Thoughts: Game 52 – Pens put together a complete effort in 4-0 win over Flames

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 4  Flames 0

Record: 30-14-8

Goals
Perron (13) from Crosby, Kunitz
Sutter (11) from Despres, Scuderi
Crosby (16) from Kunitz, Perron
Crosby (17) from Kunitz, Letang

Click here to read the goal assessments

Gm 52 - Goals

Penalties
Downie (tripping) – Careless (reaches his stick out to defend Colborne getting the puck at the point and ends up taking out Colborne’s legs for a tripping penalty)
Bortuzzo (delay of game) – Careless (has the puck in the left corner of the Penguins zone and throws it over the glass for a delay of game penalty)
Malkin (high sticking) – Careless (tries to lift the stick of Wideman and ends up hitting him in the face)
Perron (hooking) – Unnecessary (reaches to cover Giordano skating with the puck in the Penguins zone and leaves his stick parallel in Giordano’s chest for a hooking penalty)

Notable Players

Forwards

Gm 52 - Forwards

Chris Kunitz – As trade rumors fly, many of which include Kunitz, the first line winger just continues to return back to form. He had a fantastic game against the Flames as the top line tormented Giordano’s pairing all night. Kunitz had a takeaway, three pass interceptions, and a forced turnover to go along with three assists in a mistake-free game. He started the sequence for the first goal as he picked off Giordano’s pass in the Flames zone and knocked it to Crosby, who set up Perron. He then had primary assists on both of Crosby’s goals as he moved the puck to the slot for Crosby’s redirection goal and centered the puck for Crosby to split the defense for a short breakaway goal. Kunitz looked like he had his speed back, moved to all of the right areas, and he certainly read Crosby better than anyone. This was definitely one of his best games of the season.

Sidney Crosby – The over-analysis of Crosby will continue one way or another (and even later in this post), but a couple of things went his way finally and he ended up with a three-point night playing his usual brand of hockey. On the first goal, he received a broken-up pass from Kunitz and then set up Perron alone in the right faceoff circle to open the scoring. He later scored the 3rd goal on a beautiful one-handed redirection when Kunitz moved the puck to the slot where Crosby could reach forward for it. Finally, he scored the 4th goal of the game as he received the puck from Kunitz as he entered the offensive zone, split Brodie and Giordano to get a short breakaway, and flicked the puck past Hiller’s blocker from the left side of the slot. Calgary had absolutely no answer for Crosby’s speed and he consistently burst past players throughout the night. In terms of puck management, he finished with two offensive zone giveaways, but also notched a takeaway, pass interception, and two broken-up plays. This game was vintage Crosby/Kunitz.

Does Crosby handpick Kunitz as his linemate? If so, good job! (Jeff McIntosh/AP Photo)

Does Crosby handpick Kunitz as his linemate? If so, good job! (Jeff McIntosh/AP Photo)

David Perron – Perron wasn’t *as good* as Crosby and Kunitz, but he was still solid to round out the domination of the first line. He scored the first goal of the game on a nice wrister past Hiller’s blocker from the right faceoff circle and he also assisted on Crosby’s 1st goal when he passed the puck up to Kunitz in the neutral zone from the defensive zone. He also threw five shots on net, which has consistently been the best part of Perron’s game. He finished the game with two takeaways, a pass interception, and a forced turnover to go against two lost pucks. The only concern of note that I have with Perron is his penalty issue. He took another hooking penalty late in this game and seems to frequently get caught in situations where he is holding his stick parallel to the ice for an easy hooking call. That potential problem aside, Perron has absolutely crushed expectations since his arrival in Pittsburgh.

Defensemen/Goalies

Gm 52 - Defense

Paul Martin – Martin’s pairing had a rough time as both he and Letang missed shifts due to facial injuries, but he survived a stick to the nose to put together a solid performance. He drew a double-minor on that incident, and also contributed to a goal when he got a loose puck in the Penguins zone and moved it over to Letang to start the breakout for Crosby’s 4th goal. Defensively, Martin had a takeaway, a pass interception, and three broken-up plays to limit Calgary’s passing ability. He did have a couple of giveaways, but nothing that turned into a chance against. As usual Martin was calm and dependable as the Penguins dominated the play.

Tough night for me and my partner but good news we got the WIN!!!

A photo posted by Kris Letang (@kletang_58) on

 

Marc-Andre Fleury – For the second game in a row, Fleury didn’t have too much work to do in making 21 saves for another shutout (franchise record 8th). Despite the lack of work, he did make some very nice saves on the PK and in the 3rd period. Fleury was clearly seeing the puck well as the Flames continuously tried to use cross-ice one-timers on him on their powerplays and Fleury was always in perfect position moving from side-to-side for each one. He also made a nice pad save on Bouma alone in front in the 3rd period and also handled a couple of scrambles late in the game to keep his shutout. It wasn’t his most memorable shutout, but it’s nice to see that he is staying focused on slow nights.

