Thoughts: Game 48 – Pens look lifeless in 4-0 loss to Washington

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.

Caps 4  Pens 0

Record: 27-13-8

Goals
None

Click here to read the goal assessments

Gm 48 - Goals

Penalties
Sill (fighting) – Inconsequential (fights Wilson off of a neutral zone faceoff and they each receive a fighting major)
Perron (goalie interference) – Unnecessary (tries to go to the front of the net and loses track of where he is in comparison to Holtby, so he ends up skating directly into Holtby and they get tangled up)
Bortuzzo (interference) – Unnecessary (gets his stick in front of Ward as they both skate to the front of the net and then he shoves Ward down to the ice using his stick)
Downie (fighting) – Inconsequential (drops the gloves with Latta midway through the 3rd period after some jawing and jabbing, so they each get a major for fighting)
Downie (10 min misconduct, abuse of officials) – Stupid (I don’t know what he did, but abuse of officials is always stupid)
Sill (roughing) – Inconsequential (engages in a mini-fight with Ovechkin after the Ovechkin/Ehrhoff collision and they each receive a roughing minor)
Kunitz (high-sticking) – Careless (tries to lift the stick of Alzner and misses, hitting his face instead)
Perron (roughing) – Unnecessary (goes straight after Brouwer and starts punching him on the ice after Brouwer and Letang get tangled up)
Perron (roughing) – Inconsequential (stays tangled up with Brouwer in a scrum and the each receive a roughing minor)

Notable Players

Forwards

Gm 48 - Forwards

Zach Sill – There’s no green in the forwards column for this game, but Sill was the closest guy to it (which tells you about the offense). He helped the 4th line to another decent game overall with two takeaways and a forced turnover to go against no puck management mistakes. He did make one major mistake in the 3rd period though, which occurred on the 4th goal against. It wasn’t a lost coverage necessarily, but Sill showed poor awareness as Ehrhoff pinched into the offensive zone, Ebbett rotated for him, and then Sill didn’t pay attention to Mike Green streaking up the ice behind him. Worse yet, Sill and the man he was tied up with then got into the way of Adams so he couldn’t try to chase down Green either. The lack of awareness led to a 2-on-1 and a goal for Green. Aside from that messy play though, I was generally happy with Sill. He added in a fight (where he got pummeled) and an inconsequential roughing minor to play a good 4th line game.

Sill has a good career as a punching bag ahead of him when hockey is over. (Alex Brandon/AP Photo)

Sill has a good career as a punching bag ahead of him when hockey is over. (Alex Brandon/AP Photo)

Max Lapierre – Lapierre’s debut was okay at best. He played a surprising 14:15, which is the 2nd highest total he has hit this season. On the plus side, he drew a slashing penalty. On the minus side, he had a defensive zone giveaway, a neutral zone lost puck, and was partially at fault for the first goal against. On that goal, he followed Backstrom on a weird path deep into the Penguins zone and kept following him instead of skating to where the puck and Backstrom would be going. He had a chance to cut off Backstrom’s angle, but instead ran into Martin because of his indirect path and then lost coverage of Backstrom completely as the goal was set up. It will likely take a few games for Lapierre to get up to speed, so I was surprised he played as much as he did. He certainly could have had a better start.

Brandon Sutter – Sutter showed flashes of high hockey IQ and flashes of playing without hands in an inconsistent effort against the Caps. He had two defensive zone pass interceptions, a takeaway, and a forced turnover, but he negated most of that work with two failed clears and two giveaways. His line looked out of sync throughout the night and he specifically couldn’t seem to get on the same page as anyone when it came to breakouts and getting through the neutral zone. The two failed clears are probably my biggest concern, because if Sutter loses his defensive prowess, he loses his value very quickly. For all of the problems this team may have, Sutter is a guy to keep a close eye on. The organization clearly decided this wasn’t the place for Goc and moved him…where does Sutter fall into that possible line of thinking with a GM who already moved him once?

Defensemen/Goalies

Gm 48 - Defense

Marc-Andre Fleury – It’s not often that I’ll praise a goalie who allowed four goals with a sub-.900 save percentage, but Fleury kept the Penguins from getting embarrassed way more than the 4-0 final score. He made above average saves on shots from the high slot on Green, Backstrom, and Fehr in the 2nd period, stopped Michael Latta with a huge left toe save after Latta skated through Despres and Scuderi, made a beautiful left pad save on Green at the top of the crease in a 2-on-1 situation, and made a few nice PK save as well throughout the night. As for the goals against, he had no chance on either Ovechkin goal (deflection, and rocket one-timer), made two initial saves on Fehr before that rebound was scored, and fell prey to a 2-on-1 and great patience by Green on the final goal. In summary, Fleury kept the game from being around 8-0 and the team in front of him led to all four goals against. At least one guy showed up.

