Thoughts: Game 40 – Penguins @ Hurricanes

Penguins 4  Hurricanes 3 (OT)

By: Meesh Shanmugam (@HockeyMeesh)

Crosby (21) from Neal, Maatta
Conner (4) from Jokinen, Neal
Engelland (3) from Orpik, Jokinen
Neal (11) from Jokinen, Engelland

Goal Assessment

First Goal Against (Sekera)
Drayson Bowman picks up the puck in the Hurricanes zone and skates it to center ice before dumping it into the left corner of the Penguins zone. Deryk Engelland gets to the puck first and tries to chip it up the boards, but Nathan Gerbe stops the clearing attempt. Brooks Orpik comes over to hit Gerbe and jostle for the puck, but Gerbe has positioning and slides the puck further down the boards for Jordan Staal. Sidney Crosby stays on Staal, but eventually gets outmuscled by him behind the net as Staal pushes the puck to the right corner for Alexander Semin. Semin immediately shoots the puck towards the net, where Gerbe and Orpik are entangled and the puck gets redirected on Fleury. Fleury makes the save and the puck bounces to Jordan Staal below the goal line, now uncovered because Crosby looped away from him when the puck went to Semin. Staal takes the puck behind the net and gets approached by Joe Vitale, who has completely abandoned his positioning near the point and is drifting in front of the net. Staal gets a pass through Vitale to the left faceoff circle for Andrej Sekera. Sekera receives the pass on his backhand, uncovered, and backhands the puck past Fleury’s glove.
Players at fault for the first goal against: Engelland (9), Crosby (11), Vitale (5)

First Goal For (Crosby)
Andrej Sekera picks up the puck behind the goal line in Carolina’s zone and plays the puck along the boards for a clearing attempt. Alexander Semin pokes at the puck along the boards, but can’t get it out of the zone because Olli Maatta pinches and keeps it in. Maatta quickly grabs the puck along the boards next to the left faceoff circle and flips a backhand pass towards James Neal at the inner edge of the left faceoff circle. Neal can’t take the puck cleanly and it bounces to the inner edge of the right faceoff circle, where Sidney Crosby has entered the play. Crosby backhands the bouncing puck past Peters’ glove to tie the game.
Players contributing to the first goal for: Maatta (17), Neal (25), Crosby (63)

Second Goal Against (Gerbe)
Nathan Gerbe swats at a loose puck against the left side boards in the neutral zone and sends it into the left corner of the Penguins zone. Olli Maatta goes back to play the puck and throws it around the boards behind the net weakly. The puck slides to Alexander Semin along the right side boards and Chris Kunitz glides towards Semin, but doesn’t take a stride to get there in time. Semin quickly throws the puck on net, Fleury makes a blocker save that deflects into Matt Niskanen in front, and the puck drops in front of the crease. Gerbe and Niskanen battle for the puck and Gerbe gets his stick on the puck first, knocking it into the net.
Players at fault for the second goal against: Maatta (18), Kunitz (9), Niskanen (17)

Second Goal For (Conner)
In the defensive zone, James Neal picks up a rebound along the boards from a shot missed by Jeff Skinner. Ron Hainsey attempts to pinch down on Neal along the boards, but Neal passes the puck to Jussi Jokinen skating by him in the defensive zone. Jokinen faces pressure at the defensive blue line and just flips the puck up to Chris Conner at center ice. Conner enters Carolina’s zone 1-on-1 with Ryan Murphy on the left side of the zone. Conner makes a crossover move from his forehand on the left to his backhand on the right as he makes a move towards the slot area. Murphy tries to get his stick on the puck, but misses it and loses a step on Conner. Conner continues to skate toward the right side of the crease and backhands a shot towards the net that deflects off of Murphy’s outreached stick as he tries to keep up with Conner. The puck goes off of Murphy’s stick and through the five hole of Peters on its way into the net.
Players contributing to the second goal for: Neal (26), Jokinen (25), Conner (5)

Third Goal For (Engelland)
After a dump-in into the Hurricanes zone, Jussi Jokinen chases down the puck and beats Ron Hainsey to it against the backboards. Jokinen carries the puck into the left corner and then moves it up the boards to Brooks Orpik at the left point. Orpik quickly passes the puck to Deryk Engelland on the right point, giving him plenty of time and space as Jeff Skinner was forced to cover both players. As Engelland winds up for a shot, Joe Vitale moves to the front of the crease directly in front of Peters. Vitale then jumps out of the way and into Ryan Murphy as Engelland takes a slapshot. The puck never makes it to Peters, but instead hits off of Ryan Murphy and rolls into the net.
Players contributing to the third goal for: Jokinen (26), Orpik (10), Vitale (13), Engelland (7)

