Thoughts: Game 49 – Penguins vs Panthers

Panthers 5  Penguins 1

By: Meesh Shanmugam (@HockeyMeesh)

Niskanen (7) from Letang, Malkin

Goal Assessment

First Goal Against (Shore)
On the powerplay, Evgeni Malkin takes a drop pass from Sidney Crosby at the middle of the blue line. Malkin’s position in this situation is left point. Malkin gets the puck and skates deeper into the right side of the zone, taking a wrist shot just above the right faceoff dot. When he takes the shot, Crosby is on his right at the edge of the faceoff circle, Chirs Kunitz is on the crease for a screen, James Neal is at the left faceoff circle, and Kris Letang is at the blue line. Theoretically, Neal should be the player covering for Malkin when he takes the puck in deep. Clemmensen makes the save on Malkin’s shot, blockering it to the right side boards. The puck caroms up the boards, where Drew Shore picks it up and immediately has a 2-on-1 with Marcel Goc exiting the Panthers zone against Kris Letang. Shore skates the puck all the way down to the right faceoff dot in the Penguins zone as Kris Letang takes away the passing lane to Goc. Finally, Shore takes a perfectly placed wrist shot that beats Fleury’s glove.
Players at fault for the first goal against: Neal (6)

Second Goal Against (Shore)
Jesse Winchester picks up a bouncing puck in the left corner of the Penguins zone. He is followed closely by Sidney Crosby as they move deeper into the corner. Winchester tries to make a pass behind the net for Jonathan Huberdeau, but the pass is intercepted by Olli Maatta behind the goal line. Maatta protects the puck by turning his body against Huberdeau, but he doesn’t play the puck immediately and proceeds to lose it as Winchester and Huberdeau work him along the boards behind the net. Huberdeau reaches for the loose puck against the back of the net and pokes it to Winchester, who is open below the goal line because Crosby left him to cover in front of the net with Niskanen (who is covering no one). Meanwhile, Maatta loses his balance against the boards, effectively taking him out of the play. Winchester takes a second to stickhandle the puck before Crosby approaches him and then he passes it to Drew Shore streaking through the left faceoff circle towards the area vacated by Crosby. With Niskanen too far away to do anything, the pass gets to Shore inside the left faceoff circle and he one-times it past Fleury’s right shoulder.
Players at fault for the second goal against: Maatta (24), Crosby (15), Niskanen (21)

Third Goal Against (Kulikov)
In the Penguins zone, Jesse Winchester takes a shot/pass towards Dmitry Kulikov standing on the goal line next to the net. Paul Martin is on Kulikov and slashes his stick to keep him from getting the puck initially. The puck rebounds off of the backboards and Marc-Andre Fleury miscommunicates with Paul Martin on the play. Martin goes to play the puck but doesn’t as it slides back above the goal line next to the net. Meanwhile, Fleury starts to lift his blocker as if he’s going to cover the puck, but then he lets it go. With both players hesitating, the puck goes back to the front of the crease, where Kulikov gets it with his backhand, reaches across the crease as Fleury stretches out, and then taps it in past Fleury.
Players at fault for the third goal against: Martin (13), Fleury (11)

First Goal For (Niskanen)
After Malkin gets stopped by Clemmensen on a point-blank one-timer, Malkin picks up his own rebound in the right corner of Florida’s zone. He passes the puck to the right point for Kris Letang, who passes it over to Matt Niskanen just above the left faceoff circle. Niskanen takes a one-timer that Clemmensen gets a piece of with his left pad, but still finds a way to trickle through into the net.
Players contributing to the first goal for: Malkin (57), Letang (24), Niskanen (35)

Fourth Goal Against (Huberdeau)
In the defensive zone, Sidney Crosby gets the puck in the left corner and tries to flip it past a couple of Panthers. The puck is deflected to the boards by Scottie Upshall just above the left faceoff circle. Jussi Jokinen and Jonathan Huberdeau try to play the puck along the boards, with Jokinen winning the battle and knocking it back to Crosby following the play. Crosby tries to pass the puck out of the zone, but the pass is stopped by Jonathan Huberdeau inside the zone and Nick Bjugstad immediately picks up the puck as he was following the play. Bjugstad grabs the puck and cuts across the middle of the zone to the right side in front of Kris Letang, who falls down trying to keep up with him. Bjugstand and Huberdeau then have a 2-on-1 on Rob Scuderi inside the faceoff dots. Scuderi drops down and takes away the passing lane. Bjugstad stays patient and tries to stickhandle around Fleury as Fleury comes out to challenge, drops down into his butterfly, and attempts a poke check. Bjugstad gets the puck around Fleury on the outside and tries to center it into the crease, but hits the post instead. As he skates behind the net, he pokes the puck (next to the post) into the crease as Kris Letang gets back into the play. Letang comes in and knocks Huberdeau into the net, forcing Huberdeau’s skate to also collide with the puck and knock it into the net as well.
Players at fault for the fourth goal against: Crosby (16), Letang (18)

