Thoughts: Game 38 – Penguins vs Flames

Penguins 4  Flames 3

By: Meesh Shanmugam (@HockeyMeesh)

Goals
Dupuis (7) from Crosby, Kunitz
Zolnierczyk (1) from Bortuzzo, Neal
Crosby (20) from Kunitz, Despres
Niskanen (3) from Crosby, Bortuzzo

Goal Assessment

First Goal For (Dupuis)
Harry Zolnierczyk has the puck in the defensive zone and passes it up to Chris Kunitz at center ice. Kunitz can’t control the pass and redirects it into the offensive zone along the right side boards. Kunitz wins a race to the loose puck and drops it off on the boards for Pascal Dupuis. Meanwhile, Zolnierczyk heads off the ice as Sidney Crosby comes on. Kunitz goes behind the net after dropping the puck off and Dupuis sends the puck down the boards behind the net. Kunitz looks to pass to Crosby but fans on the passing attempt. He ends up skating with the puck to the left corner of the zone, gets some help from Crosby (who then also fans on the puck), and then passes the puck to Dupuis above the left faceoff dot. Dupuis tries to take a quick shot, but is thwarted by a stick lift from David Jones. He gets just enough on the puck to send it down to the bottom of the faceoff circle, where Crosby stick lifts Ladislav Smid to take the puck away from him. Crosby turns and takes a quick shot on Ramo as Dupuis crashes the crease. Ramo makes the save but the puck squirts through him onto the crease and Dupuis pushes it into the net.
Players contributing to the first goal for: Zolnierczyk (1), Kunitz (52), Crosby (60), Dupuis (23)

Second Goal For (Zolnierczyk)
After an offensive zone faceoff, the puck lands on the back of the net in Calgary’s zone. Mark Giordano and James Neal fight for it and Neal ends up skating away with it into the right corner. Neal throws it along the boards up to Robert Bortuzzo at the point. Bortuzzo immediately passes the puck to the left point to Brian Dumoulin, who quickly passes it to the middle of the blue line where Harry Zolnierczyk had come out to provide an outlet. Zolnierczyk continues the puck along to Bortuzzo at the right point and Bortuzzo then sends it down to James Neal at the goal line. Neal sends the puck back to Bortuzzo as Zolnierczyk moves to the front of the net. Bortuzzo skates a little further to the center of the blue line and then takes a slap shot. Zolnierczyk deflects the puck at the top of the crease and it goes in over Ramo’s glove.
Players contributing to the second goal for: Dumoulin (2), Neal (24), Bortuzzo (2), Zolnierczyk (2)

First Goal Against (Byron)
As the Flames have control of the puck in the Penguins zone, Paul Byron chases his own missed shot behind the net and moves the puck to the right corner. The Penguins have all 5 men collapse on the crease, leaving the points open for Byron to make a cross-ice pass to Chris Butler at the left point. Butler fakes a shot as Chris Conner gets out to him and then opts to pass the puck down to Joe Colborne in the left corner. Pascal Dupuis pursues Colborne, forcing him to start skating higher in the zone along the boards until he passes the puck back down into the corner. Simon Despres isn’t aware of his surroundings and doesn’t see Byron skate right past him along the backboards to pick up the puck in the corner. Byron skates up to the left point as Coborne rotates to the slot and Russell moves to the left corner. Conner proceeds to follow Russell instead of staying at the point. With tons of open space, Byron moves the puck towards the middle of the zone above the faceoff circles and takes a slap shot. The puck gets past Fleury’s left pad, hits the post, bounces off of the back of his left pad, the back of his right pad, and then into the net.
Players at fault for the first goal against: Despres (6), Conner (2)

Third Goal For (Crosby)
In a 4-on-4 situation, Lee Stempniak brings the puck into the Penguins zone along the left side boards. Simon Despres hits him along the boards and knocks him off the puck. Chris Kunitz follows up Despres to grab the loose puck in the defensive zone, skates it to the blue line, and then makes a weak one-handed pass to center ice for Sidney Crosby. Crosby grabs the puck and dekes around TJ Brodie at the offensive blue line, giving himself a clear path to the net on the left side. Crosby winds up and takes a slap shot as he reaches the top of the left faceoff circle. The shot beats Ramo cleanly above his glove and just under the crossbar.
Players contributing to the third goal for: Despres (4), Kunitz (53), Crosby (61)

