Thoughts: Game 32 – Hockey and Panthers make Downie go crazy in Pens 3-1 win

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  Panthers 1

Record: 22-6-4

Goals
Spaling (5) from Downie, Goc
Pouliot (1) from Downie, Spaling
Crosby (10) from Letang, Despres

Click here to read the goal assessments

Gm 32 - Goals

Penalties
Harrington (high-sticking) – Careless (tries to lift his stick over Barkov’s head to play a loose puck, but hits Barkov in the face in the process)
Malkin (embellishment) – Bad Call (gets called for embellishment despite Upshall hitting both his stick down in front of him and his right skate to pull him down)
Comeau (holding) – Unnecessary (wraps his arms around Mitchell along the boards in front of the ref for an easy holding call)
Letang (fighting) – Bad Call/Inconsequential (gets into a shoving match with Mitchell, but never drops his gloves or throws a punch while Mitchell does drop the gloves, throws punches, and swings a helmet)
Kunitz (roughing) – Inconsequential (gets into a wrestling battle with Olsen and they both receive minors)
Hornqvist (goalie interference) – Overly Aggressive (jams at Luongo twice after a save, shoving him into the net with the puck for the goalie interference penalty)
Malkin (roughing) – Stupid (starts punching Ekblad in the head after a whistle, so he receives a minor)
Downie (roughing) – Inconsequential (gets into a scrum with Jokinen and they both receive minors)
Hornqvist (goalie interference) – Bad Call (gets shoved down by Kulikov and ends up taking off Luongo’s mask because of the shove)
Downie (fighting) – Inconsequential (drops the gloves with Gudbranson and they both receive fighting majors)
Downie (misconduct – 10 mins) – Stupid (gets a misconduct for continuing to throw punches while both players are on the ice and the linesmen are separating them)
Malkin (embellishment) – Bad Call (Bolland gets a stick on Malkin’s ankles as Malkin is trying to jump over his stick, so Malkin goes down hard since he was *already* in the air, thus not diving)
Despres (interference) – Unnecessary (takes an extra stride away from the puck to hit Barkov after he passed the puck away for an easy interference call)
Scuderi (delay of game) – Careless (goes behind the Penguins net and tries to backhand a puck off the glass without looking, but puts it over the glass)
Goc (slashing) – Bad Call (loses his balance trying to get around Bolland and falls with his stick coming down on Bolland’s stick and breaking it, leading to a slashing call)

Notable Players

Forwards

Gm 32 - Forwards

Steve Downie – The final numbers on Downie through three periods were 5:56 of ice time, two assists, and 17 penalty minutes. How is that for efficient? Downie had the most interesting night of anyone, to say the least. He assisted on both Penguins goals in the first period, including a great look and pass across to Pouliot for the rookie’s 1st NHL goal. Then, as the game unraveled with scrums and penalties, Downie followed suit. He was seen slamming his stick on the bench as Malkin and Crosby got into scrums, then he starting yelling at Panthers skaters from the bench, then he got into a shouting match with Gudbranson when Gudbranson was in the box, then he fought Gudbranson and continued punching him as they were being separated, then he finally calmed down as he went to the locker room with a 10-minute misconduct as he called out Gudbranson for being gigantic and still not tough. So how does it play out overall in the end? He contributed to two goals, had no turnovers, and his only bad penalty was only bad because it took him off the ice, not because it put a man in the box. He was effective on the scoreboard, in defending his teammates, with distracting the Panthers, and getting the home crowd into the game. Well done, Mr. Downie.

A rare shift that didn't end in chaos or a goal. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

A rare shift that didn’t end in chaos or a goal. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Sidney Crosby – Crosby led the team with seven shots and added in a goal on a nice redirection as the first line finally looked like the first line again. Though his goal came with a mixed group (Rust and Comeau), the line of Kunitz-Crosby-Hornqvist caused chaos around the net throughout the night, which led to several scrums. Crosby looked much more like himself as he dangled around players and managed a semi-breakaway that was stopped by Luongo. Crosby also drew three penalties and took none in a game with some very odd officiating. I daresay Crosby will be taking the team lead in points back from Geno within a couple of games.

Nick Spaling – I had nothing good to say about Spaling after the Avs game on Thursday, but his demotion with the return of Kunitz worked in his favor greatly. He scored a gift of a goal from Luongo and also added a secondary assist on Pouliot’s goal. He was generally more effective and more into the play than he had been in the last few games. I marked him down for two defensive zone pass interceptions, although they also went with two defensive zone giveaways. Overall, it’s nice to see him getting into the play more and he definitely looks better in a 3rd line role.

Defensemen/Goalies

Gm 32 - Defense

Simon Despres – Not only did Despres move into the top-four defenseman ranks with Ehrhoff and Martin out, but he was the veteran on his pairing as he brought Dumoulin along for the ride. His performance made him worthy of his newfound responsibilities. He had two defensive zone takeaways, contributed to two goals, and led the team with 10 hits in a very strong performance in all facets in the game. The only big mistake he made was taking an unnecessary interference penalty in the defensive zone as he is still prone to bad penalties. Aside from that one issue though, Despres has really grown over the last month or so. His secondary assist on Crosby’s goal was impressive as he received the puck from Comeau, pulled his stick up for a slapshot, then noticed two men coming at him, realized Letang was open, and changed his mind to shuffle the puck over to wide-open Letang. The powerplay over the last few games has looked its best with him on the ice thanks to similar decisions as well. Despres might finally be realizing that potential that everyone spoke of years ago.

