Thoughts: Game 45 – Penguins @ Canucks

Penguins 5  Canucks 4 (SO)

By: Meesh Shanmugam (@HockeyMeesh)

Gibbons (2) unassisted
Malkin (12) from Neal, Maatta
Letang (7) from Jokinen, Crosby
Crosby (24) from Kunitz, Jokinen
SO Winner: Crosby

Goal Assessment

First Goal For (Gibbons)
In the defensive zone, Sidney Crosby loses a faceoff to Brad Richardson. Richardson chips the puck back to the left point for Dan Hamhuis. Hamhuis can’t handle the puck as it bounces over his stick and over the blue line into the neutral zone. Brian Gibbons, who skated straight out to the area behind Richardson off of the faceoff, continues on towards Hamhuis and grabs the puck in the neutral zone while Hamhuis is flat-footed trying to control it. Gibbons takes the puck at the red line along the right side boards and stays about two strides ahead of Jannik Hansen on a breakaway. Gibbons fends off Hansen’s attempt at a stick lift as he moves towards the slot, and then makes a quick move to his backhand, then back to his forehand to open Lack up. He finishes the play by sliding the puck through Lack’s five hole for the goal.
Players contributing to the first goal for: Gibbons (6)

Second Goal For (Malkin)
In the defensive zone, Jannik Hansen is skating behind the Penguins net with the puck. Evgeni Malkin stays with him stride for stride and knocks him into the boards, stealing the puck in the process. He passes the puck up the right side boards to Brandon Sutter, still in the defensive zone, and Sutter moves the puck right back to Malkin picking up speed. Malkin carries the puck to the defensive blue line and passes it to the left to Olli Maatta in the neutral zone. Maatta skates the puck into the Canucks zone on the left side and drops the puck for Malkin, now trailing him. Malkin then drops the puck for James Neal, who had circled behind him, and Malkin heads towards the high slot. Neal fakes a shot and then passes the puck towards Malkin in the high slot. Malkin tries to one-time the puck, but Hansen backchecks to get a stick on the puck. Hansen can’t stop the puck though, and it still slides to Malkin slowly. Malkin then quickly pulls his stick back again and takes a wrist shot that goes past a screen of Frank Corrado and Brad Richardson to beat Lack on his glove side.
Players contributing to the second goal for: Sutter (16), Maatta (20), Neal (39), Malkin (52)

First Goal Against (Garrison)
After the Canucks dump the puck into the Penguins zone and it’s played around the boards, Brooks Orpik and Mike Santorelli get into a battle for the puck in the right corner of the zone. Sidney Crosby comes over and picks up the loose puck, then backhands it up the middle of the zone (behind Brian Gibbons) directly to Jason Garrison above the faceoff circles. Garrison immediately fires a wrist shot into the top corner of the net past Fleury’s blocker/shoulder.
Players at fault for the first goal against: Crosby (13)

Second Goal Against (Tanev)
Brian Gibbons skates the puck deep into the Canucks zone and then passes the puck back for Sidney Crosby. The pass goes to Chris Tanev though, who tips the puck into open space. Mike Santorelli picks up the loose puck in the Canucks zone and passes it up to Ryan Kesler skating down the left side boards in the neutral zone while Crosby and Gibbons are trapped in Vancouver’s zone. Kesler cuts to the middle as he enters the Penguins zone and then moves to the right, where he drops the puck off for Zack Kassian as the Canucks set up a 4-on-3 in the Penguins zone. Kassian passes the puck across to Tanev, uncovered in the slot. Tanev takes a quick wrist shot that Fleury saves as Gibbons backchecks and dives at Tanev’s stick. The rebound goes to the left corner of the zone and Gibbons slides all the way into the backboards behind the goal line. Tanev retrieves the rebound with no opposition since Gibbons is down and then passes the puck to the left point to Dan Hamhuis. Hamhuis gets pressured by Crosby and passes the puck back down to Tanev as he moves up to the top of the left faceoff circle, still uncovered as Gibbons is just getting up. Tanev then takes a wrist shot/pass towards the crease that is going wide but glances off of Olli Maatta’s left skate and into the net.
Players at fault for the second goal against: Gibbons (2), Maatta (22)

