Thoughts: Game 34 – Penguins @ Red Wings

Published on December 16th, 2013

Penguins 4  Red Wings 1

By: Meesh Shanmugam (@HockeyMeesh)

Goals
Crosby (17) (PP) from Malkin, Kunitz
Malkin (9) (PP) from Jokinen
Maatta (2) from Kunitz, Malkin
Crosby (18) from Vitale, Conner

Goal Assessment

First Goal Against (Kronwall)
Sidney Crosby throws a loose puck in the defensive zone behind the net for Olli Maatta to play. Maatta gets into a battle with Pavel Datsyuk behind the net and loses it as Datsyuk outmuscles him. Datsyuk moves the puck along to Daniel Alfredsson to his left. Alfredsson skates the puck into the left corner of the zone and up to the faceoff circle before passing it to Justin Abdelkader above the faceoff circles. Abdelkader taps the puck back to the point for Niklas Kronwall as Crosby chases him. Crosby then goes out to challenge Kronwall at the blue line. Kronwall takes a quick wrist shot that deflects off of Crosby’s stick and takes an odd bounce past Zatkoff’s blocker.
Players at fault for the first goal against: Maatta (13), Crosby (10)

 

Forget the two-headed monster, there is a third musketeer always involved. (Dave Reginek/Getty Images)

Forget the two-headed monster, there is a third musketeer always involved. (Dave Reginek/Getty Images)

First Goal For (Crosby)
On the powerplay, Chris Kunitz retrieves a puck that was shot wide behind the net. Kunitz passes the puck along the right side boards for Sidney Crosby at the right point. Crosby quickly passes it to Evgeni Malkin at the middle of the blue line. Malkin skates the puck a few strides deeper into the zone to open up Crosby for a one-timer and passes it to him. Crosby’s one-timer bounces off of Niklas Kronwall’s leg, off of Jonathan Ericsson’s stick (because Jussi Jokinen was tying him up so he couldn’t do anything), and over to the right side of the net where Crosby was after he had pursued his own shot. Crosby quickly pulled the puck in front of the net and tapped it in with everyone scrambling from all of the bounces.
Players contributing to the first goal for: Kunitz (44), Malkin (46), Jokinen (21), Crosby (52)

Second Goal For (Malkin)
On the powerplay, Brendan Smith throws a puck in the corner to get it away from the slot. Evgeni Malkin retrieves the puck as it comes around along the boards and pulls it to the top of the right faceoff circle. Malkin attempts a shot that deflects off of Smith’s leg and to Jussi Jokinen on the goal line on the right side. Jokinen then quickly attempts to pass the puck across the crease to Chris Kunitz on the back side. The puck goes off of Brian Lashoff in the slot and bounces to Malkin who is skating into the top of the slot. Malkin quickly swats the puck into the net before Gustavsson can react.
Players contributing to the second goal for: Kunitz (45), Jokinen (22), Malkin (47)

Third Goal For (Maatta)
Sidney Crosby wins a puck away from Joakim Andersson in the defensive zone along the boards. Crosby skates the puck to the blue line and chips it up for Evgeni Malkin at center ice. Malkin skates the puck into the offensive zone and moves to the right faceoff circle, where he pulls up and passes the puck back to Chris Kunitz entering the zone after coming off the bench. Kunitz skates the puck two strides into the zone and backhands it across the ice for Olli Maatta at the left point. Maatta takes it to the top of the left faceoff circle and takes a slapshot that squirts through Gustavsson. The puck then bounces off of Drew Miller’s skate and into the net as Crosby shoved Miller into the crease.
Players contributing to the third goal for: Crosby (53), Malkin (48), Kunitz (46), Maatta (3)

Fourth Goal For (Crosby)
In the defensive zone, Simon Despres poke checks a puck off of Drew Miller’s stick and Sidney Crosby follows up the play to pick up the puck. He gives it back to Despres, who settles it down and then throws it up the left boards for Chris Conner. Conner pushes the puck into the offensive zone and battles Jonathan Ericsson for it. Joe Vitale steps into the play to give him support and ends up with the puck at the outside edge of the left faceoff circle. He looks up and immediately passes the puck to Crosby skating into the high slot area. Crosby then one-times the puck from the slot through Gustavsson’s five hole.
Players contributing to the fourth goal for: Despres (3), Conner (3), Vitale (10), Crosby (54)

