Thoughts: Game 43 – Penguins vs Rangers

Penguins 5  Rangers 2

By: Meesh Shanmugam (@HockeyMeesh)

Kunitz (22) (PP) from Crosby, Niskanen
Jokinen (10) from Gibbons, Vitale
Jokinen (11) from Gibbons, Sutter
Crosby (23) from Kunitz, Orpik
Kunitz (23) from Crosby, Neal

Goal Assessment

First Goal For (Kunitz)
On the powerplay, three Penguins (Chris Kunitz, Sidney Crosby, and Olli Maatta) battle against two Rangers (Anton Stralman and Marc Staal) behind the Rangers’ net for the puck. Maatta gets a hold of it and then has it knocked off of his stick to Crosby right next to him. Crosby passes the puck up the boards to James Neal below the right faceoff circle. Neal holds the puck as Maatta gets back to the point and both Kunitz and Crosby move to either side of Lundqvist. Neal then passes the puck to Matt Niskanen at the middle of the blue line. Niskanen takes a slapshot that deflects off of Derek Dorsett’s stick. Sidney Crosby turns and allows the puck to go through his legs so he can kick it with his right skate to his stick. The puck goes past his stick, but then to Kunitz. Kunitz kicks it with his right skate to his stick and shoots the puck into the net.
Players contributing to the first goal for: Maatta (18), Neal (33), Niskanen (28), Crosby (69), Kunitz (59)

Second Goal For (Jokinen)
As the Rangers exit their zone, the puck jumps over Derick Brassard’s stick and gets to Simon Despres at center ice. Despres backs up to his own blue line under pressure from Brassard and then passes the puck up off of the right boards to Jussi Jokinen. Jokinen carries the puck into the offensive zone in a 3-on-3 situation and tries to pass the puck to Vitale, who had just skated to the bottom of the right faceoff circle. The pass doesn’t connect, but Vitale chases the puck behind the net and makes a backhand pass to Brian Gibbons, who is following him up on the play. Gibbons gets the puck and tries to skate out from behind the net, but is immediately challenged by Marc Staal. Gibbons then banks the puck behind himself, off the boards, and turns to retrieve the puck on his backhand as Staal commits to his forehand. Having gained a step on Staal, he quickly backhands the puck to Jokinen, who had moved in front of the crease. Jokinen receives the pass and lifts the puck past Lundqvist’s blocker into the top left corner of the net.
Players contributing to the second goal for: Despres (6), Vitale (15), Gibbons (4), Jokinen (30)

Third Goal For (Jokinen)
Rob Scuderi gets the puck back in the defensive zone. He mishandles it, but still swats it up the left side boards into the neutral zone. The puck gets past Carl Hagelin and bounces off the boards in front of Brandon Sutter at center ice. As the puck gets away from Sutter and closer to Dan Girardi, Sutter dives and pokes the puck past a poke check from Girardi into the offensive zone. Brian Gibbons picks up the puck and uses his speed to catch Girardi somewhat flat-footed moving down the left side of the zone. Gibbons starts cutting towards the net and centers the puck into the slot for Jussi Jokinen. The pass is off the mark and goes towards Dan Girardi, who ends up tipping the puck in front of Jokinen. Jokinen quickly switches from his forehand to his backhand and shoots the puck, which goes off of Ryan McDonagh’s stick, then McDonagh’s left shoulder, then through Lundqvist’s armpit as it bounces into the net.
Players contributing to the third goal for: Scuderi (4), Sutter (15), Gibbons (5), Jokinen (31)

Fourth Goal For (Crosby)
After Rick Nash blocks a shot in the Rangers zone, Marc Staal picks up the puck at the left faceoff circle and tries to skate it around the forecheck of Chris Kunitz. Kunitz poke checks the puck off of Staal’s stick and picks it up at the left faceoff dot in between Staal, Nash, and Anton Stralman as well. Meanwhile, Sidney Crosby had stayed in the zone after seeing Kunitz poke check the puck. Kunitz, despite being surrounded, gets a pass off to Crosby at the top of the faceoff circles in the middle of the zone. Derek Stepan tries to back check on him, but Crosby skates the puck to the hash marks, takes it to his backhand, and rips a backhander above Lundqvist’s glove and just under the crossbar.
Players contributing to the fourth goal: Kunitz (60), Crosby (70)

