Thoughts: Game 37 – Pens finish the calendar year with a 2-1 win over Carolina

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.

Pens 2  Hurricanes 1

Record: 23-9-5

Goals
Kunitz (11) from Bennett, Ebbett
Sutter (8) from Bennett, Kunitz

Click here to read the goal assessments

Gm 37 - Goals

Penalties
Team (too many men) – Stupid (An entire line essentially glides to the bench while players are going onto the ice, so the entire change is sloppy and leads to a penalty)
Megna (holding the stick) – Inconsequential (gets hooked by Lindholm off of a faceoff and also grabs Lindholm’s stick as he falls to the ice, so they both receive minors on the play)
Ehrhoff (boarding) – Unnecessary (shoves Staal awkwardly into the boards by pushing into the numbers on his back to draw a boarding call)
Kunitz (slashing) – Overly aggressive (slashes down on the left hand of Jordan when he’s trying to slash down on his stick to prevent him from getting to a loose puck in the offensive zone)

Notable Players

Forwards

Gm 37 - Forwards

Beau Bennett – Though the jokes will continue for quite a while about Bennett’s crazy injury history, there is probably no bigger boost to the creativity of the offense than his frequent returns. Bennett set the pace for the offense with the primary assist on both goals and four shots on net. His demonstrated superb vision when he found Kunitz above the right faceoff dot from the right corner on the first goal. Meanwhile, his hand-eye was perfect on the second goal when he batted Bellemore’s attempted pass over to Sutter in the high slot. His shot attempts came from a wide variety of areas and included a couple of cuts to the middle, which is something the rest of the team would do well to follow. Stay healthy Beau, this type of secondary scoring could go a long way towards moving the Pens to the top of the league.

Stay healthy, pleeeeeeeease stay healthy. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Stay healthy, pleeeeeeeease stay healthy. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Bryan Rust – Rust had an absolutely terrible first period on a line with Malkin and Crosby, which seems like an impossible task. He lost three pucks in the offensive zone in the first period alone and appeared to work more against Malkin and Crosby than with them (even stealing a puck from Crosby in the offensive zone). He settled down as the game progressed though, cut down on his own turnovers, forced two offensive zone turnovers, and recorded six shots on net. Aside from a great chance in the slot that was stopped by Ward, most of his shots were bad angle shots and that’s not necessarily a decision you want to see with 87 and 71 also on the ice. Overall, it was an *okay* game for Rust, but I can’t find any way to justify his existence on the first line.

Sidney Crosby – Maybe it was too early to say Crosby played his way out of his little slump against the Devils as he reverted back to five lost pucks in the offensive zone and two offensive zone giveaways. He only managed to get one shot on net (since Rust decided to shoot everything) and had a generally quiet game despite playing with Malkin through most it. Malkin and Crosby had one extremely impressive shift during 4-on-4 play (gee, no Rust), but they were not creating their usual level of excitement aside from that one shift. I have no issue with putting Malkin and Crosby together, but Johnston might as well overload the line completely and put another capable scoring winger up there. Even Spaling might make more sense than Rust.

Defensemen/Goalies

Gm 37 - Defense

Marc-Andre Fleury – If your player of the game wasn’t Bennett, it was probably Marc-Andre Fleury as usual. Though he only faced 25 shots, that number does nothing to express the magnitude of the challenging saves that he made. He made a nice save on Staal in the slot in the first period, a huge glove save towards the end of the second period on Tlusty alone in front of the net, and then he stopped a 2-on-1 and a breakaway in the 3rd period before the Penguins took control of the game again. Fleury was the biggest reason the Penguins had a chance to beat Carolina and, as has been the case for most of the season, he held the fort long enough for the team to find their way to another one-goal win.

The numbers don't show it, but Fleury really saved the Penguins in this one. (Keith Srakocic/AP Photo)

The numbers don’t show it, but Fleury really saved the Penguins in this one. (Keith Srakocic/AP Photo)

Christian Ehrhoff – Just like Bennett, Ehrhoff had a very strong return to the lineup and also changed the dynamic of the Penguins offense. He finished with six shots on net (and several more that went wide) in an effort that Johnston was looking for as he harped on shots from the point earlier in the day. His defensive game didn’t miss a beat either with three defensive zone takeaways and a broken-up play. The only major mistake he made was an unnecessary boarding penalty against Staal in the defensive zone. Aside from that, it was a solid return and now it’s time to start wondering if/when Rutherford will try to extend his contract now that we’re into 2015.

Robert Bortuzzo – Bortuzzo had another lackluster/quiet game and I wonder if he will find himself in the healthy scratch range soon with Martin getting closer to returning. Bortuzzo was the only player on the roster that I didn’t mark down for any takeaways/positive plays and he had two giveaways, a lost puck, a lost coverage, and a failed clear. He had a quiet physical game after the chaos against Tootoo and the Devils, which certainly didn’t help him stand out in any way at all. Pouliot or Bortuzzo, who would you keep in?

Misc. Thoughts

Powerplay Still Ineffective – The first powerplay continued to look absolutely terrible. Their zone entries seemed to improve, but they are still not taking enough shots, especially from the middle of the ice. At this point, I would settle for even a perimeter guy taking a quick step to his right or left to alter a shooting lane and then just putting the puck on net to get something to the crease. While the first powerplay can’t figure that out, the second powerplay looked much better as Ehrhoff and Bennett continually put pucks on the net. At this point with the powerplay, I’m reduced to just hoping the team gets shots on net. They can work their way up from there after mastering that process.

Malkin caused chaos in front during 4-on-4 play. This would be very useful 5-on-4, fyi... (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Malkin caused chaos in front during 4-on-4 play. This would be very useful 5-on-4, fyi… (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Missing Fundamentals – When a team can’t score, you would expect that every other aspect of their game has to be perfect to win games. Luckily for the Pens, Fleury has been there when they haven’t been able to score because the fundamentals part has been up and down. Kunitz threw a bad pass through the defensive zone for the second game in a row, Scuderi and Bortuzzo both tried to clear pucks up the boards without even picking up their heads to realize no one is around them, and the first line lost a combined 10 pucks in the offensive zone, mostly because each guy kept trying to skate around multiple defenders. For a “puck possession” team, the Penguins haven’t looked all that smart with the puck lately even when they have still dominated possession and the shot totals. It would be nice to see the offense come alive, but my bigger concern in the long run is just protecting the puck in general.

Fourth Line Help – One line that actually did a great job of forcing turnovers and not losing the puck was the 4th line. They only played 5ish minutes, but Farnham and Ebbett both had some very nice shifts. Farnham forced an offensive zone turnover and drew another penalty (which the powerplay wasted). Ebbett may have had his best game this season with two forced offensive zone turnovers and an assist on Kunitz’s goal. The 2nd and 4th lines definitely did their job throughout the night. Now it would be nice to see the 1st line kick it up a notch and the 3rd line even get an accidental goal at this point.

Next Game: 1/2 vs Tampa Bay, 7pm

Thanks for reading!