Thoughts: Game 33 – Endangered species Pens salvage a point in 4-3 (SO) loss to Panthers

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.

Panthers 4  Pens 3 (SO)

Record: 22-6-5

Goals
Hornqvist (12) from Despres, Crosby
Spaling (6) (PP) from Pouliot, Despres
Malkin (16), unassisted

Click here to read the goal assessments

Gm 33 - Goals

Penalties
Malkin (tripping) – Overly Aggressive (reaches between Campbell’s legs to get a loose puck and ends up taking Campbell down)
Comeau (interference) – Stupid (hits Mitchell in open ice before either player gets to the puck for an easy call)
Despres (slashing) – Bad (slashes down on Jokinen’s stick and breaks it to prevent him getting a pass coming from Fleury below the goal line)

Notable Players

Forwards

Gm 33 - Forwards

Evgeni Malkin – Malkin continues to dominate this column as he came up clutch again with a game-tying goal late in the 3rd period on a solo effort to get a point for the Penguins. His tying goal was one of pure effort as he battled with Campbell for a puck, was slow/exhausted in getting up, then intercepted the puck from Upshall, took it to the net, and slammed three shots on Luongo while getting cross-checked in the back before putting the puck in. He also tied for the team-lead in shots with five, drew a penalty, and generally carried his rotation of linemates, which was quite a varied group. On the negative side, Malkin did take a tripping penalty and was a bit careless with the puck on some overextended shifts, but you can’t argue with his production.

"Wake up buddy, you scored." (Lynne Sladky/AP Photo)

“Wake up buddy, you blacked out, dominated the crease, and scored.” (Lynne Sladky/AP Photo)

Bryan Rust – Rust had another strong game, though it won’t show up on the score sheet. He had two pass interceptions, a forced turnover, and a broken-up play to go against only one lost puck. His speed has been an asset and was a clear factor leading up to Spaling’s powerplay goal. Once Rust got the puck from Despres in the neutral zone, he turned on the jets to push the Panthers back as he skated to the left faceoff dot, then he abruptly pulled up and passed the puck back to Despres at the point, where there was an ample amount of room created in Rust’s wake. His skating looked superb throughout the night and he was one of the most consistently creative forwards for the Penguins. With Comeau getting injured, Rust took a couple of late shifts on the 2nd line and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him remain in the top-six until injuries play out (if they ever do).

Marcel Goc – Goc continues to underwhelm me and it’s getting more difficult to say it’s because of his linemates as he gets time with Rust and Farnham instead of the likes of Adams and Sill. He lost the puck three times behind center ice and also had a defensive zone giveaway to go with only one defensive broken-up pass. Meanwhile, I marked him down as partially at fault for Jokinen’s goal just as the penalty kill ended because he was in position but whiffed on the stick-lift attempt on Jokinen. Another game, another night of patiently waiting for the Goc that played in Florida.

Defensemen/Goalies

Gm 33 - Defense

Simon Despres – The ascent of Simon Despres continued with a two-assist night as he earned a primary assist on Hornqvist’s goal and a secondary assist on Spaling’s goal. He has done a fantastic job of improving, yet simplifying his overall game with strong skating, passing, and shooting decisions. His confidence is overwhelming right now and he’s making all of the right decisions with it. The only aspect of his game that is STILL a major issue is his penchant for taking bad penalties. Some may argue that his slashing penalty was Fleury’s fault for an ill-advised pass. However, if Despres had his stick on the ice for the pass, that’s an easy stick lift on Jokinen instead of a slash down to break his stick and take a penalty with the Panthers gaining momentum. Though he wasn’t in the box when they scored, he didn’t have a chance to make it back into the play before Jokinen beat Fleury’s glove. At this point, penalties are the only issue left that Despres needs to dramatically improve on.

Marc-Andre Fleury – Fleury played a strong game overall with 34 saves, but it was slightly tarnished by the odd/weak second goal that he allowed to Hayes at the very start of the 3rd period. It has been a while since we’ve seen that kind of trickle-in goal that gets past Fleury, but it was nice to see that it didn’t faze him as he continued on to a great 3rd period and was solid in the shootout until Barkov went with a unique move to win the game. Among Fleury’s better saves were two pad saves on Hayes on the PK, stopping a 3-on-2 chance when the 3rd man wasn’t covered, and stopping another shot by Hayes that deflected in off of Harrington. He finished the game off with a 6-for-7 performance in the shootout, including a beautiful poke check on Huberdeau, but simply wasn’t ready for Barkov’s impressive one-handed flick of the puck to end the game.

