Thoughts: Game 43 – Pens forget to play 3rd period in 6-3 loss to Islanders

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.

NY Islanders 6  Pens 3

Record: 26-11-6

Goals
Crosby (13) (PP) from Kunitz, Malkin
Perron (9) (PP) from Letang, Crosby
Crosby (14) from Martin, Letang

Click here to read the goal assessments

Gm 43 - Goals

Penalties
Spaling (hooking) – Bad Call (gets his stick to the top of Okposo’s glove, but just taps the top of it while Okposo’s hand is off of his stick, so it looks like a hooking reaction)
Harrington (hooking) – Bad (put his stick into Nelson’s midsection as they chased a puck, then fell, so he ended up hooking Nelson back a little under his arm)
Ehrhoff (holding) – Inconsequential (wraps his arms around Cizikas to hold him against the boards, but gets elbowed by Cizikas so they both go off)
Downie (slashes) – Stupid (slashes Nelson in the back of the leg as he’s skating away in front of a referee to take a minor with less than 3 minutes in a one-goal game)

Notable Players

Forwards

Gm 43 - Forwards

Sidney Crosby – I’m ready to declare the mini-slump (he was slumping, just at a Crosby level of slumping) is over for Sidney Crosby. The three-point night surely makes that an easy claim, but it’s much more about how he is getting his points and where he is playing on the ice. Crosby spent most of his offensive zone time circling around the net, creating opportunities down low in the zone, and moving towards the crease. When Crosby is at the top of his game, these are the areas where he will make his most spectacular plays. Not surprisingly, he had a productive night as he “got back to his game.” He had a goal bounce in off of him from crashing the crease and scored another with quick hands after Martin set him up next to the crease. I marked him down for four pass interceptions and only two turnovers, which was another nice trend to see. The only major issue I had with him was on the 4th Islanders goal, when he stepped up from the blue line deeper into the offensive zone to pressure Hamonic despite the fact that he was supposed to stay back for Letang. His decision to step up led to an odd-man break and the eventual goal. Crosby has made several questionable decisions to step up in similar situations this season, so hopefully his next trend is either back off or start intercepting those pucks. Despite the goal against, it was still a very strong game for Crosby.

"Pray with me Geno, that the bottom six will do something tonight." (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

“Pray with me Geno, that the bottom six will do something tonight.” (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

David Perron – Perron continues to improve his timing with his new teammates and he ended up with a powerplay goal (contributed on three goals overall) to get on the board yet again. He scored on a one-timer from above the left faceoff circle (from Letang, of course), did a great job of backchecking on his own turnover to force a turnover in the defensive zone that led to Crosby’s first goal, and also got the puck to Malkin and drew a delayed penalty on the 2nd Crosby goal. One issue with Perron is that he had a couple of very blatant giveaways in the offensive zone. He defended one of those well and it led to the aforementioned 2nd Crosby goal. The other turned into a disaster though as Perron looked at nothing but Letang for several seconds and then tried to pass the puck to him. It was an easy interception for Hamonic to make and the Isles went the other way on an odd-man break. Perron, new to the team of course, didn’t make the best reads as he tried to get back into the play and Okposo ended up scoring as a result of it. Despite being partially at fault for the goal against, give Perron credit for his hard backchecks in all situations. It appears that he’ll do a good job of cleaning up most of his mistakes. Perron really looks like the perfect addition to the first line so far.

Brandon Sutter – I was disappointed with Sutter and the 3rd line, which should have theoretically gotten a boost from Goc joining them. The entire line played poorly though, mustering one total shot and getting stuck in the defensive zone on several shifts. Sutter specifically had a very quiet game with an offensive zone giveaway and also an uncharacteristic lost coverage in the defensive zone. With Malkin and Crosby both playing well right now, even the smallest additions from Sutter will turn this team into close to unbeatable (yeah, 4th line, I know). It would be nice to see all three centers clicking at the same time.

Defensemen/Goalies

Gm 43 - Defense

Kris Letang – It is getting more and more difficult to find unique ways to praise Letang for his performances. He recorded two assists by setting up Perron’s one-timer and finding Paul Martin to feed Crosby late in the 2nd period. He was also fantastic on defense with two takeaways, two broken-up plays, a forced turnover, and a pass interception. The amount of good things vs bad things that happen when Letang is on the ice with just about anyone is approaching “limit does not exist” on the good things side. The only concern I would have about Letang is how much he is jumping up into the play since he was often found in the corner of the offensive zone, but he also made it back to the defensive crease before everyone else twice in those situations, so it’s clear he can handle it. I’m about ready to start talking about Letang as one of the best all-around defensemen in the league (and admittedly, I hated him two years ago and hated his new contract as well, so great job, Letang).

