Thoughts: Game 35 – Pens can’t solve Holtby in 3-0 loss to Caps

Published on December 28th, 2014

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.

Capitals 3  Pens 0

Record: 22-8-5

Goals
None

Click here to read the goal assessments

Gm 35 - Goals

Penalties
Sutter (hooking) – Bad (tries to reach his stick around Wilson and leaves it at his waist, allowing Wilson to clamp down on it as he falls to draw a hooking penalty)
Hornqvist (tripping) – Bad (kicks out the skates of Wilson with his right skate as he’s skating by, taking down Wilson for a trip)
Letang (hooking) – Stupid (chases down Ovechkin, who doesn’t even have the puck, from the offensive zone and puts his stick into his midsection so that when Ovechkin falls, it’s called a hook away from the play)
Letang (hooking) – Bad Call (gets his stick parallel and in front of the hands of Beagle on a short breakaway, but never hinders the scoring chance or even gets into the hands of Beagle)
Farnham (high-sticking) – Careless (skates through the neutral zone with his stick in the air and clips Orpik in the face as he’s skating by)

Notable Players

Forwards

Gm 35 - Forwards

Chris Kunitz – Though it would be nice to see him get some pucks on net, Kunitz generally played well in a shot-less night against the Capitals. He thrived under the physical tempo that was set early by the Capitals and had no problem putting Orpik and Carlson down to the ice to force turnovers in the offensive zone. He was also responsible in the defensive zone with two broken-up plays and a takeaway to help out the constantly-changing defense. With only one giveaway and one lost puck, it was another step in the right direction for Kunitz.

Bryan Rust – Rust tied for the team-lead with four shots as he started another game on the first line with Crosby and Kunitz. Most of his shots tend to be bad-angle shots as he streaks down the right side of the ice, but his willingness to put the puck on net is a big plus for him. His speed has been a major factor with that ability as well. One thing that would be nice to see from him would be more of a willingness to get to the middle of the ice, even if it’s higher in the zone, to improve his scoring odds, but he’s performing admirably overall for a kid who was thrust from the minors to Crosby’s line.

Rust even successfully defended Ovechkin 1-on-1. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Rust even successfully defended Ovechkin 1-on-1. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Sidney Crosby – One player who is doing a dismal job of playing on Crosby’s line is Sidney Crosby. I marked Crosby down for five giveaways in the offensive zone and five lost pucks (three O zone, one neutral, one defensive). He was also at fault for the second goal against as he stepped up on Johansson in a 2-on-2 situation in the neutral zone and missed both Johansson and the puck to allow a 2-on-1 situation to develop against Harrington. Crosby’s game turned into a terrible mix of bad luck, frustration, and poor decision-making against the Capitals. He had his chances with three shots, including a short breakaway chance that Holtby (who played a great game) stopped. He also had his fair share of awful luck with two broken sticks on one-timer attempts from the right circle, including during a 5-on-3. Then, there’s the plethora of bad decisions with passes, highlighted by an attempt to pass the puck across the slot through four Capitals defending the lane. That’s a situation where you expect Crosby to find a guy at the far point who is suddenly wide open because the Capitals were so focused on what Crosby could do around the net. Crosby is in a slump; there is no question about that. However, being that it’s Sidney Crosby, I still have no reason to believe he won’t play himself out of it sooner than later. Kunitz improving will help, and maybe so will more time with Rust, but either way, Crosby will find a way.

Defensemen/Goalies

Gm 35 - Defense

Marc-Andre Fleury – Fleury was handed another rough loss through no fault of his own. He continues to keep this team in games when they go through several shifts of ugly hockey. He stopped a short breakaway by Beagle, a couple of chances in the slot by Backstrom and Ovechkin, a couple of poorly-defended powerplay shots by Ovechkin, and also a chance on the crease by Johansson. As for the goals he allowed, the first one was due to Harrington knocking the puck into him, the second one was on a 2-on-1 and a great shot by Johansson, and the third one was due to a deflected puck in front of him. Fleury’s numbers may be falling, but he’s still keeping this team in games when they aren’t always earning it.

