Thoughts: Game 32 – Penguins vs Blue Jackets

Penguins 2  Blue Jackets 1

By: Meesh Shanmugam (@HockeyMeesh)

Malkin (8) from Jokinen, Engelland
Crosby (16) from Dupuis, Maatta

Goal Assessment


"Who are you? Where James?" (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

“Who are you? Where Lazy?” (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

First Goal For (Malkin)
Deryk Engelland cuts off a loose puck rolling into the Penguins zone at the blue line and smacks it up the boards to Jussi Jokinen on the red line. As Jokinen corrals the puck, Evgeni Malkin loops around on the other side of the neutral zone to pick up speed and Jokinen then passes the puck across the red line to him. Malkin enters the offensive zone with speed, skates around a flat-footed Fedor Tyutin on his backhand, and then brings the puck to his forehand as goaltender Curtis McElhinney attempts to poke check it. McElhinney’s poke check is too late and Malkin gets the puck past him and shoots it easily into the net.
Players contributing to the first goal for: Engelland (5), Jokinen (19), Malkin (44)

Second Goal For (Crosby)
Olli Maatta picks up the puck behind his own net with a man chasing him and passes the puck up to Sidney Crosby, still in the defensive zone. Crosby gets forced to the boards and stops to play the puck across the defensive zone to Kris Letang on the far side. Letang gets pressured and immediately moves the puck up to Chris Kunitz at the defensive zone blue line. Kunitz is facing the defensive zone and skates the puck back into the defensive zone, drawing a forechecker to him, before sliding the puck into the neutral zone for Maatta to pick up in stride. Maatta grabs the puck and passes it up to Pascal Dupuis on the right as he enters the offensive zone. Dupuis takes the puck deep into the zone on the outside as Maatta skates towards the right side of the net and Crosby skates towards the backside of the crease. Dupuis backhands the puck towards the net and it hits off of McElhinney and then bounces off of Crosby into the net.
Players contributing to the second goal for: Letang (18), Kunitz (42), Maatta (11), Dupuis (18), Crosby (50)

First Goal Against (Calvert)
Deryk Engelland goes behind the net to retrieve a puck bouncing off of the back boards. Marc Letestu steals the puck from him though and passes the puck back to the top of the crease. Matt Calvert is standing all alone at the top of the crease because Evgeni Malkin stopped following Calvert as he expected the puck to come out on the far side. Calvert easily taps the puck into the net before Fleury can react in time.
Players at fault for the first goal against: Engelland (8), Malkin (13)

Penalty Assessment

Sill (fighting): Inconsequential, after Corey Tropp levels Matt Niskanen, Sill skates over and asks him to fight. He agrees to it and they drop the gloves.
Despres (roughing): Inconsequential, gets into a little scrum with Derek MacKenzie after Fleury covers the puck and they both go off for roughing.
Bortuzzo (10-min misconduct): Inconsequential, gave a little extra shove to Dubinsky and drew him into a slash during a line change. Dubinsky was also given a 10-min misconduct and argued until he received a game misconduct.
Kobasew (tripping): Bad, can’t keep a puck in the offensive zone and then trips Nick Foligno along the boards as Foligno tries to race out of the zone after the puck.

Player Assessment


Marc-Andre Fleury – “Dear Diary, I came so close today. I came so so so so so close today. I had time, we were up two goals, I put the puck in the air… BUT NO. I WAS FOILED AGAIN. THEY CAN TAKE ALL OF THE SHUTOUTS AWAY FROM ME, BUT I WILL NOT REST UNTIL I SCORE A GOAL.” Poor Flower. What a sequence from him missing an empty net to losing his shutout. That insanity aside, Fleury made everything looks easy in stopping 32 of 33 shots. He didn’t look too flashy and it didn’t look like hard work, but those are the big perks of having a goaltender who really has his positioning set right now. Keep it up – you’ll get that goal one day.

Dupuis shooting frequently will lead to good things soon. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Dupuis shooting frequently will lead to good things soon. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Pascal Dupuis – After just a day off, Dupuis looked much more fluid with his skating and overall effort in comparison to the Boston game, lower body injury be damned. He finished the game with a team-high six shots on net, one of which turned out to be an assist on Crosby’s goal. He also missed another three shots as his focus was clearly to put everything on net possible. One thing he has started to do more lately is take that patented slap shot across the blue line that he used to have so much success with in previous years. He has done it in each of the last three games, missing every single time. If he gets that on target again like he used to, the goals will come quickly.


Evgeni Malkin – Malkin’s goal was just simply Malkin-esque. He used his size and speed to beat Tyutin to the outside and then cut across to the inside before McElhinney could react. It basically led to him having an empty net to work with. There are just not a lot of players that can put that complete play together with as much ease as Malkin. McElhinney never had a chance. Fancy goal aside, Malkin was relatively good in the D zone for 59 minutes. However, he was certainly drifting way too much and might have been thinking empty net when Engelland turned it over for the goal against in the last minute. Still gotta play 60 minutes, Geno.

Sidney Crosby – Crosby might as well have been Santa Claus with how frequently he was giving the puck away to Columbus. I marked him down for four turnovers, all in the offensive zone with two on the powerplay. Of course, he’s still Crosby so he did plenty of good things. He ended up with an odd goal from crashing the crease, something that Penguins’ forwards haven’t done enough in general and didn’t do enough in this game specifically. He also had two takeaways in the offensive zone and forced two turnovers in the defensive zone. It was a decent game for Crosby overall, but the giveaway number was way too high.

