Thoughts: Game 5 – Pens Dress Well and Play Sloppy in 5-3 Loss to Flyers

By: Meesh Shanmugam

Flyers 5  Pens 3

Record: 3-2

Goals
Spaling (1) from Ehrhoff, Comeau
Dupuis (2) from Martin, Malkin
Goc (1) from Spaling, Downie

Click here to read the goal assessments

Penalties
Despres (interference) – Stupid (was about to win a race for a puck and decided to ignore the puck and hit Couturier for interference)
Despres (fighting) – Inconsequential (was challenged by Umberger and they both received majors)
Dupuis (holding) – Overly aggressive (tries to keep Giroux from skating out of the corner with the puck and ends up tackling him)
Kunitz (embellishment) – Stupid (kicks out his legs in midair as he gets hooked to negate a potential powerplay)

Gm 5 Goals

Notable Players

Forwards

Gm 5 Forwards

Nick Spaling – Spaling wasn’t anything special when it came to turnovers (three lost pucks), above-average defensive plays, or fancy stats (43.75 Corsi). None of those measures really mattered with a goal and an assist though. Spaling opened up the scoring by stopping Ehrhoff’s shot, changing the angle on Emery, and shooting the puck past him before he could react. He also assisted on the 3rd goal with a nice give-and-go play to Goc in front of the net. As the lines were changed in the 3rd period to give the Penguins a spark, Spaling appeared comfortable in all scenarios and that’s one positive that the Penguins can take away from this game.

Fancy stats won't hold him down. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Fancy stats won’t hold him down. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Marcel Goc – Another positive from this game is that Marcel Goc finally looked alive and well, at least for a brief time. He contributed to both goals that Spaling was involved with as he set a screen for Spaling’s goal and then finished off Spaling’s passing play for the third Penguins goal. He still hasn’t found his game from his days with the Panthers a season ago, but tonight was a step in the right direction and perhaps that Spaling-Goc connection is one to push in the upcoming weeks.

Steve Downie – Though I have been worried about Downie crossing the line over the past two games, he demonstrated his ability to keep it under control and help produce in the form of skill against the Flyers. If there was any game where he was going to go crazy, it would have made sense against his former team and Pittsburgh’s seemingly-unbeatable-at-Consol nemesis. Downie kept his calm aside from a couple big hits and shouting matches though and played very well around the puck, intercepting two passes and forcing two turnovers. He also prevented a clearing attempt in the 3rd period that led to Goc’s goal late in the game. Downie had several shifts where he adeptly protected the puck deep in the Flyers zone and moved it on to an open player. It’s just a shame that his good play was overshadowed by a loss.

Evgeni Malkin – Malkin…had his moments against the Flyers. I loved his work deep in the defensive zone, specifically on three takeaways in the corners of the zone where he was determined to help his defense out. Unfortunately, those takeaways were outweighed by a few giveaways and several lost pucks in the offensive zone. Malkin struggled to find space with the puck as the Flyers were quick in pursuit and his turnover numbers show it. On top of that, he was partially at fault for two goals: Read’s for not covering him closely going to the net and Streit’s for not getting out in coverage in time and then deflecting the puck as well. On the plus side though, Malkin didn’t make any mistakes out of pure frustration at least?

Defensemen/Goalies

Gm 5 Defense

Christian Ehrhoff – I’m growing less and less enamored with Ehrhoff, though it might be more of a feeling towards the Ehrhoff/Martin pairing since it seems to bring both of their games down. Ehrhoff looked very hesitant with and without the puck all night. There were multiple times in the defensive zone where he could have won a 50/50 race to a puck but decided to slow up and play his opponent after they got the puck instead. Meanwhile, he made a few bad decisions with the puck that turned into four giveaways on the night. Everything exciting about Ehrhoff/Letang in the preseason is completely missing from the Ehrhoff/Martin pairing right now.

Kris Letang – Speaking of Letang, the Flyers game was not his best either since he turned the puck over in the defensive zone for Umberger’s goal and then turned it over at center ice for Couturier’s empty-netter. Both he and Maatta appeared to get confused at times when playing the puck behind the net or trying to drop it back to each other and the confusion didn’t go away as they worked up ice either. Letang’s offensive game was invisible all night in a game that should have allowed him to display his skating abilities around pylons.