Third Goal Against (Bowman)
After the Penguins had already been trapped in their zone for 34 seconds, Ryan Murphy takes a shot from the right point that Fleury saves with his shoulder. The puck flies up in the air and lands at the feet of James Neal in the left faceoff circle. Neal gets knocked away from the puck by Riley Nash and it drifts to the left point. Chris Conner and Ron Hainsey battle for the puck there, but Hainsey can easily sustain a hit from Conner and he wins the puck battle. Hainsey then quickly moves the puck down to the left corner for Drayson Bowman, who holds the puck and then sends it back to the point for Hainsey, now uncovered as Conner drifted lower in the zone when Bowman had the puck. Hainsey settles down the puck at the left point and passes it to Murphy at the right point. Murphy sends it back to Hainsey, now at the middle of the blue line. Hainsey drifts to the left with the puck and then passes it to Patrick Dwyer, who popped out above the faceoff circles as an outlet. Dwyer gets the puck and takes a wrist shot that bounces off of multiple sticks and past the net. Drayson Bowman chases the puck behind the net and Jussi Jokinen chases him behind the net despite being two steps behind. The movement allows Bowman to come around the other side of the net with no opposition as Jokinen is following him and Olli Maatta does not step up to take the puck carrier. Bowman throws the puck towards the crease as he comes around from behind the net and it bounces off of the inside of Fleury’s stick and past his right pad.
Players at fault for the third goal against: Neal (3), Conner (3), Jokinen (7), Maatta (19), Fleury (10)

Fourth Goal For (Neal)
After Marc-Andre Fleury stops a shot with his mask/throat, Matt Niskanen picks up the rebound, skates it behind the net, and tries to skate up the boards. He’s met with opposition from Eric Staal along the boards, so he drops the puck back to the corner for Deryk Engelland to pick up. Engelland gets the puck and moves it to James Neal in the defensive zone picking up speed. Neal skates the puck up the right side boards and moves towards the middle as he enters Carolina’s zone. He loses the puck and it lands on Jussi Jokinen’s stick directly to his left. As Jokinen gets the puck, Neal skates in between Ryan Murphy and Ron Hainsey. Jokinen immediately passes the puck up to Neal as Murphy tries to step up on Jokinen and Hainsey loses a step on Neal. Neal gets the puck and quickly takes a shot that beats Peters through his five hole.
Players contributing to the fourth goal for: Niskanen (24), Engelland (8), Jokinen (27), Neal (27)

Penalty Assessment

Kobasew (hooking): Bad-Lazy, follows Patrick Dwyer into the defensive zone and hooks Dwyer’s midsection for a solid 40 feet, eventually tugging him as he tried to receive a pass.

Player Assessment


James Neal – Neal was easily the star of the game and it went well beyond his offensive production (1g, 2a). This was one of the hardest working, hardest skating games I have ever seen from Neal. Despite splitting time between the top two lines, he got himself into a groove in all three zones and was one of the hardest backcheckers on the team. Beyond the points, I marked him down for two takeaways, two pass interceptions, going deep into the defensive zone for puck support twice, and a good keep on the offensive zone blue line. He also led the team in shots (5) when no one else had more than 2. He was not without fault though with two turnovers. He was also knocked off the puck on the third goal against, but his effort far surpassed the rest of the team. He even made others happy:

Jussi Jokinen – It’s tough to decide whether it’s more ridiculous that Jokinen was traded to Pittsburgh for nothing or that Carolina is handling $900k of his salary. The sure thing is, Jokinen loves to stick it to his former team. He had another fantastic game against Carolina, putting up three assists on the night. He also added three takeaways (one in each zone). On the downside, he had an awful turnover in the slot in the 3rd period, but promptly made up for it by eliminating a shooting chance to clean up his mistake. The other notable mistake he made was chasing Drayson Bowman around the net on the 3rd goal against when he would have been much better off meeting Bowman at the other side of the crease. His mistakes did not matter in the end though with his three-point effort and strong game overall.

