Thoughts: Game 39 – Pens look like Oilers in Perron’s debut, lose 4-1 to Montreal

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.

Canadiens 4  Pens 1

Record: 24-10-5

Goals
Perron (6) from Crosby, Downie

Click here to read the goal assessments

Gm 39 - Goals

Penalties
Downie (goalie interference) – Unnecessary (somewhat tries to stop before getting near Price, but then pushes his back into Markov so that Markov goes into Price as they all go down)
Downie (roughing) – Inconsequential (gets into an altercation with Gilbert and they each receive minors)
Bortuzzo (high-sticking, double minor) – Careless (tries to lift the stick of Sekac but ends up hitting him in the face in the process and drawing blood for the double minor)
Crosby (tripping) – Stupid (sticks his right leg out behind Gilbert skating backwards so that Gilbert falls over)

Notable Players

Forwards

Gm 39 - Forwards

David Perron – Perron had a successful debut with the Penguins and often looked like the best Penguin on the ice. He scored the team’s only goal on a one-timer setup from Crosby, which Perron called “probably the best pass I’ve ever received.” He put six shots on net and seemed to work well with Crosby and Downie despite not having any time to skate with them as a line. It was certainly a strong start to his career as a Penguin and one that should get even better as he gets more time with his linemates and eventually joins the top powerplay as well.

Sidney Crosby doesn't want you eyeing up his shiny new winger. (Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

Sidney Crosby doesn’t want you eyeing up his shiny new winger. (Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

Evgeni Malkin – Malkin was around the puck a lot throughout the night, but it didn’t amount to much in the way of results. Though I marked him down for three takeaways, three pass interceptions, and two forced turnovers, he only ended up with one shot on net and his line had a quiet night in general. He also had three giveaways and two lost pucks, which did not help his cause. Overall though, I thought Malkin played a good game individually, but he is being given very little to work with right now and that was very easy to see against Montreal.

Steve Downie – There is no such thing as a normal game for Steve Downie and that trend continued against Montreal. He took an unnecessary goaltender interference penalty (leaning into Markov to put him into Price), drew a penalty, and also went to the box along with Gilbert in a weird situation where the two were shoving and hugging while play continued until the whistle was finally blown. He contributed to Perron’s goal as he gave Crosby an outlet for exiting the zone and then passed the puck along to Perron heading into the neutral zone. He was also partially at fault for a goal when he got sucked too deep into the defensive zone and couldn’t get back to Emelin at the point while also screening Fleury in the process. With a couple of takeaways and a couple of lost pucks, it was a very “involved” game for Downie that seemed to even itself out over the course of 60 minutes. The one thing that didn’t even out though was his quickness to protect Crosby. There were two times where players started skating towards Crosby after a whistle and Downie cut them off immediately. If nothing else, that is a great thing to see without penalties.

Defensemen/Goalies

Gm 39 - Defense

Scott Harrington – After getting the healthy scratch treatment against Tampa Bay, I thought Harrington was the best overall defenseman on the ice against Montreal. He had two offensive zone pass interceptions, two shots on net, two forced turnovers in the defensive zone, and two broken-up plays in the neutral zone. As for his negatives, the only bad play I marked him down for was losing a battle for a puck on the first goal against when he should have taken possession of the puck, but Gallagher lifted his stick to knock the puck away from his vicinity. The only concern I have with Harrington so far is that an unusually large amount of his miscues seem to end up in the back of the net, but part of that is due to bad luck. Even with the aforementioned play, the goal probably should have been called back due to goalie interference. Even with the goal against, it was a strong game for Harrington and now he’ll have to wait and see what happens on Wednesday if Martin returns and if it’s Harrington’s turn to get sent back down.

Christian Ehrhoff – Ehrhoff had an uncharacteristically bad game moving the puck as he continued to pass it directly to Montreal forwards repeatedly. I marked him down for five giveaways, all in the defensive zone as the Penguins kept getting trapped within their own blue line. He was also at fault for a goal against with a lost coverage on Pacioretty when Downie and Gilbert exited the penalty boxes, which led to a 2-on-1 against Downie. I have no reason to believe anything from this performance will carry over into Wednesday, but it’s safe to say that this was one of Ehrhoff’s worst games of the season.

Simon Despres/Rob Scuderi – Though Ehrhoff had his share of problems, nothing could top how awful the Despres/Scuderi pairing was. It wasn’t due to either individual alone either, they were both just terrible. I marked Despres down for four giveaways and three lost coverages in the defensive zone. Meanwhile, Scuderi had three giveaways and two lost coverages in the defensive zone. Both players seemed to completely freeze up with Montreal’s systematic clogging of the neutral zone and they both struggled mightily with pass/skate decisions when trying to exit the zone. I don’t even have any sort of analysis for these two. They were just terrible and hopefully they are never this terrible again.

This was generally the defensive look of the 3rd pair. (Tom E. Puskar/AP Photo)

This was generally the defensive look of the 3rd pair. (Tom E. Puskar/AP Photo)

Misc. Thoughts

Sitting Pouliot – Putting Harrington back into the lineup made sense because you never want your top prospects sitting out for too long. Taking Pouliot out of the lineup surprised me though. He had a quiet game against Tampa Bay, but Scuderi seemed like the obvious option to sit for a game. Not because he was terrible in hindsight and not because he’s probably making more money than he deserves, but because it seems to make sense to sit an aging player in back-to-back situations when the other option is your top prospect who will be sent back to the minors soon probably. Give Pouliot the NHL minutes and give Scuderi a little bit of rest would have been my thought process at least. It will be interesting to see how Johnston uses guys like Adams and Scuderi as the season wears on and whether he tries to force in some rest days for them. Even beyond them, I’m curious to see how he uses Fleury, who has played a little more than I expected so far (though definitely earned). Regardless, I am not a fan of sitting the young guys in the NHL.

Malkin’s Wingers – After playing with Rust and Ebbett against Tampa Bay, Malkin received an (upgrade/downgrade/I don’t even know) as Spaling replaced Ebbett on the “2nd line”. Malkin has had a wonderful season so far. Despite his reputation, he has actually been one of the most consistent players in the NHL this season according to Adam Gretz’s research. Despite his success, I cannot explain the use of bottom-six winger options on his line. Crosby with Perron and Downie is a quality first line. Now ask yourself, is the 2nd line Spaling-Malkin-Rust or is it Kunitz-Sutter-Bennett? Malkin is obviously the 2nd center, but the Sutter *line* certainly seems like the 2nd best one. Why is your 2nd center getting bottom-six treatment? I fully understand keeping Sutter and Bennett together with the good work they have done, but at least give Kunitz to Malkin. Malkin may be able to play with fringe NHLers, but he doesn’t have to with this roster and therefore he shouldn’t.

Malkin skates down the wing, looks up, quits life. (Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

Malkin skates down the wing, looks up, quits life. (Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

Getting Tired – With all of the injuries, a stretch of three games in four nights, and some unusually high ice times for several of these players, it was clear by the end that the Penguins were just fatigued beyond hope. Many of the giveaways were due to mental errors, which become more prominent when players are tired. The team has a very light schedule this month with 12 games in 31 days (now 10 games in 28 days) and the all-star break at the end of the month. More players will be returning soon (Martin possible on Wednesday) and there will be a lot more time to heal up and rest. Regardless of performance, this month should go a long way to helping an ailing team get ready for the stretch run.

Next Game: 1/7 vs Boston, 8pm

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