Fourth Goal For (Niskanen)
David Jones exits his own zone with the puck and tries to pass it up to the Penguins blue line. Robert Bortuzzo steps up though and breaks up the pass. Sidney Crosby comes back, picks up the loose puck in the neutral zone, and brings it back into the offensive zone. Crosby pulls up at the right point and passes the puck across to Matt Niskanen at the left point. Niskanen takes a low wrist shot that hits TJ Brodie’s stick blade and deflects over Ramo’s right pad into the net.
Players contributing to the fourth goal for: Bortuzzo (3), Crosby (62), Niskanen (23)

Second Goal Against (Cammalleri)
Mark Giordano poke checks the puck off of Pascal Dupuis in Calgary’s zone. The puck goes to the boards, where Mike Cammalleri picks it up and starts carrying it through the neutral zone. Cammalleri continues along the boards into the offensive zone, and then makes a cross over towards the middle of the ice that beats Matt Niskanen and traps him to the outside. Niskanen stick lifts Cammalleri, but Cammalleri gets his stick back on the puck and takes a quick shot at the left faceoff dot that beats Fleury over his glove.
Players at fault for the second goal against: Dupuis (8), Niskanen (13)

Third Goal Against (Hudler)
Matt Stajan takes a shot in the Penguins zone that goes wide and rolls up the right side boards. TJ Brodie stops the puck at the right point and throws it back down behind the net. Stajan picks up the puck behind the net with Matt Niskanen following him. As Stajan comes around to the left side from behind the net, Lee Stempniak moves to the crease and Jiri Hudler loops around to the slot. Chris Conner follows Stempniak to the crease, but Robert Bortuzzo doesn’t see Hudler and ends up covering an empty area of ice behind Conner. Stajan freely passes the puck because Niskanen chose to try to hook up his arm to the outside rather than his stick on the inside. The pass gets to the slot to Hudler, who one-times it in past Fleury’s glove. Bortuzzo attempted to block it but could not react quickly enough.
Players at fault for the third goal against: Niskanen (14), Bortuzzo (7)

Penalty Assessment

Neal (high-sticking): Bad-Careless, goes for a one-handed stick check on T.J. Brodie in the offensive zone but lets his stick slide up Brodie’s stick and into Brodie’s face.
Vitale (tripping): Bad, trips David Jones on a defensive zone faceoff as Jones tries to skate past him through the faceoff dot.
Crosby (interference): Bad-Stupid, after a lengthy shift battle with Mark Giordano, knocks Giordano over from behind on top of the crease with the puck on the perimeter.
Despres (roughing): Inconsequential, gets into a scrum with Joe Colborne around Fleury and both receive minors for roughing.

Player Assessment

Good

Sidney Crosby – Crosby was in top form on Saturday, recording three points (1g, 2a) and generally causing havoc around the puck in Calgary’s zone. He has made the absence of Malkin almost meaningless as of late. His compete level, which has always been high, somehow found a new level against Calgary too. He was constantly battling against Mark Giordano and won most puck battles he got into. I marked him down for two offensive zone takeaways, winning a defensive zone puck battle, drawing a holding penalty, and then his three points. On the other hand, he did take a stupid penalty for interference (more on that later) and had a couple of giveaways in the offensive zone, but he created an impressive amount of chances through his hard work alone.

Harry Z has overcome all of your hate to be a productive player. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Harry Z has overcome all of your hate to be a productive player. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Harry Zolnierczyk – He still doesn’t have the most polished game in the world, but Zolnierczyk is slowly finding his niche on the NHL roster. He took his game beyond pure speed against the Flames, improving his positioning and rotating around with the forwards well. He set the first goal in motion with a head man pass to Kunitz (and then leaving the ice for Crosby), scored the 2nd goal with a nice deflection in front of the net, and had an offensive zone takeaway later in the game as well. When he’s not getting called for penalties based on his name, he really is a productive player on this team.

James Neal – Neal had a very strong game despite not finding the back of the net. He won three puck battles in the offensive zone, one of which led to Zolnierczyk’s goal. He was also very quick skating around the offensive zone, providing puck support in every lane even when he wasn’t necessarily supposed to be there. Beyond that, he drew a hooking penalty trying to cut across the slot and also had a steal in the offensive zone. The only downside to his game was a careless high-sticking penalty, but the effort Neal demonstrated in this game was superb.

Joe Vitale – While the previous three guys dominated the offensive zone, Vitale took care of things elsewhere on the ice. He intercepted passes in the defensive zone and the neutral zone, made a diving poke check to clear the puck from the defensive zone off of a lost faceoff, stole the puck in the defensive zone as he was backchecking hard through the entire neutral zone, and finally won a puck in an offensive zone battle behind the net. Joe Vitale was basically everything grit and hard work against Calgary. His faceoff work continues to be impressive (3 for 4), though he isn’t getting many opportunities since he is lined up with Sutter frequently.

