Thoughts: Game 44 – Penguins vs Jets

Penguins 6  Jets 5

By: Meesh Shanmugam (@HockeyMeesh)

Malkin (10) from Jokinen
Neal (15) (PP) from Letang, Crosby
Neal (16) unassisted
Jokinen (12) from Malkin, Orpik
Malkin (11) from Neal
NIskanen (5) from Maatta, Kunitz

Goal Assessment

First Goal Against (Trouba)
After a scramble around the net in the Penguins zone, the puck goes out to the neutral zone and Adam Pardy picks it up at center ice. Pardy turns and passes it up to Jacob Trouba entering the Penguins zone on the left side. Olli Maatta steps up on Trouba against the boards and Trouba drops the puck for Olli Jokinen following him along the boards. Maatta gets tied up with Trouba, who skates towards the slot where Matt Niskanen is covering Chris Thorburn. Meanwhile, Olli Jokinen skates into the left corner, drawing Vitale over from the high slot. Thorburn moves along the crease towards Jokinen but isn’t followed by Niskanen, Vitale drops to the ice to block Jokinen’s passing lane, and Maatta frees himself up from Trouba to pursue Jokinen, allowing Trouba to get open in front of the net. Jokinen tries to center the puck and it deflects off of Vitale to Trouba, who shoots it past Fleury while Niskanen is too far back to help out, covering no one.
Players at fault for the first goal against: Maatta (21), Vitale (6), Niskanen (20)

Second Goal Against (Scheifele)
After a scramble around the net in the Penguins zone, the puck is cleared out to Winnipeg’s blue line. Zach Bogosian picks up the puck and passes it up to Evander Kane entering the Penguins zone. Rob Scuderi steps up on him and Craig Adams slashes his stick from behind, forcing Kane to swat the puck to the right side boards. Kane is able to retrieve the puck though as Scuderi pursues him. Kane skates down into the right corner as Scuderi guards him and then throws a backhand pass towards the high slot. Mark Scheifele, being very loosely followed by Joe Vitale, gets the puck and takes a wrist shot from the inside of the right faceoff circle. Scheifele partially fans on the shot and it deflects off of Kris Letang’s stick in front of him as it flutters past Fleury.
Players at fault for the second goal against: Vitale (7), Letang (14)

First Goal For (Malkin)
Dustin Byfuglien takes the puck behind his own net and tries to skate out of his zone as he is closely followed by James Neal. Neal lifts Byfuglien’s stick at the same time that Jussi Jokinen closes in on the play in the Jets zone. Neal’s stick lift causes Byfuglien to lose control of the puck and Jokinen knocks it over to Evgeni Malkin waiting for the play at the right point. With almost everyone skating out of the zone, Malkin skates the puck towards the net with Mark Stuart defending in the slot. Malkin skates the puck to just above the right faceoff dot and rips a wrist shot past Montoya’s blocker.
Player contributing to the first goal for: Neal (35), Jokinen (32), Malkin (49)

Second Goal For (Neal)
On the powerplay, Sidney Crosby wins an offensive zone faceoff on the right side back to Kris Letang playing defense on the left side. Letang skates the puck back to the left point and is followed by Andrew Ladd, so he curls around Ladd and skates down the left side boards. When he gets to the left corner, he’s met by Mark Stuart, so he pulls up and skates back up the boards towards the left point where James Neal is. Pressured by Ladd again, Letang skates along the blue line as Neal moves down the boards, causing Ladd to jump on the passing lane between them and miss both players completely. Letang skates the puck a couple of strides into the middle of the zone, drawing Ladd back into following him, and then passes the puck to the left to Neal, who is now uncovered at the top of the left faceoff circle. Neal gets the puck just above the left faceoff dot, corrals it, and fires a wrist shot short-side over Montoya’s shoulder.
Players contributing to the second goal for: Crosby (72), Letang (20), Neal (36)

Third Goal For (Neal)
After Montoya makes a save on a shot from the point, Devin Setoguchi picks up the loose puck on the goal line to the left of the net. Jussi Jokinen skates in to pressure him, forcing Setoguchi to hurriedly throw the puck up the boards. James Neal steps up along the left side boards to intercept the puck and immediately throws it towards the net (either on net or to Malkin behind the net, but it’s unclear because the puck wasn’t on target for either one and would have hit the side of the net). Zach Bogosian puts his stick out to stop the puck and ends up deflecting it on net, through Montoya’s five hole.
Players contributing to the third goal for: Jokinen (33), Neal (37)