The Capitals may have hit double digits if Fleury didn't play as well as he did. (Alex Brandon/AP Photo)

The Capitals may have hit double digits if Fleury didn’t play as well as he did. (Alex Brandon/AP Photo)

Paul Martin – Martin had a decent puck management night, but he was partially at fault for two goals against for a dismal result. In the defensive zone, he had a pass interception, three forced turnovers, two broken-up plays, a giveaway, a lost puck, and two lost coverages. On the first goal against, he couldn’t get the puck from Beagle despite knocking Beagle over, and then he fell into Lapierre so neither man could cover Backstrom as the goal was set up. I also marked him as partially at fault for Ovechkin’s powerplay goal. Based on the formation and where everyone was located when Backstrom had the puck, Martin was the free guy to move around to cover a man or passing lane while the other PKers were tied to players and lanes. Martin was somewhat keeping an eye on Ovechkin, but he shifted to the middle of the ice when Green got the puck, leaving Ovechkin with a wide open shooting lane and no opposition when Green passed him the puck. Everyone in the middle was well-covered already, so Martin abandoned his spot unnecessarily and that’s how Ovechkin ended up with a wide open slapshot from the faceoff dot. I don’t know if that’s how the PK scheme is supposed to work against Ovechkin necessarily, but Martin has to read what his teammates are doing and react to it either way. Luckily, no other team has an Ovechkin, so we’ll set this issue aside for a few weeks.

Simon Despres – Despres was also partially at fault for two goals against and he struggled with the puck as well. He had a giveaway in the neutral zone, two lost pucks in the offensive zone, and three lost coverages in the defensive zone. Meanwhile, he only managed to break up one play in the defensive zone and intercept one pass in the offensive zone. On the 1st goal against, he was absolutely dominated by Ovechkin, who boxed out Despres from half of the crease to deflect Alzner’s shot past Fleury. There might as well not have been a defenseman even trying to hinder Ovechkin from the deflection. Then on the 3rd goal against, Despres got caught drifting too high into the zone before the Penguins cleared the puck, so Fehr was left alone in front of the net to get several chances on Fleury before Letang got there (and he didn’t stop anything either). Coming off of a week-long illness, it may not have been the best idea to play Despes in back-to-back situations.

Misc. Thoughts

4th Line Survives – There was plenty of commentary about Arcobello getting the healthy scratch treatment instead of Adams/Ebbett/Sill, but for at least this game, I thought the move made sense. The fourth line put together very strong efforts against Chicago and Winnipeg in their last two games, so they earned the right to play against Washington. Of course, there’s something to be said about those two games being home games so Johnston could control their matchups. For the most part though, they weren’t a liability against the Capitals either. Many will point out that the 4th line was out for the 1st goal against, but they had just kept the puck in the offensive zone for 20ish seconds and were coming off the ice. Meanwhile, Lapierre, Martin, and Despres all played a part in that goal against. For the Ovechkin PP goal, Sill and Ebbett were on, but they had passing lanes covered after nearly a minute on the ice. Martin was the man who was alone while Ovechkin was alone and blasted a one-timer. It’s easy to point blame at the 4th line for everything based on how the season has gone for them, but this three-game stretch really hasn’t been bad for that group. That being said, I would certainly prefer to see Arcobello in the lineup for the sake of pure talent.

Powerplay Falters – Sidney Crosby is the problem. He’s not the problem, but he’s the problem. Actually, it’s how everyone uses Sidney Crosby that’s the problem. The Penguins got Crosby back and immediately stopped shooting the puck and crashing the net on the powerplay. The problem that I saw – everything HAS to go through Sid. That led to bad forced passes both to and from Crosby. I don’t know if that’s a system issue, a Crosby issue, or a teammate mentality issue, but that was the biggest problem against the Capitals. At one point, Kris Letang had the puck at the top of the offensive zone and ignored open guys at the left point and the left faceoff circle so he could pass a puck THROUGH a Capitals player to Crosby on his right. The puck hit the skate of the Capitals player and the Penguins had to reset immediately. That play is the problem in a nutshell. Stop running the powerplay through Crosby and just run the powerplay. That would free up Crosby more too for that matter. The Penguins really need to just keep it simple and get the puck to the net instead of using preconceived notions of where the puck needs to go and who needs to set things up.

Stop forcing everything to this man. (Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

Stop forcing everything to this man. (Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

Metro Division Issues – The Penguins fell to 6-9-4 against the Metro Division (as opposed to 21-4-4 against the rest of the league). Is this a problem? Absolutely. Is it one with an obvious answer or resolution? Not at all. My working theory for now is that the best teams in the division still know how to get into the heads of the Penguins personality-wise, then it knocks them away from Johnston’s system and back into old habits from previous years, and then the Metro teams just dominate from there. The Penguins seem to play much more controlled out of the division. Within the division, the Isles can still pull them into a footrace up and down the ice, while the Rangers and Caps find ways to start limiting shots on net. That’s how the Isles and Rangers specifically found their ways to success against the Penguins in previous years. The Caps are a new wrinkle, but with Trotz at the helm and Reirden/Niskanen/Orpik to shed light on several players, the result makes sense. How many tough saves did Holtby even have to make – maybe three? This is just a working theory for now because I have no other explanations, but the Penguins really need to find a way to *consistently* pour shots on net, crash the net, and play a controlled game. The formula is already in place for this team’s success, but following it is another story.

Next Game: 1/30 @ New Jersey, 7pm

Thanks for reading!