Thoughts: Game 50 – Pens look lifeless AGAIN in 4-0 loss to Nashville

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.

Predators 4  Pens 0

Record: 28-14-8

Goals
None

Click here to read the goal assessments

Gm 50 - Goals

Penalties
Team/Kunitz (too many men) – Stupid (Kunitz leaves the bench way too early as Bennett is bent over and trying to skate to the bench slowly)
Perron (hooking) – Unnecessary (hooks back Mike Fisher as he’s chasing a puck into the Penguins zone on a potential rush)
Perron (interference) – Inconsequential (interferes with Jarnkrok in the defensive zone, but Jarnkrok gets called for embellishment to cancel it out)
Sutter (goalie interference) – Bad Call (tries to go to the front of the net and gets shoved by Volchenkov into Hutton, causing the contact for a bad call)
Crosby (slashing) – Unnecessary (whacks Forsberg’s left leg and takes him down in the offensive zone)

Notable Players

Forwards

Gm 50 - Forwards

Nick Spaling – There weren’t many positives among the forward ranks, but Spaling had one of his better games with a clear ability to read his former teammates. He had a broken-up play in the defensive zone, an offensive zone pass interception, and an offensive takeaway on Shea Weber that led to a breakaway. Unfortunately, Spaling took the puck to the slot, beat Hutton, but hit the post for a wasted chance. Still, he at least created something when most of the team couldn’t.

Spaling will be fantastic if the Pens face the Preds in the Stanley Cup Final. (Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

Spaling will be fantastic if the Pens face the Preds in the Stanley Cup Final. (Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

Sidney Crosby – On the plus side, Crosby drew a penalty, had a neutral zone takeaway, and added an offensive zone pass interception. On the not-so-plus side, he had two lost pucks, took an unnecessary slashing penalty, and was partially at fault for two goals. Crosby’s line was generally the most dangerous throughout the afternoon, but the results went the opposite way for him specifically. He was partially at fault on the 3rd goal against when Pouliot gave him a bad pass into his skates. While this sounds like a Pouliot issue (and it was), Crosby’s attempt to play the puck up to his stick with his skates instead of stopping or turning to play the puck was part of the problem. Beck easily took the puck as Crosby couldn’t play it with his skates and Crosby had no hope of even stopping him since he was still skating forward. Sid will normally make that play and we’ll all be dazzled by it, but that was an unfortunate time for him to not succeed. Later, he was in the penalty box for the 4th goal against after taking a needless slashing penalty on Forsberg in the Predators zone. It wasn’t the hardest slash by any means, but Crosby swung his stick at Forsberg’s leg and took his leg down for an easy penalty call. I’ll continue to stand by this thought – the biggest issue with Sid’s game isn’t his offense right now, it’s how many goals he has been partially at fault for. He’s one away from matching the total I had for him through all of last season. That is a problem.

Defensemen/Goalies

Gm 50 - Defense

Kris Letang – Letang was uncharacteristically mediocre in this game, even with four shots, a pass interception, a broken-up play, and a drawn penalty. He had two giveaways, two lost pucks, and a lost coverage that forced Fleury into a very nice redirect save just three minutes into the game. I noticed an issue that isn’t necessarily Letang’s fault but still caused him problems – rightfully or wrongfully, some of the forwards have started looking for and deferring to Letang. The most obvious example of this was when Crosby won a faceoff to the high slot for Perron, who was in position to shoot the puck immediately, but he stopped and passed the puck back to Letang at the point. This type of decision-making happened a few times and put Letang in some awkward situations. He handled it relatively well, but there is no need for the offense to be centered around him. Despite the turnovers, Letang still managed to be the best of the group though.

Robert Bortuzzo – If Bortuzzo was on the ice, it was generally a safe bet that the Predators were swarming around the Penguins zone. He didn’t struggle so much with puck management, but he did a lot of following and skating around the defensive zone when the Preds got their chances. He had two lost pucks in the defensive zone and a defensive zone giveaway, but he at least tried to balance that out with two forced turnovers. The other knock on Bort was that he was mostly at fault for the 4th goal against. On the penalty kill, he joined Neal in front of Fleury to completely screen Fleury, then proceeded to deflect the shot into the net. The Penguins need to get more out of him with Ehrhoff out.

Bortuzzo did it all with a screen and a deflection... (Keith Srakocic/AP Photo)

Bortuzzo did it all with a screen and a deflection… (Keith Srakocic/AP Photo)

Simon Despres – Despres followed possibly his best game of the season with probably his most unfortunate (note: I didn’t say worst). He had three forced turnovers and a broken-up play to go against two giveaways and a lost coverage. Unfortunately for Despres, he ended up being partially (directly?) at fault for the first two goals against. On the first goal against, Josi took a shot from the left point that made it through a mass of bodies but was deflected by the stick of Despres past Fleury’s glove. On the 2nd goal against, Despres made a horrible pass in front of his own net and gave the puck directly to Bourque for a one-timer on Fleury from the slot that beat Fleury’s glove. The first one was unfortunate, the second one was terrible, and the rest of his game was decent. Two goals against is too many though.