Third Goal Against (Wheeler)
Brooks Orpik takes the puck behind his own net and is closely chased by Blake Wheeler. Wheeler catches up to him and swats at his stick twice, with Orpik losing the puck after the second stick check. The puck floats up to Bryan Little skating in from the right point and Little quickly tries to the play the puck to Andrew Ladd skating in front of him. Orpik breaks up the pass with a poke check and the puck flies up into the air. Crosby then tips the puck as it bounces, but cannot control it and tips it to an area where Blake Wheeler is skating into. Wheeler immediately shoots the puck as it lays on its side, beating Fleury over his blocker on a shot that was screened by several players.
Players at fault for the third goal against: Orpik (16), Crosby (12)

Fourth Goal For (Jokinen)
In the offensive zone, Brooks Orpik picks up a puck at the left point from a shot that went high and wide of the net. Orpik holds the puck for a few seconds as the Penguins move around and then he passes it across the ice to Evgeni Malkin at the bottom of the right faceoff circle. Malkin holds the puck for a few seconds until Mark Stuart approaches him and then he passes the puck to Jussi Jokinen, who is drifting in the high slot. Jokinen quickly takes a wrist shot, which doesn’t leave his blade cleanly as it’s deflected by Chris Thorburn. The shot flutters towards the net and then hits off of Devin Setoguchi’s stick in front and drifts over Montoya’s glove.
Players contributing to the fourth goal for: Orpik (13), Malkin (50), Jokinen (34)

Fourth Goal Against (Kane)
Brooks Orpik gets the puck at the left point in the offensive zone. He tries to make a spin move along the blue line while he’s being pressured and falls over, letting the puck drift to the middle of the blue line. Evander Kane steps up immediately and grabs the puck at the blue line for a clear path to the net. Rob Scuderi attempts to skate next to him but Kane is simply too fast for him. On the breakaway chance, Kane pulls the puck to his backhand in the slot and launches it over Fleury’s glove.
Players at fault for the fourth goal against: Orpik (17)


No more pictures of Pyatt being pretty until he earns it. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

No more pictures of Pyatt being pretty until he earns it. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Fifth Goal Against (Kane)
After the Jets work the puck around the Penguins zone for a couple of opportunities, the puck gets played to Taylor Pyatt in the middle of the zone by himself. Pyatt lightly plays the puck forward for Craig Adams, but Mark Scheifele quickly skates in between them and picks off the puck. Adams tries to battle Scheifele for it, but doesn’t have an angle to work with. Scheifele curls back towards the net and passes the puck to the bottom of the right faceoff circle for Michael Frolik. Frolik tries to the center the puck, but Rob Scuderi drops to the ice and blocks the pass. The puck then deflects to Scheifele crashing the slot area. Scheifele is unable to play the puck as both Pyatt and Adams hook him (creating a delayed penalty situation), but the puck bounces off of his stick blade and to Evander Kane standing just above the goal line uncovered (should have been Scuderi’s man had Scuderi not gone down). Kane then backhands the puck over Fleury’s glove.
Players at fault for the fifth goal against: Pyatt (2), Scuderi (9)

Fifth Goal For (Malkin)
Dustin Byfuglien gets the puck in the left corner of his own zone. He tries to pass the puck to Mark Scheifele just ahead of him, but the puck goes through Scheifele’s legs and directly to James Neal in the high slot. Neal corrals the puck and takes a hard wrist shot as Jussi Jokinen and Evgeni Malkin move to either side of Montoya. Montoya makes the initial save, but the puck rolls up over him into the crease. Evgeni Malkin immediately reaches out and swats the puck into the net behind Montoya.
Players contributing to the fifth goal for: Neal (38), Malkin (51)

Sixth Goal For (Niskanen)
In the offensive zone at the right faceoff circle, Olli Jokinen beats Sidney Crosby on a faceoff. Despite the Jets winning the faceoff, Chris Kunitz quickly intercepts the faceoff win and passes the puck back to Olli Maatta at the right point as he is tripped to the ground. Maatta makes a one-touch pass to the left for Matt Niskanen at the middle of the blue line. Niskanen one-times the puck and it beats Montoya under his right pad.
Players contributing to the sixth goal for: Kunitz (62), Maatta (19), Niskanen (29)

