Thoughts: Game 46 – Pens limp into the all-star break with 3-2 (SO) loss to Chicago

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.

Blackhawks 3  Pens 2 (SO)

Record: 26-12-8

Goals
Sill (1) from Ebbett
Downie (8) from Goc, Arcobello

Click here to read the goal assessments

Gm 46 - Goals

Penalties
Team (too many men/Arcobello) – Stupid (Arcobello steps on the ice for a change before the puck has been played completely past the bench, so too many men is called)
Perron (holding) – Unnecessary (wraps both of his arms around Nordstrom while backchecking for an easy holding penalty)

Notable Players

Forwards

Gm 46 - Forwards

Third Line – The biggest game-changer of the night for the Penguins was a consistently decent effort from the bottom-six, and especially the third line. Mark Arcobello, Marcel Goc, and Steve Downie combined forces to consistently spend shifts deep in the Blackhawks zone, finally culminating with a goal for Downie late in the second period. On that sequence, Downie retrieved a dump-in and got the puck to Harrington, who put the puck on net right away. Arcobello deflected the shot so Crawford couldn’t cleanly save it, then Downie tapped the rebound away from Crawford and Goc got entangled with Duncan Keith until Downie finally got the puck again and scored. The process was basic. Dump the puck in, get it to the net, crash the net, win the loose puck, and score. The 3rd line willingly adopted this style when necessary, though they also carried the puck when they had the chance to do so as well. I didn’t mark down much in the way of turnovers for this group, but Downie drew a penalty and they dominated possession for a very successful performance.

Zach Sill – Sill is still teetering around that last forward spot on the active roster, but for at least one night, he definitely earned his lineup spot. The Flyers game may have awoken him based on his performance against the Blackhawks. He led the team with seven hits, had a takeaway and a pass interception in the defensive zone, and of course, scored his first NHL goal with a wrist shot past Crawford’s glove. The goal (and crazy swinging stick celebration) earned him a nod to begin with, but his overall play was more like what he showed in promising stints last season instead of the nothing he has shown this season. He probably still has a couple of more weeks before Comeau and Hornqvist return, so we’ll see if he can keep his play at this level to give him a fighting chance at a lineup spot.

Jokes aside, first goal celebrations are the best. Congrats, Sill. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Jokes aside, first goal celebrations are the best. Congrats, Sill. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

David Perron – Perron had some of the flashiest plays in this game with a jaw-dropping almost-goal and a beautiful power drive to the net that created multiple chances on the crease. Despite the flashes of offensive potential and a strong puck management night (three takeaways, a pass interception, and a broken-up play vs a giveaway and a lost coverage), it must be noted that he was partially at fault for both goals against. On the first goal against, he slid his coverage towards Hossa when Crosby started to lose him, which left Rundblad wide open at the point. There will be plenty of times when this decision will make complete sense, but this situation was not one of them. Kunitz was behind Crosby and able to pick up Hossa if Crosby lost him cleanly, but Perron left Rundblad open where no one else could possibly get to him. The entire line was exhausted, so that was certainly an issue for everyone, but Perron was still partially at fault for the goal. Then for the second goal, Perron was in the penalty box after he took a holding penalty that was essentially a bear hug of Nordstrom in the neutral zone. I have no doubt Perron will provide plenty of offense in the future, but the results in this game gave him a -2 for goals contributed to/at fault for.  (Vine from @jtbourne)

Defensemen/Goalies

Gm 46 - Defense

Derrick Pouliot – Aside from one messy play in the 3rd period when he lost control of the puck in the neutral zone, Pouliot played flawless hockey all night (and had a quiet 20:14 TOI, so it was a lot of hockey). Though known as a budding offensive star who needs to work on defense, Pouliot looked positionally responsible and very strong on puck carriers against a very talented team. I marked him down for two takeaways, three forced turnovers, and a broken-up play in the defensive zone to pace the entire defense on strong plays. He was fairly quiet offensively, but it was mostly because he refused to take unnecessary risks offensively. I expect many worse games defensively in his future, but if this is a taste of what Pouliot can do, he will be a star quicker than any of us think. At this point, he should be at the top of the depth chart for call-ups.