Fifth Goal Against (Matthias)
Taylor Pyatt gets the puck in the neutral zone and turns it over along the boards as Mike Weaver blocks off the boards. The puck bounces off of Weaver to Jesse Winchester, who immediately passes the puck across the ice to Shawn Matthias entering the Penguins zone on the left side. Matthias gets a step on Niskanen to the outside, skates down to the left faceoff dot, and beats Fleury with a wrist shot, short side past his blocker.
Players at fault for the fifth goal against: Pyatt (3), Niskanen (22), Fleury (12)

Penalty Assessment

Glass (roughing): Inconsequential, Glass puts a hit on Jovanovski in the corner. They start chirping and both drop the gloves. Both lose their balance quickly though, so the linesman steps in before it’s a fight and they each get roughing minors.
Glass (high-sticking): Bad-Stupid, gets shoved by Gudbranson twice in front of Florida’s net and turns rather deliberately, getting his stick into the cage of Gudbranson.
Crosby (hooking): Bad-Lazy, goes behind the Penguins net with Aleksander Barkov and stops skating as he puts his stick into Barkov’s midsection, which impedes Barkov along the boards.
Kunitz (slashing): Bad-Careless, Kunitz goes to take a small slash at Brian Campbell’s stick in Florida’s zone while the Penguins are on the PK and Kunitz ends up giving Campbell a slash right between the legs.
Crosby (roughing): Inconsequential, Crosby and Mike Weaver get into an incessant shoving match that turns into a slight wrestling match around Florida’s net. Both are given minors for roughing.
Orpik (slashing): Inconsequential, after Orpik and Bergenheim collide for a big hit in the corner of the Penguins zone, both get up and slash each other, each earning a minor penalty.

Player Assessment

Geno will get completely overlooked for how well he played in the loss. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Geno will get completely overlooked for how well he played in the loss. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Evgeni Malkin – From the very start, Malkin looked like the only Penguin who hadn’t only played one game in the past nine days. His skating was strong and he was doing his best to create chances, even if few were helping him out. He pushed the envelope a little too much as the Penguins kept getting denied and it resulted in two turnovers (defensive zone and offensive zone). Despite that, he was the most productive player on the team. He earned two takeaways (offensive zone and defensive zone as well), drew two penalties (high-sticking and tripping), and notched an assist on the only goal for Pittsburgh. He also led the team in shots (6) and was decent in the faceoff circle as well (8 for 14). Good work, Geno.

Brooks Orpik – I would argue that Orpik played his best game since the Boston disaster seemingly forever ago. I didn’t mark him down for a single mistake (maybe the inconsequential slashing penalty at worst). He led the team with six hits, two of which forced turnovers. He also forced two turnovers with his poke check and even had a great pinch into the offensive zone early in the first period that resulted in a good scoring chance. While the rest of the team couldn’t skate, Orpik’s hockey IQ and positioning came into play very well for the team.

Letang made some mistakes, but this wasn't one of them. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Letang made some mistakes, but this wasn’t one of them. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Kris Letang – This section will forever be Letang’s. His high-risk/high-reward play will always lead to several great plays and a few mistakes. Starting with the good – his poke check was excellent against the Panthers. He forced two turnovers in the defensive zone with it and also forced a turnover that turned into his own takeaway as he used his speed to grab the loose puck. He also had a great offensive zone keep when he gloved down a puck in the air and finally, he notched an assist on Niskanen’s one-timer goal. As for the bad – he had two giveaways in the defensive zone and another one in the neutral zone. He was also beat to the outside for a great scoring chance in the first period, something that you will rarely see with Letang. Finally, he was partially at fault for the 4th goal against – both for falling to the ice as he couldn’t keep up with Bjugstad moving laterally across the Penguins zone and then for knocking Huberdeau into the net carelessly without paying attention to where the puck was in the crease. It was pretty much the usual for Letang.

Marc-Andre Fleury – The goals allowed made Fleury a candidate for the Bad section, but he made too many great saves to put him there. Despite five goals allowed, and two of them being partially his fault, Fleury made at least four significant above-average saves that kept the score from being much, much worse. The team played very poorly in front of him in terms of quality scoring chances allowed. As for the two that were partially his fault – his miscommunication with Paul Martin on the 3rd goal against has to be placed on both players. Martin and Fleury both acted as if they were going to play the puck, then both hesitated, allowing Kulikov to get the puck and score. That’s a situation where priority goes to Fleury though, he either has to cover the puck or hold his ground firmly so Martin knows what to do. Meanwhile, the 5th goal against was just a bad shot to let in. He should have had the short side covered better and any goalie would be displeased with himself for letting that one in. At least Fleury had his bad moments in a game where the Penguins clearly weren’t going to accomplish much.