First Goal Against (Zuccarello)
Derrick Brassard gets the puck in his own zone and skates it up to center ice. When he hits the red line, he passes over to John Moore, who enters the Penguins zone with the puck. Moore is immediately pressured by Simon Despres and passes the puck to Brassard entering the middle of the zone. Brassard can’t take the puck as Brooks Orpik poke checks it and Zach Sill backchecks to knock his stick away, so the puck drifts to Taylor Pyatt following the play. Pyatt gets a stick on the puck, but can’t control it, so it goes to the right corner of the Penguins zone. Pyatt and Brassard both chase after the puck, Brassard knocks Pyatt away from it, and Brooks Orpik comes by to poke the puck away from Brassard. Orpik ends up poking the puck along the boards, where Benoit Pouliot picks it up. Zach Sill tries to come down the boards to step up on Pouliot, but Pouliot quickly passes the puck to Mats Zuccarello, who is uncovered at the right faceoff dot. Theoretically, Pyatt should have taken care of Brassard, Orpik should have been able to slide to Moore instead of helping out Pyatt, and Sill should have had Zuccarello instead of sliding to Moore. Instead, Pyatt loses a puck battle, Orpik pokes the puck to the Rangers, Sill can’t slide down to help Orpik quickly enough, and Engelland fails to read the play (he is literally covering air with no man on his side of the ice) and doesn’t slide his coverage to help Sill. Zuccarello takes a quick wrist shot before the two nearest men (Orpik and Deryk Engelland) can step up on him and the shot beats Fleury past his left shoulder.
Players at fault for the first goal against: Pyatt (1), Orpik (15), Sill (2), Engelland (10)

Second Goal Against (McDonagh)
In the Penguins zone, Derrick Brassard takes a tight angle shot from almost on the goal line that Fleury saves after the Rangers have held the puck in the zone for a while. As Fleury makes the save, Brooks Orpik takes down Benoit Pouliot next to the crease and Pouliot grabs Orpik’s stick and takes it down with him. After Fleury makes the save, which hit off of his mask and dropped down, the puck lays loose in front of him. Jussi Jokinen fails to box out Brassard and Tanner Glass fails to clear the puck from the area, allowing Brassard to get into the crease and knock the puck back to the slot area. Mats Zuccarello plays the loose puck off of his skate and chases it down to the top of the right faceoff circle. He moves the puck up to the middle of the blue line for Dan Girardi, who passes it right back to Zuccarello. Zuccarello winds up for a one-timer but doesn’t shoot the puck as Jussi Jokinen comes up to block his shooting lane. Zuccarello instead starts skating towards the middle of the zone as Girardi rotates to the left point and Ryan McDonagh, who had been at the top of the left faceoff circle, starts skating towards the net. Deryk Engelland sees McDonagh moving and starts to slowly back towards him heading for the crease. Zuccarello then throws the puck towards the net and it gets past Engelland’s left skate and to McDonagh’s stick, which redirects the puck past Fleury’s blocker.
Players at fault for the second goal against: Jokinen (9), Glass (2), Engelland (11)