Pouliot even had Patrick Kane looking for help. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Pouliot even had Patrick Kane looking for help. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Rob Scuderi – Scuderi had another strong night despite playing an unusually high total of minutes again (21:55 TOI). I marked him down for four broken-up plays in the defensive zone and another one in the neutral zone to go against only one failed clear. Even going back to his first stint with Pittsburgh, Scuderi seemed to thrive in survival/backs-against-the-wall situations and the past two nights have given him just that. He has looked much more like the player that left in 2009 over the past two games than at any other point in the past year and a half. I have a difficult time believing that it will last, and I would still like to see him rested down the stretch, but Scuderi deserves credit for a strong week of hockey going into the all-star break.

Marc-Andre Fleury – Fleury made 24 saves on 26 shots against the Blackhawks, basically stopping everything he could actually see. The first goal went by his right arm when he was leaning left due to a screen by Saad. The second goal was similar as Hossa beat his right arm when he had to lean left to see around Bickell. Aside from those goals through screens, Fleury was perfect until the shootout. The shootout caused a different issue as the Hawks sent out Toews and Kane, who both scored on low goals past Fleury’s right pad. Fleury said afterwards that he studied them for a few minutes, but they both gave him different looks than they usually use. There isn’t a goalie in the league that I would fault for allowing goals to Toews and Kane in a shootout, so I feel confident saying this loss isn’t on Fleury in any way. It was a solid game for him heading into the all-star break and now he can enjoy himself in Columbus for the weekend.

Misc. Thoughts

Injury Report – The All-Star break couldn’t come at a better time for the Penguins. Malkin was a late scratch with an undisclosed (likely lower body) injury. Johnston said he didn’t expect it to be serious, but Malkin will not be participating in all-star weekend. That’s probably good for Pittsburgh anyways. Moving on to Letang, it was reported that he had concussion symptoms after the Flyers game and they subsided, but his neck was still sore on Wednesday. There is no definitive timetable for him and I don’t think we have enough information to read into that one way or another. Like with most concussions (or how it should be), it will just be a wait and see scenario. Moving on, I would assume Despres will be healthy again next week after missing two games with an “illness.” Comeau and Hornqvist are about 2-3 weeks away at this point. The Penguins seem like they’ll be in pretty good shape when February hits.

Simplifying the Game – With Malkin and Letang out of the lineup, the Penguins completely simplified their game. The object of the game was to move forward, dump the puck in if necessary, get shots on net when possible, and crash the net. In fact, only the first line appeared to even attempt fancy plays. The third and fourth lines played their simple roles to perfection and scored two goals because of it. Every player in the lineup managed to get a shot on net. This is the type of play the Penguins need to go to, especially with their bottom six, when guys are out of the lineup. There is a balance between Bylsma’s dump-and-chase/stretch passing that drove everyone nuts and Johnston’s puck possession that works best when players are actually capable of handling the puck. The team found that balance tonight and hopefully they remember it after the all-star break. It’s not about the action (carry or dump-in), it’s about picking the best option. Sometimes, simple is exactly what a team needs to regroup.

Johnston's team kept it simple and arguably succeeded because of it. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Johnston’s team kept it simple and arguably “succeeded” because of it. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Clean Hockey – I certainly don’t need to point this out, but Wednesday night’s game was a huge breath of fresh air, even with the loss, after Tuesday night’s chaos. It was a well-paced game with good back and forth action, clean hits (Martin’s hip check), and no resulting chaos. I will not blame this completely on Philly because the Penguins clearly called up Farnham and sat Goc planning for such an affair on Tuesday night. Either way, Wednesday night was beautiful hockey even in a loss. Give me that 10 times out of 10.

Thoughts Going into the Break – The Penguins have lost four in a row going into the all-star break with two of those being against likely Metro playoff teams, the 3rd against a rival amid chaos, and the 4th against a potential Cup favorite (latter two in OT/SO). The losses sting and there is plenty of work to be done, but there is still a lot of season left. As mentioned in the injury report above, this team *should* be healthy in about three weeks, and a completely healthy version of the Penguins matches up with every team, even those that are four lines deep like the Islanders.

Take a breather. Get some rest. The stretch run will be upon us soon.

Next Game: 1/27 vs Winnipeg, 7pm

Thanks for reading!