Thoughts: Game 49 – Perseverance leads to victory in Pens 2-1 (OT) win over Devils

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 2  Devils 1 (OT)

Record: 28-13-8

Goals
Kunitz (15) (PP) from Crosby, Letang
Despres (2) from Sutter, Letang

Click here to read the goal assessments

Gm 49 - Goals

Penalties
Lapierre (hooking) – Unnecessary (hooks Harrold next to the net as everyone is trying to play a rebound below the goal line where Harrold is outnumbered by Penguins)
Downie (roughing) – Stupid (was lucky to not get penalties for slashing Josefsen in the legs after the play and then starts shoving Tootoo in the face repeatedly for a minor)
Letang (slashing) – Inconsequential (slashes Zubrus and draws him into a cross-check so they each get a minor penalty)

Notable Players

Forwards

Gm 49 - Forwards

Chris Kunitz – As trade rumors and discussions about the decline of Kunitz run rampant, he still found a way to prove himself as a contributor with the tying goal and a screen in front for the game-winner. He scored the tying goal on the powerplay late in the 3rd period as he swatted at a rebound in the slot before anyone else could touch it. Then he set a perfect screen next to Zidlicky in front of Schneider in overtime so Despres could score the game-winner. Puck management wise, he had two pass interceptions, a forced turnover, and a broken-up play to go against two giveaways and a lost puck. He still doesn’t look like his old self in 5-on-5 play despite the dominance of the first line, but contributing on the powerplay and 4-on-4 still counts the same.

Kunitz, shortly after getting caught robbing a bank apparently. (Julio Cortez/AP Photo)

Kunitz, shortly after getting caught robbing a bank apparently. (Julio Cortez/AP Photo)

David Perron – Perron’s creativity and ability continues to fuel everyone he gets on the ice with. He made no mistakes in this game and recorded a takeaway, pass interception, forced turnover, and broken-up play. Though the first powerplay looked awful on their first chance, they looked much better on their second chance when Perron was utilized more heavily at the left circle. He also came close to connecting with Crosby on three separate plays, including a pass across the front of the net that Schneider robbed Crosby on. It’s a safe bet to assume that good things are going to happen with Perron on the ice.

Andrew Ebbett – Though he was just sent back down to the AHL as I’m writing this (hooray Malkin!), Ebbett had another solid 4th-liner game. He had two takeaways and two forced turnovers in a very responsible performance. Opponent should be noted, since the entire team dominated New Jersey, but that’s all you can ask for out of Ebbett as a 4th line call-up/fill-in. The only “mistake” he made was taking a slapshot on Schneider from high in the zone on a 2-on-1 situation with Adams, but I’m not sure any of us can expect anything productive from that situation.

Defensemen/Goalies

Gm 49 - Defense

Simon Despres – As we’ve seen earlier this season, Martin and Ehrhoff have played fantastic hockey any time they get a chance to play with Letang. Simon Despres received that opportunity on Friday night and blew everyone out of the water. He tied for the team lead (with Letang) with five shots, had two takeaways, two pass interceptions, and a broken-up play on defense, drew a penalty, and scored the game-winner in overtime. A couple of games ago, I was harping on Despres for not finding good shooting lanes. He looked like a completely different player next to Letang though as he increased his assertiveness and took the puck when and where he wanted it. It’s just one game, but the idea that Despres/Letang might be the optimal use of both players should definitely be considered.

Despres picked a valuable time to score his first game-winner. (Julio Cortez/AP Photo)

Despres picked a great time to score his first game-winner. (Julio Cortez/AP Photo)

Kris Letang – Letang wasn’t as flawless as Despres against New Jersey, but he still continued to run the team’s offense as he has for the past week. He assisted on both goals, giving him seven assists in the past three games (one of those being when the Pens were shut out) and he has assisted on every goal since the all-star break. He earned his assists by setting up Crosby for a one-timer on the Kunitz goal and setting up Sutter to get the puck back to Despres for the OT winner. In terms of puck management, he was a little sloppy at the start of the game with three giveaways, but he rebounded to earn a takeaway, two pass interceptions, and a broken-up play in the neutral zone. The offense currently runs through Letang right now, and that’s not a bad thing at all. Just ask Despres.

Scott Harrington – Harrington had an average game overall, but he still seems to find a way to be on (and partially at fault) for a goal against each game. This time, he was partially at fault for the only New Jersey goal, when Bortuzzo lost Bernier going behind the net and Harrington got his stick caught on Fleury’s right pad so he couldn’t use it to defend Bernier coming around to the post. It was a somewhat fluky play, but Harrington does need to have the awareness to avoid putting his stick into his goalie anyways. I’m not so sure Harrington should be the guy up instead of Pouliot right now.

Misc. Thoughts

Scratching Bennett – The healthy scratch of Bennett brought out much outrage and some reasoned thoughts. Seth Rorabaugh (@emptynetters) did a nice job of putting together why this was different than a Bylsma benching. Though Bennett hasn’t been impressive in the last few games, especially compared to the first few games when he returned, I’m not sure that’s all on him. He’s rotated between LW and RW, been given quite a few different linemates, and was even separated from Sutter in the midst of their little chemistry streak. I do think this will be a positive in the end, or at least a non-story, because Bennett gets a chance to step away and evaluate what he wants to work on in his game. Also, I don’t expect this to be a frequent occurrence where Bennett makes a mistake and gets benched. In a few weeks, we’ll be saying all’s well that ends well.

Learning Lessons – The biggest takeaway from the team and the coaches in postgame interviews was that they were proud of how they stuck with their game until it eventually worked and they won. Several guys emphasized that their mindset in the 3rd period was don’t change anything, don’t panic, just keep dominating the play and goals will come. The goals did come and the Penguins certainly earned them after suffocating the Devils in New Jersey’s zone for a majority of the game. If nothing else, this game should at least instill confidence in a team that has really looked like they don’t believe in themselves at times over the past few weeks.

Confidence might be the biggest thing this team needs going into the playoffs. (Andy Marlin/Getty Images)

Confidence might be the biggest thing this team needs going into the playoffs. (Andy Marlin/Getty Images)

Statement Win? – It was a come-from-behind win, it was a divisional win, and it was a dominant performance, but was it a statement win? I hesitate to take too much from this game because the Devils are not a good team. The concern with the Penguins’ Metro record has nothing to do with the bottom half of the division, it’s only relevant against the Isles, Caps, and Rangers – their potential playoff foes. This was a confidence-inspiring win, but the Pens will get a much tougher opponent on Sunday against Nashville. That game, even against a non-Rinne goalie, will be more of a true test to see where this team currently stands. The return of Malkin (he’s practicing with the regular lines as I type this), should boost the team as well. Stepping away from the emotions of the game, this was a matchup the Pens are supposed to win and they did that. On to the next one.

Next Game: 2/1 vs Nashville, 2pm

Thanks for reading!