Thoughts: Game 45 – Pens lose to Flyers 3-2 in overtime amid utter chaos

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.

Flyers 3  Pens 2 (OT)

Record: 26-12-7

Goals
Kunitz (14) (SH) unassisted
Bennett (3) from Malkin, Spaling

Click here to read the goal assessments

Gm 45 - Goals

Penalties
Adams (cross-checking) – Stupid (retaliates for Bortuzzo getting cross-checked with a late cross-check in front of the ref on Raffl)
Sill (fighting) – Inconsequential (fights Raffl after the Bortuzzo and Adams incidents and they each get majors)
Scuderi (fighting) – Inconsequential (gets pulled into a fight by Voracek after a clean hip check along the boards)
Downie (slashing) – Stupid (slashes Del Zotto in the back of the leg skating out of the corner in front of the referee)
Downie (unsportsmanlike conduct) – Stupid (grabs Schenn’s visor and pulls his head towards him for an extra minor)
Downie (fighting) – Inconsequential (fights Schenn after the slash on Del Zotto and they each receive a major)
Farnham (fighting) – Inconsequential (fights Bellemare after a couple of hits and they each receive a major)
Arcobello (roughing) – Inconsequential (gets a minor for shoving Colaiacovo, but draws one as he’s cross-checked by VandeVelde)
Bortuzzo (tripping) – Overly aggressive (tries to reach across Voracek’s legs to poke the puck away but hits his legs instead and takes him down)
Sill (cross-checking) – Stupid (cross-checks Couturier in the back of the head with seconds left in the 3rd period as they’re on the crease with the puck at the point)
Team (too many men/Malkin) – Stupid (Sill touches the puck to stop a pass going towards the Penguins zone while Malkin also steps onto the ice to give the Pens too many men – explanation way below)

Notable Players

Forwards

Gm 45 - Forwards

Chris Kunitz – One guy who will likely be overlooked for his performance against the Flyers is Kunitz, who had the most Kunitz-like night that we have seen in a while. He recorded a healthy four shots on net, led the team with seven hits, and scored a shorthanded goal (500th point) off of a defensive zone pass interception which he took down the ice for a 2-on-1 before beating Emery’s blocker with a wrist shot. He finished the game with two pass interceptions and two broken-up plays in the defensive zone to go along with an offensive zone takeaway and a forced turnover. Meanwhile, he only had one giveaway and a lost puck in the neutral zone. Kunitz still doesn’t look like he has his old burst of speed necessarily, but he read the play extremely well against a slower Philadelphia team and demonstrated he hasn’t tailed off completely yet.

Kunitz returned to his hard-hitting and scoring ways against Philly. (Len Redkoles/Getty Images)

Kunitz returned to his hard-hitting and scoring ways against Philly. (Len Redkoles/Getty Images)

Nick Spaling – Spaling had one of the more frustrating performances on the team, which says a lot in a game that was generally a frustrating brand of hockey overall. Despite having two of the best chances of the night, he managed to finish with zero shots on goal, which is mind-boggling. He had a golden chance in the first period with a rebound sitting in Emery’s crease, but he handcuffed himself on the forehand/backhand decision and didn’t make a play on the puck quickly enough. He later had a semi-breakaway down the left side of the Flyers zone and completely missed the net while trying to shoot for Emery’s blocker side. Spaling did contribute to Bennett’s goal by first taking the puck away from L. Schenn in the Penguins zone and then driving to the net to open up the Malkin-to-Bennett passing lane, but his missed opportunities on Malkin’s wing are starting to add up far too quickly. It’s not his fault that he’s not a true top-six winger and still being thrust into that position, but at some point, he has to convert on something that Malkin and Bennett create for him.