Fifth Goal For (Kunitz)
Chris Kunitz throws a bad pass attempt through the neutral zone into the Rangers zone where it gets to Marc Staal. Sidney Crosby skates into the zone hard though and prevents Staal from cleanly clearing it out of the zone. James Neal follows up the play and picks up the puck on the right side boards. He skates the puck down into the right corner and backhands a pass to Crosby behind the net. Crosby comes out towards the left corner with the puck and tries to backhand a pass to Kunitz in the slot, but Hagelin deflects the pass into the feet of the ref in the corner. Crosby gets the puck back there and throws it below the goal line for Neal. Neal then puts a backhand pass between his own legs to the crease for Crosby, who tries to take a backhand (see a theme?!) shot. The shot goes over the net and Crosby skates behind the net with Anton Stralman on him chasing the rebound. Crosby grabs the rebound as it bounces off the boards behind the net and in front of the right side of the net. He takes a quick shot on Lundqvist that produces a rebound. Neal and Crosby fight for the rebound as Kunitz waits at the bottom of the left faceoff circle. Crosby ends up shoving Marc Staal down, which causes Staal to knee the puck directly to Kunitz, and Kunitz fires it into the net as Lundqvist hopelessly dives across the crease.
Players contributing to the fifth goal for: Neal (34), Crosby (71), Kunitz (61)

Penalty Assessment

Sill (high-sticking): Bad, tries to fight off Conor Allen for a puck in the offensive zone and gets his stick into Allen’s face.
Jokinen (tripping): Bad, Jokinen is below the goal line in the defensive zone and gives the puck away to Derrick Brassard behind the net. Jokinen proceeds to trip Brassard when he tries to skate away with the puck.
Pyatt (cross-checking): Bad-Stupid, chases down Conor Allen in the offensive zone as Allen picks up a dump-in from Brian Gibbons. Pyatt follows Allen and cross-checks him in the back into the boards as Allen passes the puck away.
Crosby (roughing): Inconsequential, gets into a wrestling match with Ryan McDonagh in the offensive zone and they both go for roughing.

Player Assessment

Bortuzzo just grins in admiration of Kunitz-Crosby-Neal, just like the rest of us. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Bortuzzo just grins in admiration of Kunitz-Crosby-Neal, just like the rest of us. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Sidney Crosby – A bunch of scoring, decent defense, and a flash of temper – pretty much Sidney Crosby in a nutshell. Crosby had three points (1g, 2a) and each point was impressive on its own. His first assist was earned as he let a deflected shot go through his legs so he could kick the puck with his right skate (to his stick), but he “failed” and kicked the puck to Kunitz instead (what a shame). His goal was a beautiful backhander under the crossbar that Lundqvist simply had no chance at. His second assist was a little more creative as he shoved Marc Staal down to the ice, forcing Staal to fall into the puck, which was promptly knocked over to Kunitz by Staal’s knee. Was that on purpose? I don’t even know anymore with Crosby. Additionally, he had a key stick lift in the slot on defense and also drew a high-sticking penalty as he finished a hit. On the minus side, he had a giveaway and got into an altercation with Ryan McDonagh. The only reason the latter is a minus is because Sid should *probably* avoid incidents that have fight potential. Be great and be safe, Sid.

Chris Kunitz – Kunitz also had three points (2g, 1a) as he matched his career high in goals for a season (23). While Crosby passed him gifts, Kunitz did return the favor on Crosby’s goal. Kunitz poke checked the puck off of Marc Staal and managed to pass the puck to an open Crosby despite being surrounded by three Rangers in the offensive zone. More than anything, it’s easy to see that Kunitz knows exactly where to be at all times and it’s usually around the crease. Beyond his points, he also had three takeaways in the offensive zone with only one neutral zone turnover.

James Neal – Bylsma’s decision to place Neal on the first line instead of rotating him in worked out wonderfully against the Rangers. He added on offense with an assist and also helping out on the powerplay goal. A bigger factor in his game may have been his backchecking though. Neal did a great job of supporting the top line defensively, notching a takeaway and a forced turnover in his efforts. His only real mistake was a neutral zone giveaway on a stretch pass that he telegraphed a little too much.

Simon Despres – Despres played another strong game and continues to boost his value, whether it’s for the Penguins or for an eventual trade. He led the team with five hits, two of which forced turnovers in the defensive zone. He also set the play in motion for the 2nd goal, intercepted a pass on the PK, and had two perfect poke checks that forced turnovers in the defensive zone. On the negative side, he did turn over the puck twice in the defensive zone during puck battles, but neither turned into a costly play. One thing to note is he was sheltered from the PK a little – more on that later.