Penalty Assessment

Adams (unsportsmanlike conduct): Bad-Stupid, Adams gets knocked down by Olli Jokinen behind the play while the play is going on. Displeased with that, he takes out Jokinen with a trip after the whistle as both are going to the benches.
Niskanen (interference): Bad, can’t control a puck at the offensive blue line and impedes Wheeler along the boards to keep him from getting the puck.
Engelland (roughing): Inconsequential, gets into a shoving match with Dustin Byfuglien after Byfuglien and Orpik started arguing after a play. Both received roughing minors.
Malkin (hooking): Bad, follows Dustin Byfuglien deeper into the defensive zone from the point and hooks up his midsection trying to keep him from controlling the puck.

Player Assessment


Jussi Jokinen – Though he doesn’t get the recognition that his linemates do, Jokinen was the man who came up clutch and played the best game against Winnipeg. He “only” finished with two points (1g, 1a), but he also helped create the third goal with a strong forecheck to force the turnover to Neal. Forcing turnovers was something that Jokinen excelled at against Winnipeg, successfully doing it twice in the offensive zone and once in the neutral zone. He also added an offensive zone takeaway to his puck management stats. Rounding out his offensive zone work, he led the team with eight shots. Defensively he was solid when most of the team wasn’t. Most importantly, he won a key faceoff at the end of the third period that allowed the Penguins to clear the puck when the Jets were threatening to tie the game.

Geno happy. (Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

Geno happy. (Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

Evgeni Malkin – Geno hit a few rough patches in his return from injury, but his production was good enough to overcome it. The Jets really made an effort to put some big hits on him and he wasn’t fazed at all. He was a little sloppy with the puck, turning it over twice in the defensive zone and once in the offensive zone. He also took an unnecessary hooking penalty in the defensive zone as he tried to keep Byfuglien from getting the puck. On the plus side, he drew two penalties (interference and tripping), forced a turnover with a hit in the defensive zone, and added three points (2g, 1a). The multi-goal effort is a very nice confidence boost for a player returning from injury who didn’t have a lot of confidence early in the season.

James Neal – While I had extensive notes on Neal’s linemates, his game was much easier to judge. There was nothing in the bad column. There were three points (2g, 1a) in the good column, along with a stick lift in the offensive zone that created a turnover which led to the first goal for. Suffice it to say, contributing to four goals and doing nothing wrong is a solid performance.

Olli Maatta – After several shaky performances, a night off, and another shaky performance with improvement, Maatta came back and put together the type of performance we got used to seeing. His stick work was solid in the defensive zone as he broke up three plays in the slot area with his poke check. He also had a takeaway in the defensive zone as he got physical along the boards, something we haven’t seen a lot of with him. Finally, he assisted on Niskanen’s game-winner. He did lose the puck once in the defensive zone and then suffered a bad break on the first goal against as he got caught up with Trouba and then didn’t communicate with Vitale well, but it was still a strong game for Maatta overall.

One of several dazzling saves that Fleury made. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

One of several dazzling saves that Fleury made. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Marc-Andre Fleury – I don’t have a lot to say about Fleury, but I wanted to include him here largely because he let up five goals and did not play a bad game. There are very few times that can be said about a goalie. I won’t rehash the goals since they are well-described above, but Fleury played all of his angles correctly, challenged properly, and did everything he could in this one. The Jets could have easily scored more than five and Evander Kane even said in postgame that Fleury was the only reason the Jets didn’t win. Kane went on to say that he wasn’t sure if many other goalies could have held on to that victory. That was a well-earned victory in reality, regardless of what the stats may say.

Joe Vitale – Vitale had a flashy moment, namely when he slid into the Penguins’ net with the puck staying out somehow, but it wasn’t his best game. He was partially at fault for the first and second goals against in what was just an awful period for him. His game improved the rest of the way, but he was never given a chance to make an impact where he usually does, the faceoff circle. After going 10 for 11 in the previous game (the fourth best performance ever by a Penguin behind Stu Barnes, Jordan Staal, and Tyler Wright), Vitale took zero faceoffs against Winnipeg. Obviously that’s not his decision, but it’s surely an interesting use of talent.

