Thoughts: Game 33 – Penguins vs Devils

Penguins 3  Devils 2

By: Meesh Shanmugam (@HockeyMeesh)

Goals
Dupuis (5) from Kunitz, Crosby
Conner (2) from Sutter, Vitale
Megna (4) from Despres, Engelland

Goal Assessment

First Goal For (Dupuis)
With four players behind the Penguins’ net, Kris Letang skates through and pokes a puck free to Sidney Crosby on the boards in the defensive zone. Crosby holds the puck to draw a forechecker over and then backhands the puck to Chris Kunitz as he exits the defensive zone. Kunitz flips the puck into the air towards the net from just outside of the offensive blue line and it bounces on net to Cory Schneider. Schneider never properly covers the puck with it sitting next to his right pad and Pascal Dupuis skates to the crease and pushes it in.
Players contributing to the first goal for: Letang (19), Crosby (51), Kunitz (43), Dupuis (19)

Second Goal For (Conner)
Joe Vitale steps up on Jon Merrill in the neutral zone as Merrill is trying to dump in a bouncing puck. Vitale ends up with the puck and throws it up the boards for Brandon Sutter at the offensive blue line. Meanwhile, Chris Conner was watching the play develop from center ice and starts heading towards the offensive zone as soon as Vitale has control of the puck. Sutter enters the zone with Eric Gelinas on him and Conner streaking into the offensive zone by himself. Sutter passes the puck to Conner just above the faceoff circles for a breakaway. Conner carries the puck in two more strides and snipes a shot past Schneider’s blocker.
Players contributing to the second goal for: Vitale (9), Sutter (11), Conner (2)

The MegnaMillions jackpot is now up to $500 million after no one expected him to score. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

The MegnaMillions jackpot is now up to $500 million after no one expected him to score. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Third Goal For (Megna)
Evgeni Malkin gets a puck in the trapezoid area after Cory Schneider bats the puck back there in the Devils zone. Malkin draws two defenders to him and then passes the puck to Jussi Jokinen behind the net. Jokinen moves out from behind the net and passes the puck to Deryk Engelland on the left point. Engelland sends the puck across the zone to the right point for Simon Despres to one-time it. Schneider slides in front of the crease to stop the shot by Despres, but he also slides out of position as the rebound bounces to Jayson Megna in front. Megna quickly slides the puck past the left pad of Schneider, off the post, and into the net.
Players contributing to the third goal for: Malkin (45), Jokinen (20), Engelland (6), Despres (2), Megna (6)

First Goal Against (Elias)
After multiple missed shots from the point by a variety of Devils’ players, Anton Volchenkov picks up a loose puck on the left side boards in the Penguins zone. Volchenkov passes the puck off of the back boards behind the net to Dainus Zubrus on the other side. Zubrus throws the puck back down the boards for Steve Bernier behind the net, but Bernier can’t stop the puck and it moves back to Volchenkov on the left boards. Volchenkov throws the puck to the net as Simon Despres and Evgeni Malkin (very) slowly move to challenge him. The puck gets deflected by Patrick Elias (untouched as Robert Bortuzzo was late in getting to him) right in front of Fleury and goes over Fleury’s glove and into the net.
Players at fault for the first goal against: Malkin (14), Despres (3), Bortuzzo (6)

Second Goal Against (Zubrus)
Mark Fayne takes a shot on net from the point and it bounces off of Travis Zajac in front of the net and to the back boards. Zajac chases after the puck and quickly moves it to the left faceoff dot, where Jaromir Jagr is open as Jayson Megna drifts too far to the goal line. Jagr quickly takes a wrist shot that deflects off of Megna’s stick and bounces around the crowd of Olli Maatta, Dainus Zubrus and Marc-Andre Fleury in the crease. Zubrus rotates around Maatta as the puck is sliding to the goal line and he taps the puck into the net.
Players at fault for the second goal against: Megna (3), Maatta (12)

Penalty Assessment

Maatta (high-sticking): Bad-Careless, Maatta attempts to lift the stick of Travis Zajac behind the net and completely misses Zajac’s stick to hit him in the face instead.
Kunitz (cross-checking): Bad-Stupid, After Anton Volchenkov knocks over Joe Vitale, Chris Kunitz cross-checks him in the back behind the play as Brandon Sutter skates the puck into the offensive zone.

Player Assessment

Good
Fleury watches a puck deflect the other way while Letang contemplates the meaning of the puck. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Fleury watches a puck deflect the other way while Letang contemplates the meaning of the puck. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Marc-Andre Fleury – It might be time to just put a permanent fluff paragraph here about how wonderful Fleury is playing this season. He stopped 37 of 39 shots (30 of 32 in the final two periods) to basically steal a regulation win for the Penguins. He stopped two 2-on-1s, a partial breakaway, and a full breakaway in the third period alone. His highlight reel save was stopping a rebound opportunity with his stick as he dove across the crease. As for the two goals against, both were deflected in front of him to limit his ability to make a stop. Fleury is pretty much stopping every shot that he should and several that he shouldn’t. This gets lost in the game-to-game, but his season stats right now: 18-8-1, 2.01 GAA, .924 save %, 3 shutouts. He is on pace for career bests in every category.

Pascal Dupuis – Duper had some giveaway issues at times (two in the neutral zone and one in the defensive zone), but he erased his mistakes in all three instances with pass interceptions and takeaways. Add in his goal (somewhat of a gift, but he was smart enough to keep playing) and perfect penalty kill work, and Dupuis was one of the only Penguins with a positive overall effect in the game. He also forced two clears by knocking players off of the puck, something the Penguins struggled with mightily in this game.

