Thoughts: Game 47 – Penguins @ Flames

Published on January 13th, 2014

Penguins 2  Flames 1

By: Meesh Shanmugam (@HockeyMeesh)

Goals
Kunitz (24) from Bortuzzo
Niskanen (6) from Glass

Goal Assessment

First Goal For (Kunitz)
When the Penguins flip the puck into the Flames zone, Shane O’Brien gloves it down in his zone and starts to skate it behind his own net. He passes the puck back to the left corner of the zone to Dennis Wideman to start their breakout. Zach Sill forechecks hard and crushes Wideman in the left corner, knocking him down on the puck. Sill stays on top of Wideman as he fights for the puck and the Flames’ Joe Colborne comes over and grabs Sill instead of playing the puck. Wideman gets to his knees against the boards and plays the puck out of the corner, but it drifts all the way to the middle of the blue line where Robert Bortuzzo gets it. Meanwhile, Colborne is still attacking Sill in the corner, leading to a delayed penalty situation. Bortuzzo fakes a shot and then passes the puck to the top of the right faceoff circle for Chris Kunitz. With Wideman still getting up in the corner, O’Brien is getting tangled up with Craig Adams on top of the crease, leaving Kunitz completely uncovered with time and space. Kunitz skates towards the net below the right faceoff dot as O’Brien doesn’t step up on him and then Kunitz rips a wrist shot over Berra’s left shoulder on the short side.
Players contributing to the first goal for: Sill (2), Bortuzzo (4), Adams (7), Kunitz (65)

Second Goal For (Niskanen)
After Reto Berra makes a save on a backhand shot from Brandon Sutter, a rebound squirts out and there is a mad scramble around the crease. Dennis Wideman grabs the puck below the goal line, but Tanner Glass dives/falls and knocks the puck away from Wideman into the right corner. Matt Niskanen comes down from the point to pick up the puck in the corner and he passes the puck back to Glass behind the net as everyone begins to spread out. Glass gets pressured immediately and passes the puck back to Niskanen in the right corner. Niskanen then skates backwards to the right point and takes a wrist shot with Deryk Engelland and Glass forming a screen with defensemen in front. The puck somehow gets through four bodies and bounces through Berra’s five hole and in.
Players contributing to the second goal for: Glass (7), Engelland (10), Niskanen (31)

First Goal Against (Backlund)
In a 4-on-4 situation, TJ Brodie sets up behind his own net as both teams get into position for Calgary’s breakout. Brodie skates the puck out to the slot in front of his own net and then passes the puck to Mikael Backlund at Calgary’s blue line. Backlund bobbles the puck towards Kris Letang in the neutral zone, but then swats it past Letang, outraces Letang to the puck, and lifts Letang’s stick going into the Penguins zone before taking a quick shot from just above the left faceoff dot that beats Fleury over his glove.
Players at fault for the first goal against: Letang (15)

Penalty Assessment

Engelland (fighting): Inconsequential, fights McGrattan off of a faceoff early in the first period after they bump into each other.
Team (too many men): Bad-Stupid, Sill jumps on the ice before anyone comes off the ice as the puck glides down the area next to the Penguins bench.
Bortuzzo (holding the stick): Bad-Stupid, off of a defensive zone faceoff, Bortuzzo and Hudler both go straight to the crease in front of Fleury. Bortuzzo grabs Hudler’s stick and doesn’t let go, even though the puck isn’t even in a position to get to Hudler.
Malkin (holding): Bad, Malkin gets his arm wrapped around Giordano’s arm in the offensive zone on the powerplay to keep Giordano from getting a loose puck. Giordano does embellish a little by clamping down on Geno’s arm afterwards, but the hold still happened.
Bortuzzo (match penalty): Bad-Stupid, after a neutral zone turnover, Bortuzzo skates up the boards and slightly jumps into a hit on Giordano that gets him in the head. His skates leave the ice as he lifts himself in an upward motion into the hit.

Player Assessment

Good

Kris Letang – While I would love to rip on Letang for how absolutely foolish he looked on Calgary’s only goal (okay, I did it there), his overall game was tremendous. Letang played such a strong game that even getting burned by Backlund for a goal couldn’t drop him from the top of this list. That, along with losing the puck in the defensive zone once, were the only two faults I found in Letang’s game. The positives were overwhelming though. He was very strong on the crease with two blocked passes and a great tie-up that protected a rebound for Fleury. He intercepted passes in both the defensive and neutral zones. He also drew a tripping penalty and then bailed Malkin out on the powerplay when Malkin missed a puck at the blue line and Letang skated back to recover for him before Calgary got the puck. He added 3 shots on net and led the team in ice time (22:30) in one of his best efforts of the season, even with the unfortunate goal against.

James Neal – Neal was a hawk around the puck throughout the game and consistently disrupted everything Calgary wanted to do on their breakouts. I marked him down for three offensive zone takeaways and two neutral zone pass interceptions. Meanwhile he only had one giveaway, which occurred in the offensive zone. Aside from his puck management, he also drew a hooking penalty and looked very solid in the defensive zone along the boards. Even without points, Neal had a productive night for the Penguins.