Two returns from injury, two returns from suspensions, and voila, a winning team! (Phil Ellsworth/Getty Images)

Two returns from injury, two returns from suspensions, and voila, a winning team! (Phil Ellsworth/Getty Images)

Brooks Orpik – Orpik had a quietly strong game in his return from a concussion. He broke up three passes in the defensive zone, blocked two shots near the crease, and provided Engelland with great puck support in a couple of tough spots for clears. He was very quiet physically (2 hits), but his positioning was strong all game. He had two turnovers (one offensive zone, one defensive zone), but neither even led to a shot attempt.

Robert Bortuzzo – Bortuzzo was another guy who had a quietly strong game. His best work was done using his poke check, with which he broke up two passes on the penalty kill and also forced a turnover in the neutral zone. He also did a great job of standing up players as they entered the zone, ending two zone entries (both on Jeff Skinner) just by not allowing Skinner past him. He played largely mistake-free hockey, only looking questionable when he was knocked off the puck (hit in the back) behind the net once in the 3rd period.


Deryk Engelland – Engelland had a solid offensive game (what?) that was somewhat evened out by defensive struggles at times. He finished with two points (1g, 1a), joining Neal and Jokinen as the multi-point guys on the team (again, what?). He was good for a majority of the game defensively, but he struggled with clearing attempts at times and needed help frequently from his defensive partners. The most glaring mistake came on the first goal against, when he failed to clear the puck past Nathan Gerbe who was two feet in front of him. I marked him down for two other instances where he needed help in a 1-on-1 situation and luckily got it from Orpik and Niskanen, once each. He played a decent game, but Carolina’s speed certainly got to him at times.

Niskanen ponders the meaning of life after letting Gerbe outmuscle him. (Phil Ellsworth/Getty Images)

Niskanen ponders the meaning of life after letting Gerbe outmuscle him. (Phil Ellsworth/Getty Images)

Olli Maatta – Most of Maatta’s good moments occurred in the first 21ish minutes of the game and then it went downhill for the rookie. In the first period, he drew a hooking penalty, forced two turnovers in the defensive zone (one covering for a Niskanen giveaway), and looked very good in 1-on-1 situations. He added to his success early in the 2nd period with a great pinch in the offensive zone on the first shift, leading to the Penguins’ opening goal. He started to slow down after that though. After just one giveaway (which he followed up with a takeaway) in the first period, he ended up with two turnovers and a failed clear in the latter two periods. The failed clear was a weak attempt around the boards which partially led to the 2nd goal against. Furthermore, he read the play too slowly on the 3rd goal against to do anything that would help Fleury out on the play. It wasn’t completely on him, but still partially his fault. Maatta still does an incredible job of making up for his mistakes when he makes them, but he is starting to make more noticeable ones (more on that later).

Matt Niskanen – Niskanen’s game didn’t split along a timeline quite like Maatta’s did, but he was up and down throughout the game. In the end, I marked him down for two takeaways, a good keep at the blue line on the powerplay, good puck support for Engelland in the defensive zone, and a smart play to drop the puck off to Engelland on the game-winner in overtime. On the negative side, he had a giveaway in all three zones and also lost an odd puck battle to little Nathan Gerbe on the crease on the 2nd goal against. Niskanen’s first half of the season has far surpassed any expectations, but he’s starting to trend down slightly (more on that later as well).


Chuck Kobasew – While Kobasew’s contributions were quite entertaining for the first couple weeks of the season, he has looked *almost* worthless since his return from injury. He took a bad hooking penalty in the defensive zone. How bad was it? He hooked the guy for 15 seconds without there being a call, then proceeded to keep his stick there and tug as the puck reached the player. A blind man could have made the call with that amount of unnecessary hooking. Beyond the bad penalty, he managed to skate the puck into the offensive zone on the powerplay and then just continued to skate along without it, leaving it for a turnover. Whatever Kobasew’s original role was on this roster, it doesn’t appear to exist right now and he doesn’t appear to have the same energy either.