Brandon Sutter – Sutter continued his recent streak of underwhelming play with another quiet game for the 3rd line and a poor personal game in terms of puck management. He had two defensive zone giveaways, a failed clear, and four lost pucks (two offensive zone, two neutral zone) as it seemed like the 2nd powerplay and 3rd line both lost their rushes every time Sutter touched the puck. He had a couple of good moments with a takeaway and a pass interception in the neutral zone, but it’s not enough to match Sutter’s level of play. In the past when Sutter has been quiet on offense, I have always noticed impressive defensive positioning. That dynamic seems to have disappeared this season, which makes you wonder about Sutter’s value under Johnston vs under Bylsma so far.

Defensemen/Goalies

Gm 45 - Defense

Rob Scuderi – For possibly the first time since the 2009 playoffs, Scuderi played a 100% smart, hard-nosed, and well-positioned game in a Penguins jersey. He finished with 21:31 of ice time in a weird game that included going to the locker room for medical help after taking contact to his face that bothered his eye, returning to put a beautiful hip check on Voracek, getting forced into his first NHL fight while his eye was still bothering him because Voracek is offended by hip checks, and then playing almost the entire overtime on the PK as the Penguins tried to survive. In fact, over seven of Scuderi’s 21+ minutes came on the PK. Despite the higher-than-expected minutes, Scuderi was marvelous. He had two takeaways, a pass interception, and three broken-up plays in the defensive zone. He also had two very clutch shot blocks on the penalty kill. He even managed to draw Voracek into an extra instigating minor and a 10-minute misconduct with the aforementioned hip check. Scuderi showed shades of the past despite dealing with some very new experiences against the Flyers.

Thomas Greiss – After only dealing with three shots in the first 20 minutes of the game, Greiss was forced to handle 37 more in the next 44 minutes to keep the Penguins in the game, which he did quite well. Greiss made several beautiful saves, especially in the 3rd period and overtime, that kept the Penguins alive when their play wasn’t cutting it. He stopped Giroux from the slot in a 4-on-4 situation, three one-timers from the slot, both B. Schenn and Read from the top of the crease, and a Giroux one-timer on the PK in overtime just to list a few of his outstanding saves. Unfortunately, he still took the loss despite saving 37 of 40 in this one. None of the three goals allowed should be blamed on him though. The first one was due to a massive screen on a shot from the blue line. The second was a deflection from the inside corner of the left faceoff circle. Finally, the overtime goal was on the penalty kill and was a hard shot that could have arguably been whistled depending on the temperament of the refs. Greiss definitely did enough to win even though the result wasn’t there.

Greiss did everything that he could, but sometimes you just need a quick whistle that you don't get. (Matt Slocum/AP Photo)

Greiss did everything that he could, but sometimes you just need a quick whistle that you don’t get. (Matt Slocum/AP Photo)

Paul Martin – With Letang leaving the game in the first period, Martin played a tremendous 32:49 as he took over the point on the top powerplay and was Johnston’s go-to guy for literally every situation. He actually had a rather slow start to the game as I marked him down for three lost pucks (two defensive zone) in the first period, but his awareness and intelligence grew with each shift and the mistakes were few and far between after that. He finished with two takeaways, a forced turnover, and three broken-up plays in the defensive zone to go along with an offensive zone pass interception. He also did a phenomenal job of just playing smart as the game progressed and he clearly wore down. There was no question halfway through the 3rd period that Martin was exhausted, but he adjusted his game, started restraining his defensive pursuit, and kept players to the perimeter to limit chances. He and Scuderi may not have had the best fancy stat game, but their willingness to buckle down and back off to limit the quality of chances was vital to keeping the Penguins in the game defensively. Someone get this man an oxygen tank.