Glass playing to his potential is extremely important for the bottom 6 forwards. (Gerry Thomas/Getty Images)

Glass playing to his potential is extremely important for the bottom 6 forwards. (Gerry Thomas/Getty Images)

Tanner Glass – Glass finally looks back up to speed and like his normal self after taking a couple of weeks to get back into a groove. He was fantastic defensively and especially on the penalty kill. He broke up two passes on the PK, intercepted a pass in the neutral zone, covered nicely for Maatta when he pinched, helped a clearing attempt with a hit along the boards, earned an assist on Niskanen’s goal, and finally drew a cross-checking penalty on Cammalleri during a 5 minute PK. He was credited with five hits, more than double of what any other Penguin received and the most since he returned from injury. The only mistake he made was a failed clear on the PK, but it’s easy to see there was plenty of good to negate that.

Zach Sill – Sill only entered the lineup because Vitale was a late scratch and he made every minute count. He was the primary reason that Kunitz scored the opening goal because of his forecheck that forced Wideman to turn the puck over. He also forced two turnovers with stick lifts as he was backchecking through the neutral zone. Finally, he had two solid poke checks on the PK that both cleared the zone. With only one defensive giveaway, it was a solid game for the 4th liner.

Noteworthy
Bortuzzo causes chaos anywhere he goes. (Derek Leung/Getty Images)

Bortuzzo causes chaos anywhere he goes. (Derek Leung/Getty Images)

Robert Bortuzzo – Bortuzzo was fantastic for the first 35 minutes of the game and then things got a little too dicey for him. For the first half of the game, it was all positive marks. He forced two turnovers (one offensive zone, one defensive zone), had two great poke checks in the defensive zone, recorded three blocked shots, and added an assist to Kunitz’s goal. Things went downhill starting with his holding the stick penalty late in the 2nd period, when he held Hudler’s stick in front of the net for no reason with the puck not even nearby. After a few decent shifts in the 3rd period, Bortuzzo turned the puck over in the neutral zone and made up for it by crushing Giordano, which led to a match penalty and a game misconduct. Luckily, Giordano was okay in the end and the Pens escaped with the win, but two bad penalties are always two too many, especially with a major. More on the hit coming later…

Brandon Sutter – Sutter was clutch on the PK (and luckily doesn’t play PP for the sake of my writing) against Calgary, but his defensive zone puck handling was below his normal standards. He had two takeaways on the PK, broke up two passes in the neutral zone, and also had a nice keep at the offensive zone blue line. However, he had a giveaway in the defensive zone and also failed to clear the puck twice, with both instances becoming turnovers. Sutter is usually much smarter with the puck than that. Also, he went a horrible 5 for 17 in faceoffs, including 0 for 6 in the first period. That number needs to improve.

Bad

Evgeni Malkin – A night after Rob Scuderi ripped the team for acting like the Harlem Globetrotters, Malkin went into Harlem Globetrotter mode. He turned the puck over four times (three offensive zone, one neutral zone) with drop passes and just unnecessary moves. He also missed a puck at the offensive zone blue line, which luckily Kris Letang took care of for him. The last thing in the bad column for Geno was a holding penalty while the Penguins were on the powerplay. On the plus side, he had a takeaway in the offensive and defensive zones, but you would like to see Malkin play smarter after how sloppy the Edmonton game was.

Misc. Thoughts

It's getting harder to judge Fleury when he looks great every night. (Gerry Thomas/Getty Images)

It’s getting harder to judge Fleury when he looks great every night. (Gerry Thomas/Getty Images)

Other Player Notes – Matt Niskanen and Olli Maatta had another solid game as a pairing. Niskanen’s highlight was his eventual game-winning goal. Meanwhile, Maatta had a couple of turnover issues, but played a strong game overall. Taylor Pyatt actually did have a good game for once, forcing two turnovers and helping out with clears in the defensive zone very well. There may be some hope for him yet. Marc-Andre Fleury played a very strong game as we have learned to expect from him by now. He didn’t have to make a ton of flashy saves, and he did turn over the puck once, but he did the job he had to do.

Bortuzzo Hit – This hit led to an extremely wide variety of opinions, more than just about any hit I’ve ever seen. I saw reactions ranging from completely clean to deserves a five-game suspension. I don’t like the hit based on Bortuzzo’s actions, but based on initial contact, I don’t expect him to receive any supplementary discipline. Bortuzzo’s height always has to be taken into consideration. Despite that, I think the dirty part of the hit isn’t the actual hit, but the follow through. Initial contact is fine, but Bortuzzo launches himself from the ice and follows through with his arm as well. It’s just a reckless hit in my opinion, one that I don’t like in the game. Whether it’s suspendable though…hell, I don’t have a clue anymore.

Third Period Drama – The Penguins pulled off a low scoring win, much to my delight, but the opponent ruined any delight I could have had. The Penguins really should have steamrolled Calgary, not allowed them into a one-goal game. Calgary had a significant amount of chances, not even counting the partial major powerplay that they had. The Penguins won this because of some clutch saves from Fleury and some incompetence from Calgary as much as any other reason. The 2-1 final is theoretically nice, but the Penguins are still playing far from their potential right now.

Injury Report – Deryk Engelland missed some shifts after going to the locker room following his fight. He did play late in the game though, so it appeared that he was fine. Maatta was also missing from the bench at times, but finished out the game as well. The player who didn’t finish the game was Brian Gibbons, who is now out with a lower body injury. There is no prognosis on him yet and the Penguins still have a couple of days to figure it out before their next game. Meanwhile, Joe Vitale sat out with an injury to his wrist, though the true injury has not been disclosed yet.

Pens Record: 33-12-2
Next Game: Wednesday, 1/15 vs Washington, 8pm

Thanks for reading!