Fleury is back to tracking the puck as well as he did early in the season. (Jeff McIntosh/AP Photo)

Fleury is back to tracking the puck as well as he did early in the season. (Jeff McIntosh/AP Photo)

 

Simon Despres – Despres is firmly back on Scuderi’s pairing, but that wasn’t a problem for him against Calgary. He assisted on Sutter’s goal off of a faceoff when he made a one-touch pass to Sutter for a redirection from the left faceoff circle. (Admittedly, I watched this play about 12 times trying to decide if it was a botched shot or an intended pass, but I decided on intended pass.) He finished the game with two takeaways, a pass interception, and two forced turnovers to go against just a giveaway and a lost coverage. While there are questions about whether Scuderi drags him down, it does seem that Despres at least knows how to read and handle Scuderi’s tendencies better than the rest. Keep solidifying the pairing, Despres.

Misc. Thoughts

Scratching Bennett Again – Bennett is expected to play against Vancouver after being a healthy scratch in three of the last four games. Reports came out that Bennett was doing extra work along the boards with the coaches after yesterday’s skate and that Johnston wants him to improve his compete level and his ability to battle along the boards. Dejan Kovacevic wrote that team officials are unhappy with his level of effort in 50/50 battles, let alone whether he’s winning or losing them.

My thoughts: it still strikes me as odd that Bennett was scratched for a game, played, and then was scratched for two more. Nothing will improve his level of board battles like actually being in a game to work on it. I am definitely happy to hear there is a specific problem that has been identified and that is what everyone is focusing on now. I don’t think scratching Bennett and having him work on it in practice will help though. He needs to play and figure it out in games, or the team has to decide if he’s not the type of player they want on this roster. Johnston said Bennett is an important player and will be a big part of the organization, but I don’t really buy that as more than typical organizational talk. How Bennett reacts to these scratches and if he’s able to change his play in the way that the team wants him to could determine if he ends up being a potential trade asset or not. There’s no question that some players just don’t fit into that style of play (and they can still be successful NHLers). It’s time to find out exactly what Bennett’s style of play is, and if it’s what the team wants for their future.

Crosby Choosing Linemates? – A couple of TribLive radio interviews led to plenty of talk on twitter about how much control Crosby has in everything.

Now it seems silly to discuss this after Crosby and Kunitz just tore up Calgary single-handedly, but going into the game with only four goals in four games, it was certainly something to wonder about. In my ideal video game world, my top two lines would be:
Perron-Crosby-Hornqvist
Kunitz-Malkin-Bennett

Kunitz-Crosby-Hornqvist showed some flashes of promise early in the season, but Perron-Crosby is too good to break up, so that leaves you with a Kunitz or Hornqvist decision. When Kunitz is playing like he did over the past month+, it’s hard to justify his place on the top line. After a game like this one, it’s easy to see that Kunitz-Crosby have a level of understanding between each other that no one else is going to match. Do I have any issues with Crosby picking his linemates? Honestly, no. Sid’s the best player on this team and letting him pick guys he’s comfortable with is probably in the best interest of the team anyways. The only time I think this will ever be an issue is if the offense is slumping and those changes aren’t made late in games for a spark or just to change things up (see: late in the Nashville game when the lines were juggled consistently except Hornqvist never found Crosby’s line). So in the end, all is fine and good as long as Johnston knows when and how to take control when necessary.

It's probably safe to say that this guy knows who will help him score the most. (Gerry Thomas/Getty Images)

It’s probably safe to say that this guy knows who will help him score the most. (Gerry Thomas/Getty Images)

Lingering Issues – While the win against Calgary was a very nice complete effort, there were still a couple of issues in the game. First off, Malkin is great but he could use a little more help than Arcobello on his wing. Arcobello didn’t play poorly by any means, but I do wonder if Malkin would be better off with a guy like Downie on his wing. That line only combined for four shots and Malkin lost the puck five times in the offensive zone. We’ll see what happens as Bennett comes back into the lineup. The other issue is, of course, the powerplay. The top powerplay still passes the puck around too much, then panics when PKs get aggressive. PKs are able to get aggressive because they don’t need to collapse to the net since the Penguins aren’t sending anything to the net. I can’t say it enough, the first powerplay just needs to get the puck to the net more often.

Next Game: 2/7 @ Vancouver, 10pm

Thanks for reading!