Penalty Assessment

Kobasew (delay of game): Bad, attempted to chip the puck off of the boards as he cleared the defensive zone but the puck went straight over the glass.
Engelland (match penalty): Bad-Stupid, puts his shoulder into Abdelkader’s jaw as he skates through Abdelkader reaching for a loose puck.
Adams (slashing): Bad, loses a step on Pavel Datsyuk moving to the slot for a shot and slashes Datsyuk’s stick hard enough to snap it in half.
Malkin (holding): Bad, lost positioning on Glendening on a 2-on-1 shorthanded break and had to reach around him to poke check and to also pull him off balance.
Kunitz (tripping): Bad, is skating towards the boards for a loose puck with Jakub Kindl and ends up getting his stick in between Kindl’s legs.

Player Assessment

Good
Zatkoff stood tall in net all game from an ant's perspective. (Dave Reginek/Getty Images)

Zatkoff stood tall in net all game from an ant’s perspective. (Dave Reginek/Getty Images)

Jeff Zatkoff – When Zatkoff started to gain some momentum earlier in the season, it appeared the Penguins were insulating him and protecting him as best as they could (which wasn’t always great anyways). Those days are over and Zatkoff doesn’t care after a 28-save performance in which he only allowed one goal due to a Sidney Crosby deflection. Confidence is oozing off of the backup goaltender with how he is now challenging shots and reacting to bounces. He also looks more efficient in his movements, much like Fleury does this year, so here’s a head nod to goalie coach Mike Bales as well. It’s safe to say that Zatkoff is a legit back up at this point and the Penguins may have one of the stronger goaltending duos in the league all of a sudden. One last thing to think about – with the rise of AHL defensemen on the roster, Zatkoff is starting to play with a group he is already familiar with from last year. That undoubtedly has to make at least a small positive effect on his play.

Sidney Crosby – Watching Crosby’s effort after he makes a mistake is somehow even more special than watching Crosby as he normally is. After deflecting the first goal of the game past Zatkoff, Crosby roared back with a two-goal game and also played a part in another goal (knocking Drew Miller into the crease for Maatta’s goal). He was also great in the defensive zone after his initial gaffe, forcing two turnovers in the defensive zone and providing strong puck support as well. There are very few things that focus Crosby as well as making a costly mistake.

Evgeni Malkin – Until Malkin left the game due to a vicious collision into the boards, he was playing some great hockey and the 2nd line as a whole was the best line early on. He finished the game with three points (1g, 2a) and forced several turnovers in the offensive zone, including one on Gustavsson behind the net. His timing with Jokinen was perfect and Megna’s speed was giving them both room for the first half of the game. As usual, he lost the puck a couple of times, but his work in the offensive zone was setting the pace for the Penguins until his injury.

Chris Kunitz – Aside from a meaningless tripping penalty at the end of the game, Kunitz was solid in a chance to make an impression in front of Mike Babcock for Team Canada. He only notched one assist, but he also played a part in both the first goal (retrieving the puck behind the net to set the play in motion) and the second goal (drawing attention on the back side of the crease). Kunitz continues to do much more than the stat line shows for the first line and the powerplay, something that Babcock surely took notice of on Saturday night.

This is the only proof we have that Matt Niskanen actually left the ice. (Dave Reginek/Getty Images)

This is the only proof we have that Matt Niskanen actually left the ice. (Dave Reginek/Getty Images)

Matt Niskanen – Niskanen probably deserved the first star of the game as he played 29:26 (2nd highest was Maatta at 22:08) as the only veteran presence left on the defense. He was great in all situations (6:02 of PK time, 2:59 of PP time) and managed to play an almost flawless game despite the heavy minutes. I marked him down for a takeaway and three forced turnovers in the defensive zone. Meanwhile, he only had one turnover – in the neutral zone. Ray Shero’s decision not to move Niskanen may turn out to be the greatest move of the season.

Pascal Dupuis – Dupuis made this section for his penalty kill work alone, especially on the 5 minute major to Engelland. He prevented zone entries twice on the PK, forced two turnovers with poke checks, and blocked a shot in the high slot as well. His overall game was solid, but he deserves massive amounts of praise for his work on the PK as he consistently kept the puck out of the Penguins zone in what should have been a much worse situation than it turned out to be.