Jussi Jokinen – Jokinen had a solid first half of the game, though he almost neutralized that in the second half of the game. He looked great with Brian Gibbons, scoring two goals with primary assists to Gibbons on each one. He also drew a hooking penalty and forced two turnovers in the neutral zone. On the flipside, he took a tripping penalty and was partially at fault on the 2nd goal against. Jokinen had a chance to box out Brassard from the crease to prevent the whole play from occurring, but he just looked back at Fleury waiting for a whistle even though the puck wasn’t covered. Brassard kept playing and Jokinen took an extra second to start up again, leading to the whole situation. His goals outweigh everything, but play until the whistle!


Olli Maatta – Maatta flipped his usual trend of starting quick and ending slow. He had a dismal start, turning the puck over twice in the defensive zone and once in the neutral zone. His play steadied as the game went on though, which is extremely important to watch for with the young defenseman. In the past few weeks, we’ve watched Maatta start off very strong, make a mistake or two, and keep going down that hill. His ability to steady himself is another sign of his maturity and good sign that taking a game off was useful for him. He still seems to lack the confidence he had just a month ago, but the second half of the game was a step forward for that.

Yeah, we know what you were shooting for, Mr. Photographer. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Yeah, we know what you were shooting for, Mr. Photographer. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Taylor Pyatt – Pyatt wasn’t anything special in his Penguins debut. He certainly came out with extra energy playing against his former team and he was quite willing to mix it up. After that adrenaline dropped off, so did his game. One thing he quickly excelled with was helping out with clears from the zone and using his body against the boards to keep the puck from getting deeper in the zone. He made two mistakes though – taking a needless cross-checking penalty in the offensive zone, and losing the puck in a puck battle with Brassard in the defensive zone that led to the first goal against. Pyatt’s game and success in Pittsburgh will largely hinge on his ability to avoid mistakes. He just has to be an even player. He did not succeed there in his debut.


Deryk Engelland – After being the best player against New Jersey, Engelland was unfortunately the goat against the Rangers. It certainly didn’t help that he had to transition how he was playing a few times (more on that later). He demonstrated good puck support for his linemates moving up the ice, but that’s where the positives ended for him. He had two giveaways (one defensive, one neutral zone) and lost his positioning on the PK. Worst of all, he was partially at fault for both goals against. On the first goal against, he failed to slide to Zuccarello, covering absolutely no one as the man on his side of the ice actually went to the bench for a change. On the second goal against, he noted McDonagh going to the net but still let the puck get to him. Take note of the fact that both defensive lapses on goals occurred while he was a forward. On another note, he did basically kill a guy.

Tanner Glass – About half way through the 2nd period, I made a very sad note on Tanner Glass – “Looks like Glass of last season.” I marked him down for one good thing (a pass break up in the defensive zone) and four mistakes. Among those mistakes were two failed clearing attempts and a neutral zone giveaway. The final one was his inability to clear (or even touch) the puck in the crease on the 2nd goal against, allowing Brassard to get the puck and the Rangers to keep possession. Hopefully he just needs more time to get back to full speed and the injury hasn’t led to a permanent regression again.

Misc. Thoughts

Gibbons seems to find a way to succeed anywhere with anyone. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Gibbons seems to find a way to succeed anywhere with anyone. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Other Player Notes – Brian Gibbons looked solid alongside Jokinen and assisted on both of his goals. Joe Vitale had a very strong game, especially in the first period. He forced two turnovers, broke up two passes, blocked two shots, assisted on a goal, and went 10 for 11 in faceoffs. Matt Niskanen and Rob Scuderi both had quietly good games. Marc-Andre Fleury was solid in net, holding his ground well on some tricky deflections and chances on the crease.