Paul Martin – Martin was Friday night’s winner of “who gets their night boosted by Letang” since Ehrhoff was paired with Harrington. Of course, Martin had a solid game with Letang as he recorded four blocked shots, two takeaways, a forced turnover, and a broken-up play to go against no major mistakes. He had a beautiful assist (which he may have admitted was a bad shot redirection, but it looked like a pass) on Crosby’s 2nd goal, and more importantly, he was smart enough to rotate down next to the crease as the hero line of 87-71-39-58-7 moved around seamlessly in the offensive zone. Stay tuned for the next episode of who looks great next to Letang.

Simon Despres – Friday night was another tough one for Despres, who has certainly dropped off in recent games. Is there a reason for that though? Josh Yohe has suggested that he believes Despres is injured/playing through an injury, which may explain his struggles a bit. Either way, he’s in the lineup and not doing a great job right now (so if he’s injured, perhaps play another guy). Despres had three lost coverages in the defensive zone and was partially at fault for two goals against. On the first goal against, he was embarrassed by Tavares (he’s not the first to have that happen), who cut to the outside and then inside on Despres and left him in the dust as he went to the net. On the second goal against, he made a poor decision to go for a hit on Nielsen instead of playing the puck, which allowed Nielsen to play the puck while absorbing the hit to set the scoring play in motion. After the Isles tied the game, Despres settled down, but the damage was already done. Hopefully he rebounds well against the Rangers on Sunday.

Is Despres injured? Regressing? Slumping? Drunk? (Kathy Kmonicek/AP Photo)

Is Despres injured? Regressing? Slumping? Drunk? (Kathy Kmonicek/AP Photo)

Misc. Thoughts

Harrington Over Bortuzzo – I loved the decision to play Harrington over Bortuzzo for two reasons: a) Bortuzzo has been less than impressive lately and may have needed a bit of a wake-up call and b) Always play the prospects that are called up instead of making them sit in the press box. Harrington didn’t have the greatest game and was partially at fault for a goal, but I would keep him in the lineup going into Sunday, bring Bortuzzo back in, and sit Scuderi (or Despres if he is actually injured, though there doesn’t seem to be any evidence from the team of that). The other option would be to at least call up Chorney and send down Harrington if the call-up is going to sit. Basically, my attitude is always going to be make sure the prospects are playing.

Shooting the Puck – The Penguins were horribly outshot against the Islanders and it’s easy to see why when the 3rd line gets one shot and the 4th line gets two. Even the 2nd line only managed five. The first goal of the game should have screamed shoot everything when Kunitz put a puck off of Halak’s pads and the rebound hit Crosby and bounced in. That’s what happens when shots are taken and players crash the net. It’s the biggest thing that the powerplay needs (needed?) to improve on and the entire offense needs to work on that as well. One of the more frustrating things about Sutter, and it was demonstrated in this game, is he often shoots for those high corners and will kill an offensive rush (which he did) when he misses the net. Shoot the puck more, shoot for rebounds, and create more chances. The entire team needs to work on this.

Hockey 101: Good things happen when you put the puck on net. (Kathy Kmonicek/AP Photo)

Hockey 101: Good things happen when you put the puck on net. (Kathy Kmonicek/AP Photo)

Downie’s Penalty – Steve Downie’s penalty was terribly stupid and an extremely selfish play. No one will argue that. Here’s the argument – why on earth was Downie on the ice in that situation when he was flipping out just seconds previously about a missed slash? Doesn’t logic suggest that rabid Steve Downie will probably do something foolish when he is angry? That was a big miss by Johnston and Tocchet to let Downie stay on the ice while he was heated late in a one-goal game. That part of Downie will not change, regardless of how much Tocchet can supposedly control Downie. It’s up to the coaching staff to not put him on the ice in such situations if they don’t have to. That one is on the coaching staff just as much as Downie.

Was This Loss Important? – After the game, twitter erupted into arguments over how important that loss was, if it mattered, etc. Did it matter for first place? No. Did it matter overall? Absolutely. Did the manner of loss matter? Yes. You can logic your way to any win/loss not mattering/mattering at any point in the regular season for a team that should easily make the playoffs. My takeaways are mostly on the trends above: shooting, controlling Downie, and getting specific players going. There are two troubling takeaways from losing to the Isles specifically though. First off, the Isles don’t quit and find their best performances against the Penguins. They are a team that feeds off of the Penguins. The Pens need to find a way to match that energy because they aren’t doing it naturally. The other takeaway is the Metro Division standings.

Gm 43 - Metro Standings

The Penguins are not good against the Metro. Everyone else is. That isn’t a one-game takeaway, that’s a half-a-season takeaway. With the new playoff format, that spells trouble for the Penguins unless they figure it out in the second half of the season. Returns from Comeau and Hornqvist will help. Injuries to TBD will hurt. The trade deadline will do who knows what to all four of these teams. Either way, this loss does matter because the Penguins should probably find a way to beat their soon-to-be playoff opponents before the playoffs hit.

Next Game: 1/18 vs NY Rangers, 12:30pm

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