Misc. Thoughts

Rinaldo/Letang – I’ll start with my comment right after the hit occurred, “That tradeoff is totally worth it for them. Such garbage.” And so begins the discussion of Rinaldo’s hit on Letang. Starting with the hit itself, it was certainly a suspendable hit. Rinaldo lined up Letang with Letang’s chest and head against the boards and then jumped up into the hit, which sent Letang’s upper body and head bouncing off of the glass. As Rinaldo said himself, he hit Letang in the back of the shoulder, which suggests a hit from behind (even if Rinaldo can’t logic his way to that). Given Rinaldo’s history and the leap into the hit, there’s no question this will earn him a suspension and the Dept of Player Safety has offered him an in-person hearing, so it could be 6+ games if they choose to go that route. Rinaldo’s comments after the game certainly didn’t help anything.

So Rinaldo, are you saying it’s worth it to injure a guy or are you joking nonchalantly about the guy who might be out with a concussion? Either way, his comments laugh in the face of player safety and the entire disciplinary process. The worst part for me – I understand his logic. The Flyers don’t care if Rinaldo misses games and he probably doesn’t care either. He’s getting a nice paycheck and essentially did his job by taking Letang out, which completely changed the Penguins powerplay and the course of the game. If you remove morals, it’s a completely logical process, which is apparently how Rinaldo works. Even a long suspension (I’m guessing he gets 10 because of the comments afterward) won’t stop Rinaldo from playing like this. The Flyers have an incentive to play him (see: game-changing Letang injury) and he has an incentive to do it (see: NHL paycheck that won’t be earned by pure skill). It’s a broken system that is bound to exist when there isn’t enough pure talent to fill roster spots. Consider it from Philly’s standpoint. Zach Sill or Zac Rinaldo? Marcel Goc or Zac Rinaldo? In a competition at the 4th line level, Rinaldo just proved to be a game-changer while most other guys do not. Guess what – expect more of this with expansion when rosters get diluted even further.

Through all of the chaos, nothing changed the game like this moment. (Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)

Through all of the chaos, nothing changed the game like this moment. (Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)

This broken system for good hockey cannot be fixed by player safety because there will always be teams and guys that are willing to go into gray areas to win hockey games (the Penguins are one too, admit it). It’s a business; their job is to win hockey games. The only way this stuff disappears is if the penalty is extremely severe (lose a season, which will never happen because the NHLPA would never allow it) or the overall talent level in the league rises so that 4th liners have to be able to play skilled hockey. Neither will happen.

Welcome to the NHL.

End of Game Strategies – Taking a break from the chaos, Johnston’s end-game strategy was curious at best. With 1:24 left in the 3rd period in a 2-2 game, Crosby’s line was out for a defensive zone faceoff. As soon as they got the puck into the offensive zone, changes occurred so Malkin’s line could jump on the ice on the fly around 1:10. Then Greiss covered the puck for another defensive zone faceoff. Sutter, Spaling, and Adams came on at this point (1:02). They played the rest of the game with Spaling making a change at the 25-second mark for Sill to come onto the ice when the puck was in the offensive zone. Sill, of course, then took a bad penalty on the crease with just seconds left in the game. I cannot fathom how Zach Sill was chosen as the player to jump on the ice at that point in the game. A third defenseman would have made more sense. Malkin spent all of 10 seconds on the ice and should have been ready to go. Crosby, Kunitz, and/or Perron should have been ready to go by that point as well. The fact that the team went into PK mode at the end of the game was already bad because the usual PK group is a possession black hole 5-on-5. Not giving your best players a chance to do anything at the end, whether it’s get the possession of the puck or just play defense (uh, Crosby and Kunitz successful PK earlier in the game?!?) was just a terrible decision. Hopefully Mike Johnston realizes that now.