Olympic Selections, USA – As you certainly know, Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik were chosen for the US Olympic team. I would say Martin is a no-brainer for his two-way play and puck handling abilities. He has the potential to be a catalyst for the team given the open ice and his general calm demeanor. While I won’t say Orpik shouldn’t have made the team, I can understand people questioning it. Orpik has looked solid this season, especially with his positioning. However, it will be interesting to see how his angles change on a bigger rink and also how he plays when he’s not paired with Martin. I like him as a fringe defenseman for the team, but I could have seen that pick going either way honestly.

Olympics Selections, Canada – Martin Brodeur was asked about the goaltending for Team Canada and made his three suggestions. Who were they? Roberto Luongo, Carey Price, and…Marc-Andre Fleury. Meanwhile, Henrik Lundqvist talked after the game about how Crosby and Kunitz were probably the top line in the NHL. I get the idea these goalies might know a thing or two about hockey. The third goaltender position is completely up for grabs as far as I can tell. It would be awesome if Fleury got it, but I can see them picking Bernier or a handful of others as well. As for Kunitz, if he doesn’t make the team, Canada will regret it. Though Neal is adding a late push, I don’t expect that it will be enough to give him serious consideration in jumping over the other guys that have been discussed.

Bylsma’s Work – Now, keep in mind that I wrote an article about Bylsma at the end of June. It was a long article discussing the merits of keeping and firing Bylsma. It ended with firing Bylsma, not all because of him, but because his players weren’t growing anymore. With that being said, I must give all the credit in the world to what he is doing right now. He has taken what is essentially a 1st, 3rd, 4th, and 5th line (and a 2nd, 3rd, and 4th D pairing), and made it a completely dominant team. His decision to load up on the first line and go with Gibbons-Sutter-Jokinen on the 2nd line worked out brilliantly as they actually played like a 2nd line. Whether it’s putting Vitale on the 1st line, Gibbons on the 2nd line, or Engelland at forward, Bylsma is using the versatility of his players extremely well right now. I admittedly have my reservations with what he can do when this team is completely healthy and if they will actually play to their capabilities, but there is no question he is dominating coaching right now.

Engelland has played very well this year, but he's still Deryk Engelland. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Engelland has played very well this year, but he’s still Deryk Engelland. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Engelland Usage – Now, about that Engelland usage. I’m a big fan of seeing Engelland used as a forward because he adds size/grit and knows how to get the puck out of the zone. The Penguins opted to use Engelland as a forward, except on the penalty kill, when he went back to defense. He played okay on the PK, but looked sluggish at times. Going back and forth is a difficult transition from shift to shift. Coverages change drastically and it messes with instinctual plays and slides. I think that might be asking too much of just about anyone. From what I can tell through ice times, Engelland on the PK kept Despres off of it more (he was 5th in PK time for defensemen). Given how well Despres has played recently, I would rather see him just take the PK time and let Engelland settle in to one position. Engo has been impressive enough with his transition to forward, moving him back and forth from shift to shift is just asking too much.

“Dangerous Shots” – In a recent thoughts post (Columbus I think), I discussed how David Staples of the Edmonton Journal looks at dangerous shots (hard shots from the slot area). Given that background and scoring chances, look at the breakdown of where the Rangers and Penguins took their shots.



Even though the Rangers outshot the Penguins, there is no question Pittsburgh had more “dangerous shots” by a significant amount. That shooting chart also demonstrates why the Penguins are surviving so many minute+ shifts in their own zone. They are still keeping most chances to the perimeter. It will kill them against a team like Chicago, but it is working out fine so far vs mediocre teams.

Crosby Attacks – Sidney Crosby went after Callahan near his own net and then Ryan McDonagh in the offensive zone. Both were named to Team USA on Wednesday. It appears Crosby has gone full-Backes on Team USA now.

Pens Record: 30-12-1
Next Game: Sunday, 1/5 vs Winnipeg, 1pm

Thanks for reading!

PS – Kris Letang has created an Instagram account.  His first picture magically appeared on the day the Pens claimed Taylor Pyatt.  You do the math…

Speaking of Pyatt…Tumblr is a creepy place (thanks @lisarec).