Simon Despres – When it comes to Despres, it’s quality over quantity. By that, I mean that the quality of his mistakes is way worse than the quantity of them. He took a bad penalty when he decided not to play the puck in front of him and to hit Couturier instead with the Penguins down 2-1. He also made a questionable decision to try to skate through three Flyers, which led to a turnover and a rush the other way that led to Read’s goal. Add in two lost coverages (that didn’t result in goals luckily), and Despres had himself a night of mistakes with a high probability of turning out poorly. With Bortuzzo possibly returning this weekend, Despres might have quickly made himself the odd-man out.

Marc-Andre Fleury – Fleury looked about as awkward as physically possible through most of the night, though he still made quite a few saves in the process. He misplayed three pucks, was flopping on his back/side all night, overreacted to several bounces and wide shots, and generally looked intoxicated any time the Flyers put the puck near the net. Despite the harsh criticisms, he only let up one bad goal by my count. The first goal was a product of two deflections from his teammates. The second goal was a nice redirection from the slot on an odd-man break. The third goal looked worse than it was because of where the puck went through (between Fleury’s blocker and chest), but no goalie can react on the crease that quickly when he already has to commit to a desperation-type save. The fourth goal was not a great one though. Give Read credit for being patient and deking Fleury out, but Fleury had been working up to that mistake all night with how he was overplaying the puck and bounces. When he went to challenge Read, he went beyond desperation as he slid past the post and out of his net to leave a wide open net available aside from his stick. Desperation is one play, but out-of-control sliding is another. I truly have no clue how to grade Fleury’s game because he looked sloppy, made nice saves, and had a terrible defense in front of him. The final answer is probably that he just didn’t play a proper game.

Fleury will be under a constant spotlight this season. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Fleury will be under a constant spotlight this season. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Misc. Thoughts

Outhustled – Aside from a few dominating shifts in the first half of the first period, the Penguins were simply outplayed, outworked, and outhustled all night. The Flyers swarmed on pucks that the Penguins hesitated on, they clogged up lanes and zones that the Penguins didn’t want to creatively work around, then they clogged up the neutral zone and the Penguins weren’t willing to try to burst through it (dump-and-chase still has its uses). The Flyers were inspired after their loss to the Blackhawks the previous night and the Penguins looked like they were expecting to play a tired team, not one that was ready for a game. Perhaps Pittsburgh can do that to Detroit next.

Breaking the Neutral Zone – The Flyers did a masterful job of clogging up the neutral zone through much of the third period so the Penguins couldn’t get their stars into play. This wasn’t limited to the neutral zone either as the Flyers pushed the Penguins back into their zone and forced turnovers as well. Though we have all learned to hate dumping the puck in, there are times when it needs to happen and the third period was certainly one of them. The Penguins have a good amount of speed that can hit (Comeau, Downie) in such situations. It would have been nice to see a line of, say, Hornqvist/Crosby/Downie come out on the ice, throw the puck into the Flyers zone, and completely grind it out like all three players are very capable of doing. The Penguins still have last year’s abilities (remember all those regular season wins?) and new creativity and responsibility to work with. A combination of both will be required to succeed in as many situations as possible.

Possession Mistakes – The Islanders recap focused on missed coverages as an issue. That was less of an issue against the Flyers, but giveaways jumped to the forefront. The Penguins as a group could not figure out where to find their open guys, where to safely pass the puck, and when to move forward or backward with the Flyers’ tenacity. Puck support was lacking throughout the night and only became worse as the giveaway numbers grew and left players out of position to recover for the mistakes of others. It was almost as if the team was so focused on taking it to the Flyers, especially with their start to the game, that they forgot how strong their system is when they play it safe to create openings rather than push the play forward. Some things never change, right?

Defense/PK coverage – Odd-man breaks and turnovers aside (yes, I just threw out half the game), I saw some promising work on the PK and with defensive zone coverage overall. The PK did a better job of widening themselves to cover (or give the appearance of coverage to) more ice. I mean this in both their stances with their sticks and also how spread out they were from each other. Meanwhile, there were a few times that I noted the back-side players in the defensive zone slowly hovering back further to cover more area and to make sure there were no gaps for cross-ice passes. The game result wasn’t affected by it, but there are promising signs in both areas at least.

If the Penguins cover the middle, good things will happen. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

If the Penguins cover the middle, good things will happen. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Next Game: 10/23 @ Detroit, 7:30pm

Thanks for reading!!