Third Goal Against (Higgins)
In the offensive zone, Joe Vitale takes the puck to the crease and slides a backhand shot at Lack, who makes the save. The puck rebounds towards the slot, but gets stuck under Yannick Weber. Jannik Hansen digs the puck out from underneath Weber. As soon as he gets the puck, Chris Higgins, who is covered by Simon Despres at the left point, starts to work his way across the ice and past Despres. Hansen skates the puck out to the Canucks blue line and passes it up for Higgins at the left side of the Penguins’ blue line, already past Despres. Higgins skates in on a breakaway, pulls the puck across the slot to his backhand, and slides the puck through Fleury’s five hole as Fleury opens up along the crease.
Players at fault for the third goal against: Despres (7)

Fourth Goal Against (Kassian)
James Neal takes a shot that Eddie Lack stops, leaving a rebound bouncing into the slot. Zack Kassian comes back into the zone to pick up the puck in the high slot of the Canucks zone and skates it out. Kassian passes to Chris Higgins on the left side boards as the Canucks enter Pittsburgh’s zone. Kassian continues to the net and Higgins attempts to get the puck to him. Rob Scuderi gets a stick on the attempted pass, knocking it into the air. Kassian, covered by Brooks Orpik, knocks the puck down out of the air and then backhands it as it bounces on its side over Marc-Andre Fleury’s left shoulder from a tight angle.
Players at fault for the fourth goal against: None, sometimes a player just does something ridiculous.

Third Goal For (Letang)
With Marc-Andre Fleury pulled, Sidney Crosby wins a faceoff in the right circle in the Canucks zone. The puck goes back to Jussi Jokinen at the right point. Jokinen then passes the puck to Kris Letang at the middle of the blue line. Letang one-times a shot that Lack gets a piece of his glove on, but can’t stop as it caroms off the inside of the post and into the net.
Players contributing to the third goal for: Crosby (73), Jokinen (35), Letang (21)

Fourth Goal For (Crosby)
With Fleury pulled again, the Penguins get the puck into Vancouver’s zone, where it’s picked up by Chris Tanev along the left side boards. Tanev moves the puck behind the boards for Dan Hamhuis, who can’t cleanly handle the puck. Sidney Crosby meets Hamhuis along the right side boards and they battle for the puck. Crosby knocks him off the puck and takes it, then tries to pass to a pinching Kris Letang at the top of the right faceoff circle. Chris Higgins gets to the puck first though and pokes it across the ice. Jussi Jokinen, who had come on as Fleury left the ice, grabs the puck above the left faceoff circle and fires a wrist shot at the net. The shot makes it to the crease, where Dan Hamhuis deflects it straight up into the air. Chris Kunitz backhands it out of the air towards Crosby on the other side of the crease. Crosby stops the puck with his right skate, lets it bounce to his stick, and then drops to one knee as he slides the puck past Lack to tie the game with 54.9 seconds left.
Players contributing to the fourth goal for: Jokinen (36), Kunitz (63), Crosby (74)

James Neal, you're a muppet. (Credit:

James Neal, you’re a muppet. (Credit:

Penalty Assessment

Pyatt (interference): Bad Call, Pyatt knocks over Darren Archibald along the boards in the offensive zone as the puck goes over Archibald’s stick and past him. The puck was there, so it shouldn’t have been interference.
Despres (tripping): Bad, Simon Despres swings his stick for a loose puck along the boards in the defensive zone and catches Daniel Sedin’s feet with his stick blade, taking him down.

Player Assessment


Evgeni Malkin – The box score takes some luster out of Malkin’s game since he had four missed shots and went 4 for 16 on faceoffs, but his overall play was strong. He was a menace in the defensive zone with two takeaways and a poke check that forced a turnover. He also had a takeaway in the offensive zone and won a puck battle along the boards. He capped it all off with an impressive goal from the slot where a one-timer went awry but he reacted very quickly and still managed a wrist shot on net that beat Lack. Besides the missed shots and lost faceoffs, Geno did lose the puck in the offensive zone three times, one of which led to a breakaway (stopped by Fleury). Overall though, his puck management ended up on the plus side and a goal put him over the top.