Noteworthy

Jayson Megna – Megna’s speed was a great asset to the 2nd line in his limited ice time (10:24). He finished with a goal and had several other chances, but the team as a whole had issues connecting with passes, hindering his skating ability. Unfortunately, he was also partially at fault for the 2nd goal against as he lost track of his coverage in the defensive zone. With Jagr gliding into open space at the left faceoff dot, Megna looked over his right shoulder to see Zubrus covered by Maatta in front of the net. He never looked over his left shoulder though and only realized where Jagr was once Zajac passed the puck there. He then deflected Jagr’s shot as he was unable to properly step up in front of Jagr. It would have been a rather significant mistake even if no goal was scored, but the result didn’t help.

Bad
Bortuzzo struggled with positioning against the Devils. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Bortuzzo struggled with positioning against the Devils. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Robert Bortuzzo – Bortuzzo struggled in several different areas as the Devils attempted their comeback. He showed poor crease awareness and general bad coverage on the first goal against when he was slow to engage Elias in front of Fleury. Bortuzzo’s mistakes started earlier than that though as he drifted all around the defensive zone during that sequence. He ended up chasing the puck all the way to the point, which is why he was unable to get to the front of the net to cover Elias properly. Later in the game, he misplayed a puck in the neutral zone, allowed it to get into the defensive zone, and then couldn’t clear the puck. This mistake led to over 40 seconds in the defensive zone as the Devils gained possession and took several shots during the shift. Finally, he had two failed clears on his own with weak attempts along the boards as New Jersey players had the boards covered. On the plus side, he did end up with three blocked shots, but it was not a strong game for Bortuzzo.

Evgeni Malkin – Malkin had the right idea early in the game as he tried to carry the puck frequently through the neutral zone (and was often successful). After the Penguins notched their 3rd goal, his play started to change in a bad way. He carried the puck less and started to telegraph his passes from the defensive zone. By the end of the game, I had Malkin marked down for two takeaways in the defensive zone and four giveaways (three defensive zone, one neutral zone). He was also partially at fault on the first goal against, mostly due to exhaustion it appeared, as he didn’t even take a stride to the puck on the boards or Volchenkov. He just glided towards Volchenkov after standing around for a solid 10 seconds in the slot, covering no one. Finally, he was an awful 2 for 9 in the faceoff circle.

Misc Thoughts

He's just so little. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

He’s just so little. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Other Player Notes – Brandon Sutter was 2 for 11 in faceoffs and was taken off the ice several times just so Crosby could take faceoffs (good eye, Bylsma). Craig Adams had trouble clearing the puck all night and didn’t add much for the Penguins. Chris Conner had a nice contribution with a goal, but still gets knocked off the puck seemingly every shift.

Officiating – Let’s be honest, the officiating was awful for both teams. From the very start, this was a “Let them play” game aka “who cares about this rulebook.” Niskanen got away with boarding and Despres wasn’t called for tripping in the first period. Later on Kunitz was high-sticked and Dupuis slashed in the back of the legs with neither called. There are probably 7 or 8 more instances I could add on to this list if I went through the game again. What is the point of having refs and rules if they aren’t going to call anything?

Size/Grit – One of the things that shifted the game completely after the first period is New Jersey woke up and realized they could throw the Penguins around. I noted Crosby, Conner, Sutter, Sill, Vitale, Letang, and Niskanen for turnovers that were caused solely because they were knocked off the puck. On the flip side, I only saw Dupuis, Sill, and Niskanen forcing turnovers with hits. The Penguins as composed right now with injuries and suspensions are just a very soft team and easy to push around. While that’s easy to identify, the solution is a tough one. Just wait for everyone to get healthy? Will everyone ever be healthy? Sill adds nice grit, but he’s still small enough to get pushed around. One way or another, this team will need to add size down the stretch. Tanner Glass was having a great season, but his absence is even more noticeable as you watch the team get manhandled. Right now, they are missing their two heaviest forwards (Glass at 6’1, 210 and Neal at 6’2, 208) and their heaviest defenseman (Orpik at 6’2, 219). Perhaps that is all temporary, but depth and a backup plan wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Turnovers – The other problem that shifted the game completely was how the break out changed. After a successful first period where New Jersey didn’t exactly come out strong, the Penguins reverted back to several of the issues they had against Columbus. Clears from the defensive zone were often weak and frequently not helped out by forwards along the boards. When the Penguins had the puck, they were looking to push it up via pass even when there was room to skate. Instead of taking what New Jersey was allowing, the Penguins wanted to push the puck and the pace. That led to some very long shifts in the defensive zone as the Devils just moved the puck around the perimeter and took shots from the outside with men in front of the net. New Jersey took exactly what the Penguins gave them.

Goaltender Battle – In the end, this game had little to do with the rosters and everything to do with the goalies. Schneider had a very bad start with a horrible first goal, and he played the third goal poorly as well when he didn’t slide straight out on the proper angle. After that first period, he only faced 11 shots the rest of the way. Fleury was spectacular, only allowing two goals that were deflected in front of him. Switch goalies and that game may end 10-0 New Jersey. Despite the 3-0 start, that win was a steal and it was all thanks to Fleury. Great goaltending can hide a lot of problems and it’s doing that a little too much for a Stanley Cup favorite right now, injuries or not.

Pens Record: 22-10-1
Next Game: Saturday, 12/14 @ Detroit, 7pm

Thanks for reading!