Thoughts: Game 44 – Slow start buries Pens quickly in 5-2 loss to Rangers

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 Rangers 5  Pens 2

Record: 26-12-6

Goals
Crosby (15) (PP) from Perron, Letang
Perron (10) from Bortuzzo, Letang

Click here to read the goal assessments

Gm 44 - Goals

Penalties
Ehrhoff (tripping) – Stupid (backs up off of the boards to trip Zuccarello in his pursuit of the puck)
Martin (cross-checking) – Unnecessary (shoves Zuccarello in the back and knocks him over for a cross-checking penalty)
Despres (delay of game) – Stupid (plays the puck over the glass as he’s coming around the defensive zone corner with it)
Perron (holding) – Unnecessary (grabs the left arm of St. Louis and pulls him back as they skate through the neutral zone)
Despres (slashing) – Good (slashes Hagelin on a semi-breakaway after Arcobello turns the puck over from the offensive zone to lead to the chance)
Bennett (tripping) – Unnecessary (gets his stick into the skates of McDonagh and brings him down in the offensive zone)

Notable Players

Forwards

Gm 44 - Forwards

David Perron – As the Penguins continue with their inconsistent ways from game to game and period to period, the bright spot appears to have shifted from Fleury to Malkin to Perron. Perron figured in on both goals with a beautiful pass to Crosby in the crease for an assist and his own beautiful goal, which required splitting two defensemen before beating Lundqvist five-hole on a partially fanned shot. Even with his offensive production, Perron still has some things to work on though. He took a bad holding penalty in the neutral zone away from the play, had a giveaway and three lost pucks compared to only a takeaway and a pass interception, and was also partially at fault for the 2nd goal against when he half-fanned on the puck off of the faceoff, knocking it to Zuccarello and then over-skating both Zuccarello and the puck. The effort is there, the offensive prowess is there, the shooting (another five shots) is there, but there are just a couple of mistakes each game that Perron needs to work towards eliminating. Overall, he was still the best of the group again.

Imagine some of these games without Perron's offense... (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Imagine some of these games without Perron’s offense… (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Evgeni Malkin – Geno was flying on the ice with the afternoon start, but unfortunately it didn’t lead to anything on the scoreboard. He had four shots and his line put up another dominant possession game even though he and Bennett had a changing 3rd linemate from Acrobello to Spaling to whoever ended up on the ice. He had two takeaways, a giveaway, and a lost puck. He contributed to Crosby’s powerplay goal by playing the puck to Letang and drawing a defender away from Perron. He was also at fault for a goal when he lost control of a puck in the neutral zone and Stepan took it the other way. Geno looked decent, but the results were 50/50 at best. We’ll say that’s allowed, given his season thus far.

Defensemen/Goalies

Gm 44 - Defense

Thomas Greiss – Greiss hasn’t gotten the workload that everyone anticipated at this point in the season, but give him credit for coming in for a rare appearance and doing a great job of stopping the Rangers. He only allowed one goal on 14 shots to at least give the Penguins a chance to try to mount a comeback after Fleury was pulled in the 2nd period. Fleury didn’t play all that poorly, but the team needed a spark and Greiss attempted to provide that. Oddly enough, the Rangers played harder than the Penguins after the goalie change, but Greiss held his own and only allowed a goal off of a turnover in the faceoff circle. He should get another start this week and hopefully the staff will remember to use him more before Fleury gets overworked going to the playoffs.

Paul Martin – Martin was one of the steadier guys on defense in what was generally a poor performance for the entire group. He had three pass interceptions and three broken-up plays in the defensive zone to go against a lost puck and two failed clears. He did take a bad penalty for cross-checking Zuccarello in the back in the corner, which was a potentially dangerous play. Overall, there weren’t many scary moments on the ice when Martin was out there. He started the game next to Letang and then was switched to Bortuzzo’s pairing later on. The move seemed to help the entire defense out, so it will be interesting to see if Johnston still wants to use a “power pairing” of Martin/Letang or if it’s time to balance out the defense by using two-way guys with weaker links moving forward.