Kris Letang – We saw flashes of star defenseman Kris Letang against Winnipeg, most notably on his brilliant series of moves that set up Neal’s powerplay goal. He came out in full force against Vancouver to demonstrate that his skating ability and offensive prowess is 100% right now. Letang forced two turnovers in the defensive zone, drew two penalties (holding and charging), and scored the 3rd goal of the game with a hard one-timer from the blue line. Letang had a few other chances as well from the slot, but Lack was up to the task. The big takeaway with those chances was Letang accurately put them on net. He finished second on the team with six shots. As always, Letang made a couple of mistakes, but they were harmless in the end. He had a turnover in the defensive zone and one in the neutral zone. He also had a bad pinch early in the game that allowed a 2-on-1 going the other way, stopped by Fleury. Despite the mistakes, it was one of the best games we’ve seen from Letang all season.

Jussi Jokinen – While Crosby and Letang will get all the attention for their efforts in tying the game, Jokinen helped set up both plays as he quietly went into clutch mode as well. Jokinen was strong all night on pressuring the Canucks, forcing a turnover in each zone and also blocking a shot at the point. He was the extra attacker for Fleury on both of Pittsburgh’s late goals and he earned a primary assist on Letang’s one-timer goal and a secondary assist on Crosby’s goal since he originally put the puck towards the net. As for his mistakes, he only made two that I saw, a giveaway in the offensive zone and one in the defensive zone. Jokinen continue to be an extremely valuable player for the Penguins top-six forwards.

Brian Gibbons – Though he was partially at fault for the second goal against (turnover in the offensive zone, could never get in position in the defensive zone), that was the only major mistake Gibbons made in a strong game on the top line. It seems absurd to think Gibbons is even a candidate to play with Crosby and Kunitz, but he earned the part and demonstrated he doesn’t even need them at times with his goal. It was the perfect mix of skill, hockey intelligence, and effort as Gibbons skated behind the center to play the lost faceoff, then skated out to the point to his man, then poked the puck along and took it in for a breakaway where he beat Lack through his five hole. Beyond the goal, Gibbons had two pass interceptions (neutral zone and defensive zone) and also two great shot blocks at the point. There is no question that he’s earning his look on the first line while everyone is injured.

What the $#@%!

Sidney Crosby – Welcome to the portion of the recap where Sidney Crosby is so ridiculous that he requires a new section of his own. For the large majority of the game, Sidney Crosby was awful. Some of it may have been because he blocked a slapshot from Evgeni Malkin with his foot, but the result was awful regardless of the reason. In fact, I would venture to say Crosby played about 58 minutes of bad hockey (at his standard). I had him marked down for three giveaways in the defensive zone (one of which led to Garrison’s goal) and three giveaways in the offensive zone until late in the 3rd period. His first good mark came after he was butt-ended off of a faceoff in Vancouver’s zone, which angered him enough to backcheck hard and record a takeaway. After that, he went into “Sidney Crosby owns your soul” mode against Vancouver. In the final minute+, Crosby cleanly won the faceoff that led to Letang’s goal. On the next shift, he put pressure on Dan Hamhuis, knocked Hamhuis off the puck, and went straight to the net where he stopped a bouncing puck with his right skate and the scored the tying goal with less than a minute left. Crosby was not done as regulation ended though. Of course, he scored the only goal of the shootout. How does one even rate any of this? The man is insane.

At first, no one wants to admit he’s doing anything wrong.


Then, we realize that he makes this place the happiest place on Earth.

Stop toying with everyone Sidney, it’s cruel.