Moving on to the too many men penalty, I have no problem with the actual call. The way everyone was set up, Malkin took away Coburn as a passing option next to the bench when he stepped on the ice and Sill was taking away the middle as a passing option when he left the penalty box. Therefore, the Penguins were essentially using the coverage of five guys in a four-man situation, so I have absolutely no problem with the penalty call when Sill touches the puck and Malkin is on the ice. As for whether it’s Sill’s or Malkin’s fault. I’m picking Malkin. For where everyone is at that point, Sill skating out of the box has the opportunity to stop that pass in the middle of the ice or he can back up and defend Coburn if the puck goes to him. Malkin stepping on the ice defends Coburn, but leaves the entire middle of the ice open for a stretch pass (which is what was attempted). Sill makes the right defensive play in my opinion because a) you don’t want to just watch the puck going back to your own blue line and b) he’s in the best position to handle literally any situation on a read-and-react basis before playing a puck or changing. Malkin should have been changing on a read-and-react basis too, not jumping on the ice immediately. Sorry Geno, your excitement to get on the ice led to a goal against in my book.

Also, I have no problem with Johnston’s timeout usage. Even though it gave the Flyers top PP a rest, it was vital to keep  Martin and Scuderi on the ice given that the other options on defense weren’t exactly safe, especially for a 4-on-3 PK.  It still didn’t work, but I fully agree with the decision/reasoning.

Lineup Thoughts – I was surprised, but not overly upset that Marcel Goc was scratched for Farnham. Personally, I would have scratched Sill over Goc, but it’s not hard to understand the staff’s thinking because of the Farnham call-up. Clearly they wanted energy and a physical presence. Sill has been bad this season, but sadly, he has provided more of those things than Goc, who isn’t exactly winning the competition based on firepower either. Hindsight, of course, tells you that Sill took a terrible penalty at the end of the 3rd period and that should certainly be involved in the decision-making process moving forward, but I can see the logic in Sill over Goc against Philly for Tuesday night. I will just never be able to see the logic in it ever again moving forward. Not your best use of that opportunity, Sill.

Sidenote: With Spaling being an *interesting* lineup decision at Geno’s wing, take a break and read something more fun with “All The Hockey Ladies: Metropolitan Division,” where Hannah Stuart has taken the time to identify each team’s weakness and suggests a woman to fix every team.  Teaser: It’s a winger for Geno.

Rate the Loss – It was another Metro division loss. It was another loss to the Flyers. Neither of those statements is an issue with me after that game. My thought process going into the game wasn’t divisional rivalry; it was the Penguins need to beat a clearly inferior team. They did not do that. Granted, the entire dynamic of the Penguins changed as soon as Letang left the game, but there is no reason that any group of five guys on the Pens shouldn’t be able to capitalize on at least one of six powerplay chances (including a major). Letang’s loss changes everything, but a man advantage is still a man advantage and we have even seen Tanner Glass score on one of those. I loved the “battle level” and everyone sticking up for each other, though I hated that it was necessary (Scuderi having to fight for the Voracek hit? Really?). This is the type of loss that may turn into a team-bonding loss instead of just another step towards unravelling. The entire roster has now been baptized by fire thanks to the Flyers. This may turn out to be the most important loss of the season. Don’t judge it on what happens against Chicago tonight. Wait and see how this team rallies after the all-star break.

This should not require a fight. (Matt Slocum/AP Photo)

This should not require a fight. (Matt Slocum/AP Photo)

Leftover Thoughts – Here’s a weird stat, Beau Bennett tied his career high in goals last night (3). Yes, he only has 3 goals in each of the past two seasons due to injuries. That number blew my mind. … I thought Bortuzzo had a very solid game with his increase in minutes (18+) and played one of the better games we’ve seen from him this season. He was abused multiple times and was very smart about it with Letang already out, so he didn’t fight and take himself off the ice to make matters worse. … Scott Harrington seems to have one error a game that leads to a goal against. This time it was engaging in contact with Simmonds directly in front of Greiss when Simmonds was just trying to skate through the area. The impact caused the screen on the first goal against. At first I thought it was just a string of bad luck, but I’m moving more to the side of Harrington isn’t quite ready yet or is trying to do way too much.

*deep breath* That’s all. For now.

Next Game: 1/21 vs Chicago, 8pm

Thanks for reading!