Hate Engelland?  Might as well get over it right now. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Hate Engelland? Might as well get over it now. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Deryk Engelland – Engelland handled himself okay in his jump to the Penguins’ top stay-at-home defenseman (yes, think about that). He led the team with five blocked shots and had a nice assist in setting the Malkin goal in motion. The increase in ice time and level of competition (okay, it’s Columbus, maybe not level of competition) led to more chances for mistakes though and he did make more mistakes than he has in a while. I had him down for two failed clearing attempts and a neutral zone giveaway. He also lost the puck to Mark Letestu in the final minute on the only goal against. Engelland is going to get a lot more time in the final minutes of a game with a lead to shut things down, so he better adapt to that quickly.


Chuck Kobasew – Kobasew played less than 10 minutes but he made too many mistakes in such a small role. As he continues in this 4th line role, his focus should be on getting the puck deep and just giving the Penguins neutral or positive playing time. Instead, Kobasew turned the puck over in the neutral zone, failed to keep the puck in at the blue line, and also took a tripping penalty. Those mistakes get magnified quickly when he’s not on the ice enough to add anything else.

Chris Conner – I will feel confident that this team can handle a playoff series once the team is healthy enough to take Chris Conner out of the lineup. I love his effort, his thought-process, and his awareness. That’s a very nice way of saying he tries really hard but isn’t good (which is a nice way of saying…). Conner had the puck stolen off of him in the defensive zone, had a failed clearing attempt, and also got knocked off of the puck twice in the offensive zone. Much like Kobasew in this game, there were just too many mistakes in such a limited role. Conner just needs to move the puck faster because he won’t win many battles with it.

Misc Thoughts

Maatta is on pace to be the #1 defenseman by mid-January. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Maatta is on pace to be the #1 defenseman by mid-January. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Other Player Notes – Olli Maatta had a great bounce-back game after looking like a rookie against Boston. In retrospect, that is a weird statement to make, but Maatta has set my expectations at the level of a 7-year veteran at this point. Robert Bortuzzo looked rusty in his return to the lineup and had trouble with the puck in the defensive zone. Matt Niskanen had another above-average game and deserves mass amounts of appreciation for how this season has gone. Jussi Jokinen and Chris Kunitz each had three giveaways in their best attempts to thwart Malkin and Crosby respectively from world domination.

Powerplay – The powerplay went 0 for 2. It’s still the best in the league at 26.1%. It’s not worth complaining about. I repeated those thoughts over and over to myself as the powerplay looked like 5 kids got into the liquor cabinet and thought they could still see perfectly straight as they walked sideways. That was pretty much how the passing went as the Penguins cleared themselves out of the offensive zone at least four times. Anyways, it led me to thinking about how the Penguins powerplay converts the most when it looks inebriated and fails when it looks well-positioned. Having just one defensemen (especially when it’s Letang) leads to tons of broken plays, missed passes, bad decisions, and generally awful looking possessions. But, they score. The powerplay *looks* a ton better when it’s two defensemen at the point (Niskanen-Letang, Martin-Letang, whatever), but it isn’t nearly as effective. Basically, the Penguins’ own form of drunken chaos makes them difficult to defend for a lot of their powerplay goals. New thought process: embrace a complete mess on the powerplay. You can’t predict what your drunk friends are going to do and other PKs can’t predict what the drunk PP will do. Looks are overrated anyways (Isn’t that right, everyone watching the VS fashion show tonight?).

Late Game Collapse Attempt – As I noted after the Boston game, and as I will probably note in several games in the next month, the Penguins will be using a lot of inexperienced or less-talented defensemen in key situations at the end of games. In the Boston game, Bylsma used Letang-Despres late in the game to try and hold the lead, which didn’t work. Letang-Maatta then allowed the game-winner shortly after. In this game, Letang-Engelland was the go-to at the end of the game, and they allowed a goal. I know half of you are about to chime in that Letang is the constant factor, but he actually had no hand in any of those three goals. As I said earlier, Engelland is now the Penguins top stay-at-home or shutdown defenseman. Brace yourselves.

Neal Suspension – Neal received a 5 game suspension for kneeing Marchand. He’s rather lucky that the league only gave him a phone hearing (which meant the max penalty would be 5 games) if you ask me. He deserved more. Regardless, hopefully he learns a lesson and gets rid of the dirty aspects of his game. Rob Rossi reported that Bylsma and Shero are not pleased with how he handled questions after the game either. (Rossi also had a unique take on how well we know Neal, which is something I think we all tend to forget with athletes.) It’s time for the organization to have a long talk with Neal to ensure his nonsense stops at this. As for Thornton, he still has to have his in-person hearing.

A few thinking points:

  • If Marchand kneed Crosby like that, what would you want?
  • For the “If Neal got this, then Thornton should get that” crowd, If Thornton’s punishment came out first, would you then compare it to what Neal should get? If Thornton was given 50 games first, what would you think Neal’s should be?
  • What is the logical comparison between Neal’s and Thornton’s actions aside from being in the same game? Does anyone compare the two if they are in different cities on the same night?
  • Credit to @tombyard13 for this one: If this game isn’t a huge black mark with multiple incidents, would the suspension(s) be less? Will Neal and Thornton end up with greater suspensions than usual just because they combined to cause an outcry?

Orpik Update – There were conflicting reports yesterday about Orpik’s status (gee, the Penguins and concussion updates, who would have guessed it). Bylsma was originally reported as saying that Orpik was up and moving around without the usual concussion symptoms early in the day. Shero was then quoted as saying that Orpik is having headaches and neck pain. The second set of reports is what made it onto the Penguins website and what Bylsma said after the game, so that’s what we’ll run with. All we can do is hope for the best at this point. Get well quickly, Brooks.

Pens Record: 21-10-1
Next Game: Friday, 12/13 vs New Jersey, 7pm

Thanks for reading!