Marc-Andre Fleury – The rest of the NHL will look at the box score and see Fleury made 22 saves on 26 shots, thinking “typical Fleury.” Meanwhile, those who watched the game will appreciate that Fleury still managed to save multiple 2-on-1s and a breakaway to keep the Pens in the game. As described above, Fleury fell victim to a giveaway that led to a perfect shot, a deflection from his defenseman, a breakaway, and just an absurd play with a bouncing puck. Sadly, that can’t be quantified in the stats. What can be quantified in the stats is how absurd Fleury is in shootouts. He is now 11 for 11 on shootout attempts this season and the Penguins lead the NHL in shootout victories since the “gimmick” has been implemented. While it would be extra nice if Fleury stole one of those four chances that got past him, the Penguins at least always know they have an extremely good chance of winning if they head to a shootout.



Simon Despres – As I generally clamor for Despres to be in the lineup every game, this performance was a tough one to watch. I only noted two good things from him – forcing a turnover by standing up Kesler in the defensive zone and also a nice shot block. The bad was very bad though. He turned the puck over twice in the neutral zone. He got turned inside out on a 1-on-1 against Tom Sestito, which would have led to a goal if Sestito could have finished the move without losing the puck. He also gave up the breakaway to Chris Higgins, which did end up as a goal. Finally he took a tripping penalty in the defensive zone. There were just far too many bad impact plays from Despres against Vancouver.

Misc. Thoughts

Other Player Notes – James Neal had a solid game without much offensive production. He led the team with seven shots and forced three turnovers as well without committing any. Brandon Sutter continues to play extremely strong hockey as of late. He forced two turnovers and helped out in the defensive end on the eventual 2nd goal. Deryk Engelland played well and had a solid transition between forward and defense for the penalty kill. His ability to read defensive plays as a forward was on display. Taylor Pyatt had his best game as a Penguin (not saying much) as his penalty was a questionable call and he made no other mistakes. Finally, Olli Maatta had a solid game despite the 2nd goal against going off of his skate and into the net. He showed great poise in standing up Kesler twice and looked stronger than he has in weeks.

Team Canada – Keeping it brief on Team Canada – the picks went exactly as I thought in our discussion post. Kunitz deserved it for what he does for Crosby as well as alongside Crosby. Neal to me is questionable on defense at times and Canada doesn’t need more scorers. Fleury will need a strong postseason to shake his reputation at this point and I have some concerns about his angles on international ice. Letang never had a real chance to play his way back into the mix, though the last two games suggest that he may have been an oversight in the end. My full thoughts are at The Hockey Writers.

Bad Habits – Over the past two games, the Penguins have allowed nine goals and gotten two comeback wins. It really shouldn’t be any shock that a team this talented can pull that off. It should be a concern that they are letting it happen though. The amount of breakaways and odd-man rushes allowed in the past two games has skyrocketed compared to when the AHL defense was playing. As talented as this team is, they have to correct these issues early. Most teams are beatable even when the Penguins are playing at 60%, but make those mistakes against Boston and the Penguins will get swept out of a series again. With two vastly inferior opponents coming up in Edmonton and Calgary, I’m very curious to see how Bylsma gets his team to tighten up their game even when they know their talent will be dominant. Edmonton has the potential to be a run and gun game, but there is no reason the Penguins can’t play solid defensive hockey and win a 5-1, 5-2 game. Defense, you’re up.  PS – Bottom 6 forwards, The Pensblog suggests you step up as well.

Elsewhere – Jaromir Jagr tied Mario Lemieux in career points finally. I will refrain from stating their games played because everyone knows the comparison and I am honestly impressed with Jagr’s durability despite all of the groin injuries we saw for years. Pensburgh has an awesome look at how Crosby may match up to Jagr and Lemieux in the future. Finally, Dan Bylsma is now the winningest coach in franchise history. Three different groups deserve credit for that: Bylsma and his staff (along with Shero), Crosby and the talented players, and the Penguins for firing coaches as quickly as possible. In all seriousness though, great for Bylsma, he has certainly earned it.


Pens Record: 32-12-1
Next Game: Friday, 1/10 @ Edmonton, 10pm

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