Thoughts: Game 47 – Letang leads Pens to 5-3 win over Jets; Goc traded to Blues

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.

Pens 5  Jets 3

Record: 27-12-8

Goals
Spaling (7) from Perron, Letang
Downie (9) from Letang, Goc
Perron (11) (PP) from Letang, Kunitz
Sutter (10) (PP) from Martin, Letang
Hornqvist (14) (EN) from Martin, Letang

Gm 47 - Goals

Click here to read the goal assessments

Penalties
Sill (fighting) – Inconsequential (challenges Chiarot to a fight after Chiarot hit Letang awkwardly into the boards and they both receive majors)
Letang (slashing) – Inconsequential (gets into a little jostling match in front of the net with Thorburn and they both receive minors)

Notable Players

Forwards

Gm 47 - Forwards

David Perron – Where would the team’s offense be without Perron right now? He scored his 6th goal in 9 games and is showing the ability to get it done in a wide variety of ways. He assisted on Spaling’s goal to open the game by skating down the right side of the Jets zone, throwing two little skate/head fakes towards the middle, staying to the outside all the way down to the corner, and then putting a perfect pass into the slot that Spaling finished off (or Bennett could have finished off if Spaling missed). He later added his own goal on the powerplay when he deflected a high wrist shot by Letang down into Pavelec’s chest and between his legs, then took a beating on the crease to shove the puck through Pavelec’s legs into the net. He even showed off his tough side in the defensive zone as he entered a scrum and stepped in front of Letang to engage with a Jets forward. No matter what Rutherford does (more on that later), he can at least say he’s found two well-rounded top six wingers for the Pens.

A first-rounder for Perron seemed steep at first. Now it seems like a steal. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

A first-rounder for Perron seemed steep at first. Now it seems like a steal. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Patric Hornqvist – Hornqvist is that other well-rounded winger and he showed it against the Jets with his willingness to drive to the net. He contributed to two goals on the night. Sutter’s goal was bookended by Hornqvist’s work as Hornqvist retrieved a loose puck in the corner after a faceoff and threw it back to Letang in the neutral zone as the team regrouped, then Hornqvist was Sutter’s intended recipient for a centering pass that went off of Harrison’s skate, Pavelec’s stick, Pavelec’s shoulder, and into the net. Good in the corners, good in front of the net, it looks like Hornqvist hasn’t missed a beat despite sitting out a month with a leg injury. He was eventually rewarded with an empty netter at the end of the game for his hard work. Now just wait until Malkin and Crosby return to these wingers.

Andrew Ebbett – While good games are expected from the previous two guys, it was the 2nd straight surprisingly good game for Ebbett and the 4th line despite having an all-star break in between. Ebbett was especially good with two takeaways and a pass interception as he put three shots on net and kept the 4th line around the offensive zone consistently. Just like in their performance against Chicago, the 4th line kept it very simple – move the puck forward, get it deep into the zone, get it to the net. For all of the flak that the 4th line has received this year, the past two games have shown a little bit of promise for Sill, Ebbett, and Adams.

Defensemen/Goalies

Gm 47 - Defense

Kris Letang – Do I need to say anything beyond Letang had five assists in this game? With Malkin and Crosby out, Letang took over the offense from the backend by making the simple plays and reads to set his guys free. Going through his five assists: 1) Made a pass to Perron streaking out of the defensive zone from behind the Penguins goal line which caught three Jets flat-footed, 2) Took a slapshot that produced a rebound which Downie scored on, 3) Faked a slapshot, opened up his shooting lane, then took a high wrist shot that Perron deflected and then poked in, 4) Pulled the puck back to the neutral zone until he was pursued, then passed it across to Martin, who had an open zone entry, and 5) Pulled the puck back in the defensive zone until he was pursued, then passed it across to Martin, who dumped the puck in for Hornqvist and an empty netter. He did have a couple of questionable moments with an inconsequential slashing penalty that was a terrible trade-off (Thorburn went off with him) and a couple of turnovers, but it certainly doesn’t matter much when he’s contributing to five goals. Way to step up, Letang.

Letang had quite a few goal celebrations to get to. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Letang had quite a few goal celebrations to get to. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Robert Bortuzzo – Though Ehrhoff and Bortuzzo appeared to get stuck in the defensive zone quite a bit, Bortuzzo had one of his best games handling such scenarios in quite a few weeks. I marked him down for two defensive zone takeaways, two forced turnovers, and a broken-up play to go against nothing in the bad column turnover-wise. He went into the all-star break off of a successful game-long battle with Toews and that confidence certainly showed against the Jets. He was active in closing gaps quickly, pressuring players along the boards, and poke-checking guys at the right time. The only mistake he made was engaging in a shoving match with Perreault in front of Greiss so that Greiss couldn’t see Trouba’s shot initially to stop it.  Even with that goal against, it was still a promising start to the “2nd half” of the season for Bortuzzo.

