Thoughts: Game 53 – Penguins vs Sabres

Penguins 3  Sabres 0

By: Meesh Shanmugam (@HockeyMeesh)

Kunitz (26) from Gibbons, Crosby
Engelland (4) from Adams, Glass
Glass (3) from Adams, Crosby

Goal Assessment

First Goal For (Kunitz)
After Ryan Miller stops Sidney Crosby on the crease, Jamie McBain has a chance to clear the puck with a little time from the slot area. McBain fans on the puck, allowing Chris Kunitz to catch up and poke the puck to the right faceoff circle for Sidney Crosby. Crosby picks up the puck and skates towards Miller in a 2-on-1 situation with Brian Gibbons on the left side of the crease and Mike Weber in between them. Crosby takes the puck down towards the goal line as Weber drops to the ice to block the passing lane, and then passes the puck just beyond Weber’s skates over to Gibbons on the left side. Gibbons tries to shoot the puck into an almost empty net, but hits the goal post and the puck caroms back out towards the right faceoff circle, exactly where Chris Kunitz is standing. Kunitz quickly stops the puck on his backhand and shoots it into the net as no one else on the ice has any chance to react to any of it.
Players contributing to the first goal for: Crosby (82), Gibbons (8), Kunitz (72)

Second Goal For (Engelland)
The Sabres have control of the puck in their own zone and Henrik Tallinder moves towards the boards as he tries to clear the puck out. Deryk Engelland steps up on him to prevent the clear and the puck goes flying up in the air. Tanner Glass, who was waiting at the blue line to see what would happen, immediately rushes into the zone with the puck in the air and he picks up the loose puck in the left faceoff circle. Glass takes the puck towards the left corner as he’s defended by Tyler Myers. Meanwhile, Craig Adams (already covered by Ville Leino) skates through the slot area, drawing Tallinder over to him and away from Engelland as Engelland moves into the slot. Glass centers the puck from the corner and it goes past Adams and the two guys defending him, to Engelland wide open in the slot. Engelland takes a second to corral the puck as Miller goes down and then fires the puck into the net.
Players contributing to the second goal for: Glass (9), Adams (9), Engelland (11)

Third Goal For (Glass)
With an empty net for the Sabres late in the game, Matt Moulson dumps the puck in behind the Penguins net. Brooks Orpik picks it up and plays it along the boards to Sidney Crosby. Crosby gets approached by two Sabres and chips the puck to Craig Adams entering the neutral zone with Tanner Glass. Adams and Glass have a 2-on-1 against Christian Ehrhoff and an empty net. Adams skates the puck to the blue line and takes a shot that misses wide on the right side. Glass goes to the bottom of the right faceoff circle to pick up the puck after it rebounded off of the backboards and he shoots it into an empty net.
Players contributing to the third goal for: Orpik (15), Crosby (83), Adams (10), Glass (10)

Penalty Assessment

Glass (high-sticking): Bad, gets ready to kick a puck down along the boards while lifting the stick of Tyler Ennis, but gets his stick into the face of Ennis.
Megna (high-sticking): Bad-Careless, races down the ice with Christian Ehrhoff into the Sabres zone to track down a loose puck, then gets his stick into Ehrhoff’s face as Ehrhoff wins the positioning battle for the puck.
Kunitz (slashing): Bad-Stupid, slashes Ehrhoff’s stick behind the play in the Sabres zone as Buffalo skates the puck out of the zone.

Player Assessment

Even with his eyes closed, no one was beating Fleury. (Gene J Puskar/AP Photo)

Even with his eyes closed, no one was beating Fleury. (Gene J Puskar/AP Photo)

Marc-Andre Fleury – In a game that was closer than the result would suggest, Marc-Andre Fleury was the key difference. Despite only needing 24 saves for the shutout, Fleury made several dazzling stops that included four chances in the slot or on the crease with no help from his defense. In fact, the Penguins still managed to have roughly five or six defensive lapses that led to great scoring chances, but Flower held strong for all of them. The opponent and the save number might suggest it was an easy game, but Fleury definitely earned this shutout.

Brian Gibbons – It was amusing to see everyone clamoring for the return of Gibbons as a first line right winger all day before the game. It was even more fun when Gibbons actually made a significant impact on almost every shift against Buffalo. He didn’t play solely on the first line, also getting several third line shifts, but his impact was undeniable in any situation. He forced two turnovers (one on the backcheck, one with a defensive zone poke check), had a nice block at the point, covered up for pinching defensemen three times, and also had an assist, though that was largely because he missed a wide open net. Most importantly, he was always in position along the boards in the defensive zone to help out with clears. His speed is a great asset for Crosby to work with, but it comes up just as clutch on defense too.

Deryk Engelland – At this point, it seems very safe to say that Engelland is a trustworthy fourth liner and possibly a better scoring threat than most of the bottom six. He looked strong in puck battles in the offensive zone and positioned himself well in the defensive zone. I marked Engelland down for two forced turnovers in the offensive zone, one of which led to his goal from the slot. Any player with that production and no negatives in less than 10 minutes of ice time should be welcome to keep his lineup spot for every game.