Robert Bortuzzo – Bort was hardly flawless like Vitale, but he contributed in several positive ways. Starting with his negatives though – he failed to clear the puck twice from the defensive zone, completely missed his assignment on the 3rd goal against, and lost the puck in the defensive zone when the Penguins were holding onto a one-goal lead. You can imagine how good the rest of his game was to be in the Good section with those flaws. Bortuzzo ended up with three intercepted passes in the defensive zone, two assists, two good stand-ups on forwards that forced turnovers, and two poke checks that caused turnovers. Aside from his missed assignment on the 3rd goal, he read the play extremely well in the defensive zone and often quicker than the Flames could react. Bortuzzo has definitely benefitted from a major increase in minutes and it is going to make the battle between him and Engelland interesting if this team is ever completely healthy.

Noteworthy
That mustache is hurting the aerodynamics on Despres. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

That mustache is hurting the aerodynamics on Despres. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Simon Despres – Despres continues to struggle more than usual while paired with Samuelsson (and sometimes Dumoulin as Niskanen and Maatta both missed a little bit of time in the 2nd period). He forced two turnovers in the defensive zone with hits, but he also had two bad step-ups that put his partner out of position and he also was completely unaware of Byron’s movements on the first goal against. Despres has looked very uncomfortable in the last few games and it often looks like he and his defensive partner are playing the game at different speeds.

Bad

Olli Maatta – Maatta struggled through most of the Calgary game with puck management issues. I marked him down for two giveaways in the defensive zone, a failed clearing attempt, fanning on the puck in the defensive zone, losing the puck after running into Niskanen, dropping to the ice for a block in a bad situation, and losing a puck battle in the corner. Simply put, he wasn’t making the right decisions with the puck and it appeared to wear on him as he even looked visibly distressed about his decision-making on the bench after a shift with a turnover. The other thing I wanted to key in on was the bad drop to the ice decision. Against Minnesota, the entire defensive group dropped at every chance possible and blocked several passing attempts. When Maatta tried it in the slot, the forward skated around him and had an open lane to pass the puck but was thwarted because Fleury read it perfectly and jumped forward with a poke check to knock the pass away. As I always say after subpar games from Maatta, just another learning experience for the kid.

Misc Thoughts

Other Player Notes – Matt Niskanen continues to be an amazing presence at the point, notching a goal and leading the team with four shots in this game. Zach Sill (8 for 12 on faceoffs) is starting to turn into a Joe Vitale clone with more PK work and less offensive zone work. That’s a good clone to have. Most of the defense was about 50/50 in terms of productive plays and mistakes; the group is still learning a lot on the fly. Marc-Andre Fleury played decently, but wasn’t at the top of his game in terms of the shot anticipation we have seen from him lately.

It's hard to remember that Maatta is still a rookie defenseman prone to learning mistakes. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

It’s hard to remember that Maatta is still a rookie defenseman prone to learning mistakes. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Impressionable Defense – While last game’s fad was drop to the ice to block passes, this game’s fad was skate towards the corner from behind the net and then make a reverse pass behind the net. The Flames picked up on that fad quickly as they watched every single defenseman do it and they started picking off those passes frequently in the third period. One issue with having such a young defense is that they are extremely impressionable because of how inexperienced they are. If something works multiple times and seems like a safe play, they will start going to that very frequently. Calgary certainly picked up on it and started reading it ahead of time. Part of this growing process will involve the defensemen gaining the confidence to change things up as their opponents adjust during the game.

Officiating, Part 7 – I try desperately not to talk about officiating in here too often, but it’s excessively mind-boggling all of the time. I had no problem with any of the calls that were made. However, I had a problem with how many calls weren’t made, especially in the third period and down the stretch. As usual, the whistles started to disappear and players freely tripped and interfered with each other as they wished. Most notable was a scenario with Neal in the offensive zone where he was tripped, got back up, tripped the defenseman who tripped him, and neither one was called. Oh, okay, rules don’t matter. That’s a good way of encouraging dirty penalties behind the play.

I bet he was a Woo-er. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

I bet he was a Woo-er. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Penalties, FYI – Around the midseason mark (very soon), I’ll provide an update on the goals for/goals against as done through my assessments and also the penalties as I’ve been rating them. Here’s a quick teaser though. Leaders in careless penalties: Crosby and Malkin, Leader in stupid penalties: Crosby, Leader in necessary penalties: Dupuis, Leader in generally bad penalties – Niskanen, Leader in penalties total – Malkin. I’ll put up the whole chart in a week or two. Dear Sid, be less stupid.

Pens Record: 27-10-1
Next Game: Monday, 12/23 @ Ottawa, 7:30pm

Thanks for reading!