit for handling Orpik’s fight? I don’t understand “The Code”, but would that have been a sensible idea? Finally…long-term, is there a chance we see Engelland get a 1 year contract after this season? The idea would no longer surprise me with how much they are using him with or without injuries.

Can Despres even see the puck through his stache? (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Can Despres even see the puck through his stache? (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Late Collapse – Oh yeah, the Penguins lost this game. Giving up two goals in the last 1:30 or so was quite the shocking loss. It’s also something you may see again though, so brace yourselves for it. Both goals at the end were set into motion by mistakes from the young defensemen – Despres on the 2nd goal and Maatta on the 3rd goal. That is one of the problems with Martin, Scuderi, and Orpik out. Young guys are going to be trusted (out of force) in some very strenuous situations that they aren’t ready for. The NHL level is fast to begin with and tough for defensemen to adjust to; the NHL level in the final minute is just flat-out insane. Brace yourselves for some big minutes from young guys. It will be a pleasure to watch them grow, but we will see growing pains compounded very, very quickly.

Pens Record: 20-10-1
Next Game: Monday, 12/9 vs Columbus, 7:30pm

Thanks for reading!