Misc. Thoughts

Chris Conner missed a golden opportunity to appease the masses by fighting Nathan Gerbe. (Phil Ellsworth/Getty Images)

Chris Conner missed a golden opportunity to appease the masses by fighting Nathan Gerbe. (Phil Ellsworth/Getty Images)

Other Player Notes – Zach Sill had an odd game, playing only 11 shifts but averaging over a minute per shift (most on the team). He looked okay in general but was a dismal 0 for 5 in faceoffs. Chris Conner continues to be productive, though his size also rendered him useless on the 3rd goal against.  Chris Kunitz had a few lackadaisical backchecks along the boards, one of which led to the Gerbe goal. Joe Vitale looked decent on the first line though he missed his defensive zone coverage on the Sekera goal. Sidney Crosby was Sidney Crosby – made a mistake, made up for it with a goal, passed a little too much, played solid overall.

Injury/Suspension Returns – A three-day Christmas break brought Brooks Orpik and Tanner Glass back into the lineup as Deryk Engelland returned from a five-game suspension as well. Orpik looked the best of the three, playing very well positionally. Engelland struggled at times with Carolina’s speed, which may have been a combination of both rust, and well, his talent level. Glass had quiet return (as did the other two) and *only* recorded three hits. Given his style of game, it will probably take a couple of games for him to return back to full speed in terms of physical play. Overall it was a solid return for everyone.

Dupuis Injury & Future – Pascal Dupuis will have surgery on his ACL in two weeks and is out “indefinitely” (read: likely to miss the season). At his age and given that speed is one of his biggest assets, the injury is a concern for the length of his contract let alone this season. In regards to this season though, the Penguins will have extra cap space to make a move and they have PLENTY of time to do it. Jayson Megna and Beau Bennett, both potential top six forwards on the IR, should return by the end of the Olympic break at full strength. Shero will have time to evaluate his options (and any other injuries at that point) and make decisions then; there is no need to panic and make a move early. Given the level of competition in the Metropolitan division and how this team has performed with half of their AHL roster, Shero can continue to watch his talent and plan for the future based on what he sees. Odds are, any trade he makes will have a long-term impact because most of his tradable assets are now NHL-seen commodities. Expect a billion Simon Despres rumors, but I personally don’t expect any movement for at least a month.

Defensive Zone Issues – One of the biggest reasons the Penguins struggle against Carolina and teams like Carolina at times is because of how the wingers read and react to plays against speed in the defensive zone. More specifically, the wingers are used to a certain pace in regards to helping along the boards in the defensive zone and helping out with clearing attempts. Teams like Toronto and Carolina, aka teams that are willing to pinch more and push speed into the zone at the risk of giving up chances, often push the pace beyond what the Pens’ wingers are used to. It is often something I harp on with Kunitz because he’s frequently the winger with the most ice time, and he fell prey to it on the 2nd goal against. Kunitz and Semin both should have been skating to the boards for the puck, but Kunitz was just gliding in as Semin easily skated to the puck first and put it on net, resulting in Gerbe’s goal. It was hardly just Kunitz though, other players I marked for failed clearing help: Conner, Jokinen, Neal, Sill, Adams. All are generally solid defensive players, but they don’t adjust their games quickly enough to teams like Carolina. It’s a very fixable problem; the wingers just have to identify it and act more responsibly about it. Skate harder back to the defensive zone, skate deeper into the zone to help defensemen clear the puck, and win those puck battles along the boards.

More on Maatta/Niskanen – My concern for this pairing is increasing each game at this point. If you buy into my goal assessments at all: a) over the last 6 games, Niskanen has been at fault for at least one goal against five times (two goals against twice), b) over the last 8 games, Maatta has been at fault for at least one goal against six times (two goals against twice). Now, I realize the obvious correlations. They have both seen an increase in minutes and competition with every other defenseman going down for one reason or another. Of course, Maatta is only a 19-year-old rookie as well. While that certainly gives them some leeway, mistakes are still mistakes and I’m judging them based on their mistakes, not just the goals they are on the ice for. Maatta is great for a 19-year-old, but no one in the NHL cares that he’s 19 when they are trying to take advantage of his coverage. Two things to watch for: 1) With Niskanen – he is starting to drift on his coverages around the crease and seems to end up on the wrong side of how a player holds his stick to tie him up, and 2) Maatta is hesitating on some gap coverages, and more importantly, appears to wear down as games go on. They have both done a marvelous job with the situations they have been put in, but those are things to watch objectively to see how they progress…or wear down.

Pens Record: 28-11-1
Next Game: Sunday, 12/29 @ Columbus, 6pm

Thanks for reading!