It took a unique move by Barkov to finally beat Fleury. (Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images)

It took a unique move by Barkov to finally beat Fleury. (Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images)

Derrick Pouliot – After a near-perfect debut, Pouliot came back down to Earth a bit as he and the rest of the team allowed quite a few chances to the Panthers throughout the night. Pouliot was wonderful offensively and that trend can probably be expected for the rest of his career. He had the primary assist on Spaling’s deflection goal and he showed great awareness and skating skills on the far half of the ice in general. Defensively, he definitely has a few things to work on. Most notably, he had three failed clears as he kept blinding throwing the puck directly to the points instead of using the boards/glass or using shorter passes to build a breakout. As is often the case with young defensemen, he had a little trouble predicting how quickly opponents would get to loose pucks that he was throwing into open areas. He also was partially at fault for the Panthers’ 3rd goal as he deflected the puck into Fleury, and then didn’t tie up Hayes as he jammed at the rebound. I have no doubt that Pouliot will learn these lessons quickly, but there were certainly some defensive growing pains for him.

Misc. Thoughts

Two-Game Goalie Duel – Now that the mini-series with the Panthers is over, I have to say that watching the goaltenders was the most enjoyable part to me. Fleury and Luongo played very well in both games and mirrored each other through the two-game series. Each goalie let up a bad goal, several spectacular saves were made at both ends, and ending the second game with a goalie duel in a shootout was perfect (minus the loss). Even the shootout was impressive as both goalies stopped their first six opponents before Luongo robbed Kunitz and Barkov scored a highlight-reel goal on Fleury. It’s still so early in the season, but this would be a wonderful playoff matchup to watch if it would pan out.

Luongo won part two of the duel with a beautiful glove save on Kunitz before Barkov's goal. (Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images)

Luongo won part two of the duel with a beautiful glove save on Kunitz before Barkov’s goal. (Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images)

Free-Skating Defensemen – The other aspect of this mini-series that caught my eye the most was the play of Letang, Despres, and Pouliot. The three talented, strong skating, offensively-gifted defensemen put on a show during quite a few shifts over the last few days. Letang didn’t even seem to leave the ice at times, including overtime in this second game. The coaching staff has really brought out the best in Letang (responsibility, smart plays) and Despres (opening up his game, more confidence with the puck), which has really helped the team through injuries to Martin, Maatta, and Ehrhoff. Pouliot’s first two games with the team have been a success as well as he has comfortably stepped into the puck-moving methods of the Penguins, even if his defensive game will take some time to catch up. Even with forwards dropping like flies, these defensemen will keep the Penguins dangerous no matter who is left in the lineup.

MORE Injuries – Speaking of forwards dropping like flies, Sutter and Downie returned to Pittsburgh for mumps testing. Blake Comeau was injured against the Panthers as he crashed awkwardly into the boards. No one appears to be returning soon, or at least soon enough, so there will likely be more recalls from WBS today. The Pens radio show after the Panthers game mentioned Jayson Megna and Jean-Sebastien Dea as the most likely call-ups. Megna, because of his time in the NHL already, and Dea since he is leading WBS in scoring right now. At this point, the Penguins just need to get through tonight’s game in Tampa and get to their Christmas break somewhat alive. Many people have suggested that the Penguins need to look into bringing Sundqvist and Kapanen in from overseas, which would probably require some negotiations with their current teams. Personally, I would not make that move. This team is still earning points with a depleted lineup and many of the forward injuries appear to be short-term. The mumps do not last long, which means Downie and Sutter wouldn’t be out too long even if they test positive. Bennett (yeah yeah, I know) should be returning relatively soon. Rust and Farnham have done well enough since their call-ups. I would hate to see Kapanen or Sundqvist brought over just to see the team get healthy and force them out of roster spots or into limited ice time. The Penguins can make this work without them; I’m sure of it.

By the way, if you want an idea of what has happened to the Penguins roster, Sean Gentille made it clear last night:

Tonight’s Game – The game against the Lightning has a lot of potential to be an ugly one. Zatkoff may get the start (probably should to give Fleury a break) and this team has to be exhausted by now. Though Letang looked fine skating last night, it was clear he was making more mental mistakes through overtime as he was wearing out. Malkin also made more and more mental mistakes as the game continued on. The Penguins may be able to skate with the Lightning tonight, but look for mental mistakes, bad passes, etc. That’s the first sign of a tired team. That’s a lot of what I’m expecting tonight in the 3rd game of a vicious four-day, injury-filled stretch.  Just survive.

Next Game: 12/23 @ Tampa Bay, 7:30pm

Thanks for reading!