Kris Letang – Letang had a rough start to the game with a very risky pinch into the offensive zone, but he settled into a decent game by the end of it all. On the bad side, he turned the puck over twice in the defensive zone, failed on a clearing attempt, and was partially at fault for the 2nd goal against as the puck deflected off of his stick past Fleury. On the good side however, he broke up two passes around the crease and one in the neutral zone. His poke check was also solid, forcing two turnovers with it. The most notable play for Letang was on the Penguins’ powerplay goal. What Letang did on that play is exactly why it drives me nuts when he makes mistakes. He calmly took the puck to the point, skated it down into the zone, smartly decided to pull it back to the point, faked out a defender with a potential pass, then drew players over before setting up Neal for a wide open lane. It was a beautiful demonstration of skating, puck handling, and decision making. That is the Letang that is worth his upcoming contract. He just needs to be that much, much more.


Brooks Orpik – If Orpik plays a worse game this season than the one he played against the Jets, I will be shocked. He had four turnovers, two of which turned into goals. Most notably, there was the defensive zone turnover that led to the 3rd goal against when he didn’t play the puck quick enough despite carrying it for several strides with the opportunity to move it. Then there was the offensive zone turnover, where he lost the puck at the blue line and let up a breakaway for Evander Kane. On the plus side, he did have an assist on the Penguins’ fourth goal. Orpik’s puck management was just uncharacteristically awful through most of the game. With his lack of recovery speed, that’s the type of game that gets people questioning why he’s on Team USA.

"I FINALLY DID SOMETHING RIGHT!!" (Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

“I FINALLY DID SOMETHING RIGHT!!” (Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

Matt Niskanen – Despite scoring the game-winner, Niskanen was a lock for this section, largely because that’s the only positive thing I marked him down for. As for the minuses – losing the puck twice in the neutral zone, taking an interference penalty after failing to keep the puck in the offensive zone, losing two puck battles against the boards in the defensive zone, and being partially at fault on the first goal against as he drifted into covering no one. The result turned out fine thanks to the goal, but it was certainly one of Niskanen’s more forgettable overall performances of the season.

Misc. Thoughts

Other Player Notes – Deryk Engelland had a strong game in the defensive zone and even added a couple of smart pinches along the boards in the offensive zone. Taylor Pyatt was partially at fault for a goal against for the second game in a row and isn’t winning me over in the slightest despite how much fun the jokes are. Brandon Sutter had a strong, though not impactful game. He supported his linemates with the puck very well and was solid on the PK. He’s really the type of player that you have to watch in person to appreciate properly.

Lineup – As everyone gets healthy, I’m going to run into a problem with critiquing the lineup. Judging the team honestly and objectively, everyone will run into a problem with it. The Penguins have a lot of good, NHL-worthy players (especially on defense) and there are not enough spots for them. My issue here, of course, is Simon Despres. Despres was one of the best players in Friday’s game and was rewarded with a healthy scratch. Before the game, I would have called out Deryk Engelland since he had a dismal game against New York. However, Engelland played very well in this one, so what happens? I want Despres in the lineup, but there is no one I would take out on defense. Soon I will be lobbying for Engelland over Pyatt. As for Bortuzzo, I can’t make an argument for him to play at this point. I don’t see numbers to support the idea and he’s just behind too many people now.

“Bad” Win – Two points is two points, I know. That was surely not a well-earned two points though. The second line came up huge and Fleury came up big in the end, but aside from that, the team was a mess. Winnipeg always brings out crazy games against the Penguins, though no one seems to know why. Toronto and New York (Islanders) tend to do the same thing. BUT, when the rookie defensemen were playing, the Toronto and NYI games calmed down. Would the same thing happen with Winnipeg? It looked like the veterans could use a lesson or two about keeping things simple.

Coach/Player Reactions – One of the more interesting things about this win was how everyone reacted. Bylsma looked pissed when the final horn sounded and he went to the locker room. Neal was short with his interview. No one looked pleased with that game. Good. This team shouldn’t be satisfied with two points; they should be satisfied with perfection. That wasn’t the case in previous years down the stretch when games got uglier and they were just happy to win. That’s a good sign in my book. Bylsma even said in his postgame that it was the type of game where the dvd should be burned, but it was a game they weren’t completely happy with and they wanted to figure it out. I love the concept of this team learning from wins instead of just after losses.

Pens Record: 31-12-1
Next Game: Tuesday, 1/7 @ Vancouver, 10pm

Thanks for reading!