Simon Despres – Despite fighting off an illness for the past week, Despres returned to the lineup and played a decent overall game. He had two broken-up plays and a forced turnover in the defensive zone to go against a giveaway and a failed clear. He had the puck on his stick frequently, especially in the offensive zone, and did a great job of rotating with the forwards to get deeper into the zone and especially help the 4th line with puck possession. Despres did have one major issue though, which was his shot selections. I noticed at least four instances where he shot the puck directly into his defender’s legs just a couple of feet in front of him. The situation that led me to pick up on this was when he received the puck at the right circle and could have immediately shot the puck before Pavelec moved to the post, but instead he waited for a second and then shot it directly into is defender’s skate. I would love to see Despres move a little more with the puck so he can open up shooting lanes because that many blocked shots high in the zone is just asking for a breakaway goal the other way.

Misc. Thoughts

Rinaldo Suspension – Just to get this over with, I don’t have a strong opinion on Rinaldo’s suspension one way or another. It would have been nice to see more games (double-digits would open everyone’s eyes around the league), but the problem is, Rinaldo isn’t going to change regardless of the length of this suspension. He has his role that he gets paid for, the Flyers have a reason to employ him, and I doubt either party minds too much if this is the cost of doing business for them. It’s a culture problem around the league and the department of player safety cannot fix that. One game, one season, nothing was going to change Rinaldo.

Goals Against – Despite allowing three goals, Greiss and the Penguins had a very clean game in the defensive end, even with some long shifts back there. All three goals allowed were easily placed on one specific player. Thorburn’s goal occurred because Kunitz couldn’t keep up with him despite having a sizeable head start skating back from the neutral zone. Trouba’s goal was the result of a screen in front by a combination of Bortuzzo and Schiefele. Finally, Lowry’s goal occurred because Ehrhoff didn’t step up when he could have and then screened Greiss from seeing the release of the shot. It wasn’t pretty for his save percentage, but there is certainly no faulting Greiss for a redirect in the slot and two screens. The team’s defense was strong despite three individual mistakes.

Powerplay Scores – Weird, apparently if you throw the puck towards the net and crash the crease, the puck ends up going into the net sometimes. The Jets PK was extremely aggressive against the Malkin/Crosby-less powerplay and the Penguins adjusted by simplifying their game. Get the puck into the zone, find the open man, get the puck to the net, let the guy in front do work. Perron scored on a deflection in front that he then poked through Pavelec on the crease. Sutter’s goal was the result of centering the puck towards the top of the crease and Hornqvist being positioned there to force Harrison into a bad deflection. Shoot the puck, go to the net, score. The 4th line is trying to do it. The powerplay is succeeding with it. The question is – will the Penguins continue with this simplicity when Crosby and Malkin return? If they do, this team can return to the scoring powerhouse they were at the start of the season.

Bye Goc. You'll probably be happier in St. Louis anyways. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Bye Goc. You’ll probably be happier in St. Louis anyways. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Goc For Lapierre Trade – Jim Rutherford pulled a fast one on everyone after the game by immediately trading Marcel Goc to St. Louis for Maxim Lapierre. Lapierre has one of the worst reputations around the league, deservedly so for past dirty incidents, but has been relatively calm this year. The advanced stats community immediately hates this trade, and it’s easy to see why because Lapierre is a possession blackhole compared to Goc (theoretically). However, Goc was being wasted on the 4th line in Pittsburgh. He isn’t the same player that he was in Florida, and he was never going to get a chance to be that player with Sill and Adams on his wings. It’s clear the organization likes to use Sill and Adams for one reason or another (toughess, PK, whatever). I like this move because Lapierre at least fits that mold and gives the 4th line a specific identity instead of a hodgepodge of uncertainty. He’s good on faceoffs and can take over a PK role, which slides into Goc’s spot well, and he adds a peskiness/pest value that is more controlled than Downie and more useful than Sill. The Penguins are continuing in their pursuit of being a team that every other team hates to play against – that’s a great thing for the playoffs. Don’t expect much offense, but if he can draw a penalty here and there, a powerplay goal is worth more than any collective game the 4th line has regardless of who is at center. That’s the point in the end. Goc wasn’t doing much (and I don’t blame him necessarily), but if Lapierre comes in, doesn’t do much, but still drives someone crazy or draws a penalty, then the trade quickly becomes a win. I wrote this in July 2013 when I wanted the Pens to sign him:

Lapierre

Sidenote: Per Darren Dreger, the Pens also made an offer to Toronto for Daniel Winnik last week, but Toronto wasn’t ready to make the move.

Next Game: 1/28 @ Washington, 8pm

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