You aren't supposed to help the team in red until mid-February, Sid. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

You aren’t supposed to help the team in red until mid-February, Sid. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Sidney Crosby – Fresh off of his high from being named the Captain for Team Canada, Pittsburgh’s Captain played poorly enough to embarrass Captain Kangaroo. The only positive note I had on Crosby was “good offensive zone support”, which means he followed a play where someone lost the puck and he happened to be there to pick it up. As for the bad things: two offensive zone giveaways and two defensive zone giveaways, a lazy hooking penalty, bad coverage on the 2nd goal against, and both a failed clear and defensive zone turnover on the 4th goal against. If you want to add some box score stats into it, he was also 8 for 21 in the faceoff circle. Mike Weaver basically dominated him on the night (leading to roughing minors to both of them in the 3rd period). Not your best work, Sid.

Chris Kunitz – Crosby probably wasn’t helped by Kunitz, who, as the person sitting a few seats from me suggested, “must have been binge drinking during the off days.” My only positive note for Kunitz was an offensive zone pass interception. As for the bad things: three defensive zone giveaways, a neutral zone giveaway, a failed clear, and the awkward slashing penalty while the Pens were on the PK where he basically ball-tapped Brian Campbell with his stick. He did go 1 for 1 in faceoffs though, so take that, Crosby.

Matt Niskanen – Though he did score the only goal (and let’s be honest, Clemmensen should have stopped it for the shutout), Niskanen also joined the team’s better players in a poor effort. The goal was the only positive. In the bad column – a failed clear, an offensive zone giveaway, covering a lot of open air on the 2nd goal against, getting absolutely undressed by Barkov for a slot chance that Fleury saved, and getting beat to the outside on the 5th goal against. At least he scored though?

Misc. Thoughts

Other Player Notes – Paul Martin looked very rusty as expected, but that isn’t a long-term concern by any means. Craig Adams had a great game on the PK and even contributed a bit in the defensive zone during 5-on-5 play, but his offensive zone work doesn’t exist still. Chuck Kobasew looked out of the place on the top line. He did solid work in the defensive end but doesn’t fit in the offensive zone. Taylor Pyatt went back to making mistakes, turning the puck over on the 5th goal against. I’m not sure Engelland isn’t a better option.

Special Teams – The penalty kill was the one bright spot in the game, though admittedly it was against a very weak powerplay. Craig Adams and Zach Sill have really turned into niche players on the PK with both doing excellent jobs on just about every PK shift. Meanwhile, the powerplay looked like a hot mess. I’m not blaming Letang completely for this, but this tweet is hard to ignore:

I don’t believe that is a Letang-only issue. I do believe that Letang/Malkin on the points is a problem though. Hopefully Martin is ready to step back in there soon. I would also be okay with Letang/Niskanen or Letang/Martin. Letang/Malkin is just too messy with two free-skating players covering the points. This powerplay needs one dependable, responsible, easy-to-predict player on the point at all times to keep the powerplay from going too insane.

First Line – Unfortunately I didn’t think to look for this over the long game-less break, but I would hazard a guess that the Penguins lose most of their games when the first line isn’t functioning properly. It seems like an obvious thing to say, but it adds to the lack of scoring depth issue. It also doesn’t seem like it should be an issue with an amazing powerplay and a 2nd line that could be a first line on most other teams. The dependence on Crosby is concerning for several reasons that I don’t want to mention for jinx purposes.

The standings don't determine games for a reason. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

The standings don’t determine games for a reason. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Overall – The loss to Florida was the first one in Pittsburgh since Jan 3, 2009. That’s just crazy. Really though, this loss didn’t matter too much. Florida has played pretty well since Horachek took over as coach and the Penguins just looked very rusty and out of sync after one game in nine days. Basically, this game was as close to an expected loss as you could ever try and predict to a “bad” team. It’s not worth reading into too much unless the Penguins are still playing like this a few games from now.

Vokoun Update – Tomas Vokoun has been cleared to skate and is off of blood thinners. He will skate in Pittsburgh tomorrow. He has not been cleared to take shots though and this is just the first step in a long journey still. I’m not going to bother with goalie analysis because I don’t feel like it’s necessary yet. The only words I have to say are these, basically to Vokoun: Good luck and be safe.

Links – Here’s a whole bunch of links from stuff we did over the past week and other interesting articles I noticed today since the thoughts post is late:





No Pyatt gifs, he’s playing like a dumbhead again.

Pens Record: 34-13-2
Next Game: Wednesday, 1/22 vs Montreal, 7pm

Thanks for reading!