Misc. Thoughts

Strategy vs Hutton – The Predators have been a solid team all season, but they hit a slide a few weeks ago when Rinne was injured and they aren’t the same team without Rinne. This begs the question, how did the Penguins only end up with 21 shots? Logic dictates that the Penguins should have peppered Hutton with shots, especially given Johnston’s insistence on throwing pucks to the net (or at least that used to be a thing). Give the Predators credit, they kept the Penguins to the perimeter very well and clogged up shooting and passing lanes, but the Penguins passed up on plenty of opportunities (Perron chance mentioned earlier) and also hit three posts. It would be nice to see this team get back to the fundamental idea of just throwing the puck on net. Forget picking corners. Just throw the puck at that 4’ x 6’ area and crash the net. That’s exactly what happened against Winnipeg with Malkin and Crosby out and it needs to continue with them in the lineup. This team is built to crash the net better than years past. Perron, Kunitz, and Hornqvist are all willing and capable. Let them do it. Get the puck to the net. Pass off the pads. Whatever you want to call it, more pucks needs to hit the goalie (and eventually go in).

Growing Pains – The last month or so has been frustrating, but it hasn’t been THAT terrible of a stretch for the Penguins. They have gone 4-5-3 since Perron joined the team, which doesn’t match their potential, but is also not the end of the world in a league where everyone has hot and cold streaks. Many predicted the Penguins would have growing pains under a new staff in the very first month of the season. That didn’t happen. Instead, the Pens banked points early on and they seem to be hitting their growing pains now. Luckily, all of those points are worth the same amount regardless of the month. There was no way this team was going to make it through the entire year with a new coaching staff without having problems. Actually, there’s no way any team ever pulls that off under any coaching staff. Even Bylsma’s regular season champs had a rough stretch here and there. The Penguins earned enough points early that they are a safe playoff team. These games aren’t necessary for racking up points, but they are necessary for fine tuning the roster, strategies, and attitude going into the stretch run and the playoffs. That takes time. It will not happen in a game, it will happen over the course of weeks. This Western Canada trip is a great chance for the team to get on the road and do some much needed bonding (h/t @kpcskate). All that matters right now is that the Penguins are a playoff team. They still have two+ months to figure out what kind of playoff team they are. That is a significant amount of time.

The team has a lot of problems but they've earned the leeway to take some time to fix them. (Keith Srakocic/AP Photo)

The team has a lot of problems but they’ve earned the leeway to take some time to fix them. (Keith Srakocic/AP Photo)

Extra Thoughts – Clearly I don’t think it’s time to panic, but here are a few of the things I have been questioning over the past few games.

  • 1) Why isn’t Greiss getting more time in net? While the skaters work out their issues, the goalie gets pummeled with breakaways and odd-man breaks. I thought Fleury played too much in the first half of the season and I certainly don’t want to see him playing too much when the team in front of him is going to let him down. That’s just going to wear on him harder as the season progresses. Throw Greiss in, he’s more than capable.
  • 2) How did Hornqvist not end up on the first line for any substantial shifts against Nashville? Kunitz-Crosby-Hornqvist was phenomenal at times early in the season. Perron has shown a very impressive ability to create on his own. Hornqvist doesn’t have that ability. While I love keeping Perron and Crosby together, if the staff really doesn’t want Crosby and Kunitz broken up, at least give Hornqvist a shift here and there with Crosby. Perron has a much better chance of creating with Sutter and Spaling/whoever than Hornqvist does.
  • 3) Are the Penguins equipped to handle an injury to Malkin and/or Crosby? My answer to this is no. The depth has improved, the team is theoretically better, but a quick look at the lineup against Nashville demonstrates that there is no identity past the first line when one of those centers is out. I would even consider leaving Sutter at 3rd line center, putting Spaling at 2nd line center, and having Bennett and Hornqvist as 2nd line wingers. The 4th line is always going to be subpar, we know that. The third line is a question mark – what’s the purpose of Downie and Lapierre? Agitators? Talent? Downie has talent, but he seems to be in a rotation of lots of penalties or invisible. Beau Bennett may have been a healthy scratch for playing below his potential, but he still has the offensive capability and creativity to boost a semi-decent line. The Pens were sorely lacking creativity against Nashville, so naturally Bennett ended up with Adams and Sill by the 3rd period. I think there are a lot of guys with very undefined roles right now and it’s going to be like that any time Crosby or Malkin is out of the lineup. That’s a problem that is fixable and needs to be fixed based on the injury history of this team. The franchise needs to figure out where they want their current players to fit into their potential playoff lineup, and that’s what the next month is for.

Next Game: 2/4 @ Edmonton, 8pm

Thanks for reading!