Rob Scuderi – Scuderi played close to a flawless game with his only mistake being a neutral zone turnover (partially caused by Neal’s indecision in playing the puck). His gap coverage was a little loose early in the game, but he tightened up as the Sabres started to increase their pressure. He finished with two solid poke checks in the defensive end, an intercepted pass on the crease, two blocked dump-in attempts, and also a great rebound clear from the crease. Scuderi showed better range and looked less tentative against the Sabres. Hopefully that is a trend that will continue.

One of the oddest groups you will ever see celebrating a goal. (Gene J Puskar/AP Photo)

One of the oddest groups you will ever see celebrating a goal. (Gene J Puskar/AP Photo)

Tanner Glass – Glass finished with two points (empty net goal, assist) and was certainly Steigerwald’s and Errey’s favorite player of the game, but he was a little careless with the puck for my tastes. One area of the game he absolutely dominated in was the penalty kill at least. He forced two turnovers on the PK (one via hit, one via poke check) and he also did a great job of forechecking on the PK to win a puck race and kill even more time in the offensive zone. In regular 5-on-5 situations though, I marked him down for two giveaways in the defensive zone and one in the neutral zone. Add in his high-sticking penalty that limited his PK work, and the empty net goal and assist were basically neutralized.

Chris Kunitz – Kunitz looked much better against Buffalo than he did over the weekend, but he still had some giveaway issues. The plus side of that is all of them occurred in the offensive zone. I noted three offensive zone giveaways and a bad offensive zone slashing penalty for Kunitz. He also had a goal, forced two turnovers on the penalty kill, and had an offensive zone takeaway. His work on the penalty kill increased (1:23) and he’s showing a real knack for handling that time well. Kunitz may be even more well-rounded that any of us realized.

Geno frustrated --> Stubborn Geno --> Leader in turnovers. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Geno frustrated –> Stubborn Geno –> Leader in turnovers. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Evgeni Malkin – Malkin finished the game with two takeaways in the offensive zone and also a great keep at the blue line on the powerplay. However, most of his game was about frustration and losing the puck. I marked him down for six turnovers (three defensive zone, one neutral zone, two offensive zone) and most of them occurred as he skated into groups of Sabres and then tried to force the puck away when he realized he wasn’t going to be able to skate around them. None of his turnovers turned into a major scoring chance, so they can easily be overlooked for a game, but Malkin’s puck management was definitely awful against Buffalo.

Misc. Thoughts

Other Player Notes – Kris Letang had a quiet, responsible game for the most part. Aside from one unnecessary drop pass in the offensive zone that became a turnover, he played an ideal game. Jayson Megna received a little time on the first line but didn’t have a great game. His defensive zone work was amongst the worst of the forwards (three giveaways). Craig Adams had a two point night and didn’t do much else, go Craig Adams. Taylor Pyatt is looking more and more comfortable with every game and seems to have found a role as Tanner Glass Part 2.

As usual lately, one defenseman is missing in the picture. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

As usual lately, one defenseman is missing in the picture. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Lingering Issues – The 3-0 final is nice, but the Penguins didn’t play a perfect game by any means. There were still several defensive breakdowns, with most of them occurring at the hands of Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik. The pairing does not appear to be in sync in any way right now and Orpik has not found any consistency in his positioning since returning from injury. Meanwhile, Martin has turned the puck over more frequently in the neutral zone than before his injury. The mix of the two issues has led to chaos in the defensive zone. On Matt Moulson’s chance in front of the net by himself, Martin turned the puck over at the offensive blue line and then Orpik stepped up for a hit at center ice. That left Gibbons as the only man back, chasing the puck down and trying to cover a 2-on-1 that should have never existed. That pairing needs to reel themselves in badly if they are going to play 23ish minutes a game.

Rumors – Monday was a day of rumors ranging from Jordan Eberle, to Ryan Miller, to PA Parenteau all having a chance to come to Pittsburgh. Here are my two cents on these rumors: stick to known sources. Bloggers don’t know anything. I don’t know anything. The only way we know things is when we hear it from known sources first. Stick to those known sources (teams, beat writers, national reporters). Teams scout each other constantly, whether it’s for future matchups, potential free agents, or trading options. Scouts will be at several games each night for the next couple of months. Don’t read into any of it. There’s about 5% truth and 95% nonsense that goes into it for trade rumors. Even if journalism fails at this at an increasing rate, check the sources.

Scoring Issues – Something I realized last night was that the Pens are in the middle of a stretch of four games against Olympic goalies. Two down (Lehtonen, Miller), two to go (Quick, Smith). Secondary scoring is an issue, but let’s try to stay calm as the team faces literally some of the best goalies in the world. It likely won’t get better in the next two games.


Pens Record: 37-14-2
Next Game: Thursday, 1/30 @ Los Angeles, 10:30pm

Thanks for reading!