Weird, Despres has gotten better with playing time...who knew?! (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Weird, Despres has gotten better with playing time…who knew?! (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Marc-Andre Fleury – Just another ho-hum fantastic performance from Fleury in net. He made an eye-opening 46 saves and made most of them look quite easy in the 3-1 win. To be completely honest, I had no clue the shot total had even gotten that high because of how routinely Fleury was stopping the puck with ease. Among some of his better saves were a few crease chances on the penalty kill, a right pad save on Bolland in front, and also two nice chances for Jokinen and Fleischmann in the slot area. The Panthers threw just about everything they could at the net, and as a graphic on Root Sports showed early in the game, Fleury leads the league in save percentage for shots 30+ feet away from the net. That’s a huge change from previous years and allows the Penguins to confidently keep teams to the perimeter without putting themselves out of position trying to force turnovers. Fleury makes things easier for the defense, the defense makes things easier for Fleury, everyone wins!

Derrick Pouliot – Pouliot had a solid NHL debut and was quick to make his mark with his first NHL goal on his first shot. He placed a wrister perfectly past Luongo’s glove, just inside the post for his first career goal. While the shot itself was impressive, he also deserves credit for accepting Downie’s pass, calmly gliding back as he corralled the puck, and then putting the puck on net instead of rushing a shot or trying to one-time it. Offensive intelligence is certainly not going to be a concern with this kid. He also did a good job throughout the night of supporting the puck along the boards in the offensive zone and pinching in just enough to give his forwards outlets to move the puck. While I was concerned about his defense going into the game, he didn’t demonstrate any major issues there either with two broken-up plays and only one failed clear. Not every game will go as smoothly as this debut, but you have to be very excited with everything that Pouliot brings to the table already.

Misc. Thoughts

Call-Ups/Returns/Injuries – Starting with the defense, Pouliot and Chorney were called up as Ehrhoff and Martin were both placed on the IR. Ehrhoff and Martin will be out for at least two more games based on the IR designation, but we will not find out more about their injuries until Monday probably. Chorney was a healthy scratch and I imagine he will be sent back down soon so WBS still has some defensemen to use. Moving to the forwards, Kunitz made his return and looked fine, while Adams missed a game with an undisclosed injury. Adams skated before practice yesterday, then at practice, but it was finally decided that his ironman streak would end. It will be interesting to see if Adams can even get back into the lineup with guys like Rust (another goal contribution) and Farnham (two drawn penalties) playing well enough to keep lineup spots. With the streak over and call-ups playing better than expected, Adams certainly moves into healthy scratch consideration.

Farnham has been very smart and driven opponents crazy. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Farnham has been very smart and driven opponents crazy. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Officiating and Insanity – I was displeased with the officiating on several levels in this game. There were several bad calls (Malkin embellishments, Hornqvist goalie interference, Goc slashing) and to play both sides of it, Downie probably deserved a 10-minute misconduct earlier than that fight to save the Panthers some headaches. The referees appeared to want complete control of the game but they really struggled with actually maintaining that. Moving on to some of the insanity, Willie Mitchell’s helmet swing at Letang should be suspendable, but I’m not sure how much the NHL will care since it was Mitchell and there was no harm done. There HAS to be a fine at least, one would think. On to Malkin’s embellishments, I truly don’t understand how both of those get called unless refs are looking for Malkin specifically to dive. I can see how the first one gets called in real-time at least, but the second one is atrocious since Malkin already had his skates moving into the air. I’d like to meet the person who can dive with their feet already moving like that. Finally, Downie’s brand of chaos was beneficial to the Penguins against the Panthers, but it does toe the line of being dangerous in the future. It’s difficult to judge how refs are going to call his antics and when it may hurt the Penguins. On top of that, Adam Gretz of CBS Sports had an eye-opening graphic after the game:

Taking Downie off of the ice for a misconduct certainly appears to hurt the offensive production of a team that is constantly looking for help on the wings. I guess that is the known trade-off with him though; I’m sure it will be a continual rollercoaster this year.

New Review Rules – Many people were confused as to why the play was immediately stopped after Kunitz and Malkin hit the post on consecutive shots early in the game. At the GM meetings this year, it was decided that the video room in Toronto can buzz down to the refs immediately when they want something looked at and the refs will stop the play at that point rather than waiting for a whistle and letting the play go. It has its benefits and its flaws. It’s nice that there won’t be several minutes of meaningless hockey that could lead to penalties or more goals that would have to be erased. At the same time, it really hurts a team with offensive momentum and possession when they might score in the next few seconds but the play is called dead because of a buzz from Toronto. Whether you like it or not though, that is the new rule, so expect to see immediate whistles in the future on questionable no-goals.

Niskanen Speaks – Josh Yohe posted an article last night with several quotes from the new Caps (Orpik, Niskanen, Reirden) about their displeasure with how Bylsma was let go. The timing of the article is the only part that is weird to me (don’t play the Caps for another week), but I think everything that all three men said made sense. The Bylsma situation was handled poorly since they should have just fired him along with Shero. The Penguins didn’t *owe* him that necessarily since they are still paying him, but it would have been a *nice* gesture on their part to give him extra time to find other work. As for those ripping on Niskanen for what he said…it’s not like he turned on his computer and blogged about his opinions; he answered questions. Let him have his opinion.  The Pens can keep winning in the meantime.

First goals are the best goals. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

First goals are the best goals. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Next Game: 12/22 @ Florida, 7:30pm

Thanks for reading!