Noteworthy

Brian Dumoulin – Dumoulin’s surprising NHL debut came after Letang was a late scratch for the game. The surprise continued as he received 18:10 of playing time after Engelland was thrown out of the game. He handled himself very well given the situation. Though he was jittery with the puck at the times (two giveaways in the defensive zone and one in the neutral zone), his positioning was solid. He ended up with over two minutes of PK time and blocked two shots during those shifts. Overall, it was a solid debut and I’m sure he’ll look more comfortable against Toronto. One thing to watch is his 6’4, 219 lbs. frame increases the size of the defense greatly with Orpik and Engelland out. Hopefully he won’t be afraid to use that body because the Penguins need that size right now.

Bad

None

Misc Thoughts

Other Player Notes – Craig Adams did a fantastic job on the PK (6:02 of PK time), though he was only average at even strength. Jussi Jokinen had one of his best games in weeks until Malkin went out, then he slowed down greatly. Simon Despres had another strong game and stepped up well with 20 minutes of ice time. Robert Bortuzzo had a very nice bounce back game and played mostly error free hockey.

Engelland Hit – Are we sick of bad hits yet? Engelland will have an in-person hearing with Brendan Shanahan on Wednesday (which ALLOWS a suspension of 6+ games, but doesn’t require one). The hit itself was a mess. Abdelkader made himself vulnerable by reaching forward for the puck, but Engelland did nothing to help the situation out as he clearly saw where Abdelkader was and put his shoulder through Abdelkader’s jaw. The way Engelland lifts his arm after going through the hit makes it look even worse and lends itself to the idea that the hit had malicious intent. Engelland has been suspended before and I wouldn’t be surprised if Shanahan goes hard on this one with the string of recent incidents as well. Pensburgh had a solid look at recent similar hits; you can check it out here.

The kids can play, and they all will play a lot. (Dave Reginek/Getty Images)

The kids can play, and they all will play a lot. (Dave Reginek/Getty Images)

State of the Team – Kris Letang has been placed on the IR, Evgeni Malkin is out with what is described as a minor, muscular injury according to Rob Rossi, and both Philip Samuelsson (wearing #55) and Harry Zolnierczyk have been recalled to the team (props to Highland Park Hockey for the early heads up). Engelland is not allowed to play until after his hearing (and will likely miss games after that as well). The defense now looks like Niksanen, Maatta, Bortuzzo, Despres, Dumoulin, Samuelsson. The group has an average age of 22.67 and has combined for 578 games with 444 of those belonging to Niskanen (thanks @jmarshfof). Despite the youth and lack of experience, the systems between WBS and Pittsburgh are the same, and it’s clear that John Hynes has done a great job preparing these defensemen to step up to the NHL level. The whole organization, GM to coaches to players, deserves credit for how smoothly this transition has gone in the wake of some awful circumstances.

Special Teams – One amazing thing we have seen during this transition is how flawlessly the special teams have continued with new players. Dumoulin getting over 2 minutes of PK time in his NHL debut is generally an asinine idea, but he played it incredibly well and the Penguins didn’t miss a beat. The powerplay continues to destroy teams as well despite losing Neal. Everything special teams is just a beautiful thing right now and winning the special teams battle will frequently carry this team to a victory even without several stars.  Props to the entire coaching staff yet again.

Thornton Suspension – This has been discussed ad nauseum, so I will keep it short. Thornton received 15 games for the Orpik incident. I am happy with the suspension given the NHL’s current environment (first time offender, longest suspension for a first time offender, sets a new precedent for such situations). I am disappointed in it because I firmly believe ALL suspensions should be longer, including Neal’s. Both players did awful things and both deserved more games for their incident. If the NHL really wants to use suspensions as a deterrent, the time served has to increase significantly. As for Thornton’s option to appeal (which he is deciding on this morning with lawyers and the NHLPA), I think he should. It has nothing to do with him and his incident, but it has everything to do with checks and balances to the system and precedents for future suspensions. How many people fight a speeding ticket even though they were speeding? I can’t blame him if he decides to argue for fewer games and to save some money. Additionally, the NHLPA may want him to even if he doesn’t want to just to set a lower precedent for future suspensions. This is hardly just about Thornton; it’s about every NHL player and especially those that fill Thornton’s role.  Don’t forget, there are several players who fill that role well without losing their head.

Pens Record: 23-10-1
Next Game: Monday, 12/16 vs Toronto, 7pm

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