Scott Harrington – Harrington had an up-and-down game, but he showed a great deal of promise throughout the game. He did have two lost coverages in the defensive zone and was partially at fault for the first goal against as he blocked the puck into Fleury and then couldn’t defend Fehr or clear the puck, but his mistakes were limited to just that. On the plus side, he had an offensive zone pass interception and three broken-up plays. His positioning looked solid overall and he had a couple of great showings in 1-on-1 defensive situations. He has certainly made a mistake here and there in each game, but Harrington generally looks like he’s ready to learn and adapt at the NHL level right now.

Harrington was burned once on the crease, but has generally shown a good presence there. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Harrington was burned once on the crease, but has generally shown a good presence there. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Robert Bortuzzo – Bortuzzo’s second injury return played out much like his first, with decent positioning but issues with the puck. I marked him down for four lost pucks in the defensive zone to go along with a lost coverage in a sloppy night defensively. It wasn’t all bad though with a takeaway, a forced turnover, and two broken-up plays. He tied for the team-lead with four blocked shots and also added three shots on net as he tried to pinch in to help the offense whenever the opportunity was there. With Downie and Comeau out, Bortuzzo might have to bring out the agitator card soon and that was one part that was missing against Washington.

Misc. Thoughts

Old (Bad) Habits? – The Penguins didn’t necessarily play a bad game against the Capitals, but they looked much more like last year’s team than this year’s team. The first period was filled with long pass attempts to the opposing blue line that were consistently picked off in the neutral zone by Washington forwards and turned into odd-man breaks. When the team had extended shifts in Washington’s zone, there was a plethora of passes but very few quality shot attempts. The team did record 31 shots, but most of those were from the perimeter and they easily had the opportunities and looks to surpass 40. With so many forwards out, the Penguins really need to just put the puck on net and crash the net for rebounds. Simplify the game. The breakouts also need to revert back to their early season trends because the puck support needs to be better getting through the neutral zone, especially for some of the more inexperienced players on this roster.

Orpik may have recognized this playing style a little more than he should have. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Orpik may have recognized this playing style a little more than he should have. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Orpik/Niskanen reception – Orpik received a standing ovation at the game, but there were plenty of catcalls and jeers hurled at him throughout the night and even during the national anthem. I honestly don’t understand why the returns of Orpik and Niskanen were such a big deal. Both players did there time in Pittsburgh, played to the best of their abilities, and took the best opportunities they had available afterwards. Orpik was never a star, but he was definitely a pillar of that team that grew into back-to-back Stanley Cup Final appearances and a Cup win. His play tailed off in recent years and he moved on, isn’t that how it works best? As for Niskanen, I know people were defensive/angry about what he said in regards to the firing of Dan Bylsma…but really, who cares. He’s entitled to his opinion and I wouldn’t be shocked if some current players shared that opinion as well. In retrospect, I’m happy with what they contributed to the team, wish they would have won more Cups, and don’t care about what happens to them now. Best of luck to them.

Injury updates – The Penguins released some wonderful news on Saturday morning as they announced Olli Maatta is expected to be out for only 4ish more weeks as he rehabs his injury and will not require surgery. I apologize for buying in to the reports that he would be out for the season and it’s nice to hear some good news for a change. The only concern in this scenario is the fact that Maatta received a second opinion before the team announced he wouldn’t need surgery, so hopefully that was actually an accurate second opinion and not the wrong one. Today’s pre-practice skate with Mike Kadar included Maatta, Martin, Ehrhoff, Adams, Sill, and Greiss, which theoretically means all will be returning within the next few weeks and some even sooner. Brian Dumoulin was sent down, which would suggest Martin is very close (and that Harrington and Pouliot have passed him on the depth chart). In a bit of unhappy news, Patric Hornqvist will miss a few weeks with a lower body injury.  Kris Letang also missed practice today with a bruise, but he will try to skate on Monday and hopefully will be available soon.

Next Game: 12/29 @ New Jersey, 7pm

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