Kris Letang – Letang had an okay game overall by the end of the day, but he had several sloppy shifts and was inconsistent against the Rangers. He had two assists as he set up Perron for the pass to Crosby and he set up Bortuzzo for the pass to Perron on those two goals. He was also at fault for two goals thanks to a couple of unlucky bounces. On the first one, he stepped up on a bouncing pass in the offensive zone that ended up going over his stick and giving Nash a 2-on-1 break. While a bad bounce is unlucky, it was a poor decision to aggressively step up on a bouncing puck without using his body to try to stop it in case his stick missed, which it did. He was also partially at fault for the 5th goal against, when he broke up a pass to Kreider at the crease, but played the puck directly to Stepan at the left faceoff dot. It was a great broken-up play, but he had a chance to control that better than sending it directly to the tape of Stepan. Just like with Perron, the offensive production is nice, but the mistakes cancel it out a bit too much.

A rare disappointing performance for Letang this season should just be a blip on the radar. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

A rare disappointing performance for Letang this season should just be a blip on the radar. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Rob Scuderi – Scuderi had one of his most blatantly bad games of the season against the Rangers. He had two defensive zone giveaways, a failed clear, and two lost coverages in the defensive zone. He was also at fault for a goal against as he actually scored on Fleury with a very nice deflection in front of the net. He did have a couple of good moments with a forced turnover, a pass interception, and a broken-up play, but the Penguins were generally pinned in the defensive zone when Scuderi was out on the ice. He started on Ehrhoff’s pairing before the defense was shifted around a bit, but it appeared that his partner didn’t matter as there was a complete inability to get to the puck and get it out of the zone. I still maintain that giving the veteran a night off would not be the worst idea.

Misc. Thoughts

Shooting Angles – The most frustrating part of this game to me was watching the team make poor shooting decisions on a majority of their shifts. To their credit, they were trying to get the puck on net, which was a step up from the Islanders game. However, the Penguins were predictable on their passes and shots and New York’s defensemen appeared to be ready for each decision. There were several quality opportunities that were blocked and turned into nothing. The forwards generally did a poor job of shifting their shooting angles to find a clear path to the net. It’s easier said than done, but a little push to the left or right before taking a shot is sometimes all that’s needed to catch a goalie off-guard, let alone a defenseman. The Pens were sending pucks towards the net, but now they have to get them to their destination too.

Starting Fleury – Hindsight is 20/20 of course, but this has been a paragraph waiting to happen for a few games since Fleury has played 14 of the last 15. I don’t think his performances have been terrible despite rough games against both New York teams, but I do think he needs to sit more down the stretch. Greiss is a very capable goalie of taking spot starts, and this is extremely important now that Fleury doesn’t even get the all-star break off, which may have been better for the team. There is a lot of talk about how Fleury is starting to struggle with mid-level difficulty shots. I can’t say that I have any logical reason for this, but I can’t imagine a game off here and there would hurt. The Isles attempted 73 shots on Friday – that’s at least 73 reactions that Fleury is making, so maybe giving him the Sunday afternoon game after that off would make sense. I don’t know, again, hindsight is 20/20. Moving forward, I would like to see him playing less though.

Gm 44 - Fleury (Gene J. Puskar-AP)

It would probably help if the team stopped giving wide open shots coming down the wings on odd-man breaks too. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Bad Bounces – The Penguins have definitely gotten unlucky with some bad bounces in the last couple of games (weird non-icing vs Isles, puck hitting the glass and going to the slot against Rangers). While this is bound to happen with a puck on ice, the concerning part is that opponents are still getting to these pucks and/or setting up quicker than the Penguins in these situations. It’s one thing to say that a play occurred because of a bad bounce, but it’s another situation when smart and safe plays aren’t being made by your most talented players. The Penguins look like a bad team in terms of having the confidence to absorb a bad bounce and react to it right now. That’s not systematic, that’s a mental game for everyone.

Metro Troubles Continue – The Penguins dropped another divisional game and the Rangers won the four-game season series. I didn’t think this performance was as much of a Rangers problem as it was shellshock from the Islanders game though. The Penguins stayed back a lot, left large gaps for the Rangers to skate with, and seemed to be worried about the Rangers speed as if they were playing the Islanders. The Rangers certainly do have their speed guys, but it didn’t make sense systematically against the Rangers as a team. Meanwhile, the team struggled to adjust to an aggressive defense that was stepping up on shooting attempts and dropping to block everything. For once, extra perimeter passing may have been what the doctor ordered, but instead the Penguins tried to force passes through defensemen or tried to shoot through them. The Rangers are playing great hockey right now, but the Pens didn’t do themselves any favors with how they game-planned and executed on Sunday afternoon.

Next Game: 1/20 @ Philadelphia, 7:30pm

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