Thoughts: Game 54 – Penguins @ Kings

Penguins 4  Kings 1

By: Meesh Shanmugam (@HockeyMeesh)

Malkin (15) from Jokinen, Neal
Kunitz (27) (PP) from Jokinen, Crosby
Jokinen (16) (PP) from Malkin, Niskanen
Glass (4) from Niskanen, Maatta

Goal Assessment

First Goal For (Malkin)
As the Penguins work the puck around the offensive zone, Evgeni Malkin makes a pass from the right half boards to James Neal in the middle of the zone above the faceoff circles. Neal takes a wrist shot that Quick can’t glove properly and the puck bounces back out to the top of the right faceoff circle. Neal gets his own rebound as Jussi Jokinen goes to the left side of the crease and Malkin goes to the right side of the crease. Neal quickly turns and tries to shoot again, but Anze Kopitar deflects the puck off net. The puck bounces to Jokinen at the left side of the net, who has a little extra space because Malkin was holding Willie Mitchell’s stick in between them on top of the crease. Malkin releases Mitchell’s stick and Jokinen turns with his back facing Malkin and makes a backhand pass across the slot. Kopitar attempts to break up the pass but is too far away and Quick gets caught chasing too far in Jokinen’s direction. The puck reaches Malkin on the edge of the right side of the crease and he taps it into a wide open net.
Players contributing to the first goal for: Neal (45), Jokinen (42), Malkin (63)

First Goal Against (Kopitar)
Chris Kunitz is in the penalty box for hooking. The Kings win a faceoff in the offensive zone and Brandon Sutter loses his stick right away. The puck goes back to Slava Voynov at the right point, who skates the puck to the middle of the blue line as the Kings rotate their formation. Voynov then passes the puck to the right point to Anze Kopitar as the two men on the blue line have plenty of time and space with Brandon Sutter covering them without a stick. Voynov backs up to the left point and Kopitar passes the puck to him for a one-timer, which Voynov fans on as his stick breaks. The puck slides down to Drew Doughty at the left faceoff dot. Doughty considers shooting, but Paul Martin has the lane blocked, so he passes the puck back up to Anze Kopitar at the middle of the blue line. Meanwhile, Voynov is skating back to the bench to get a new stick, turning the situation into a 4-on-4, though Sutter is still without a stick. Kopitar skates towards the left point and Sutter decides to wave at Craig Adams to take the point so he can skate back to the right faceoff circle and retrieve his stick while it’s a 4-on-4 situation. Adams is too deep in the zone to step up on Kopitar as Sutter leaves the area though. Kopitar skates the puck to the top of the left faceoff circle and fires a bullet of a slapshot that beats Zatkoff over his right shoulder.
Players at fault for the first goal against: Kunitz (13), Sutter (11)

Second Goal For (Kunitz)
The Penguins have a 5-on-3 powerplay. James Neal attempts to take a shot from the right faceoff dot, but is blocked by Willie Mitchell. Neal chases down the loose puck at the right boards and carries it towards the blue line, where he passes it along for Evgeni Malkin at the center of the blue line. Malkin and Neal rotate positions and Malkin passes the puck up to Neal at the middle of the ice. Neal then moves the puck down to Sidney Crosby to the left of the left faceoff dot. Crosby draws the attention of Kopitar and Greene as Jussi Jokinen sets up along the goal line next to the net and Chris Kunitz plants himself in the slot in between the three Kings defenders. Crosby then passes the puck down to the goal line for Jokinen, who makes a one-touch pass to the slot for Kunitz, who one-times the puck over Quick’s glove.
Players contributing to the second goal for: Malkin (64), Neal (46), Crosby (84), Jokinen (43), Kunitz (73)

Third Goal For (Jokinen)
The Penguins are still on a 5-on-4 powerplay after scoring on their 5-on-3 chance. Matt Niskanen picks up the puck in the defensive zone after a bouncing pass went over Evgeni Malkin’s stick at the point. Niskanen is pressured along the boards by Dwight King, so he drops the puck off and Malkin circles around to pick it up. Malkin skates down the left boards through the neutral zone and into the offensive zone, where he faces pressure from both Trevor Lewis and Slava Voynov. As Malkin gets pressured, Jussi Jokinen skates down the right side of the offensive zone unnoticed. Malkin pulls up high in the zone, turns his back to the pressure against the left side boards, and makes a backhand pass that reaches Jokinen at the top of the right faceoff circle. Jokinen gets the puck completely uncovered, takes a second to settle it down, and then rips a wrist shot past Quick’s glove.
Players contributing to the third goal for: Niskanen (40), Malkin (65), Jokinen (44)

Fourth Goal For (Glass)
Kyle Clifford dumps the puck into the Penguins zone. Olli Maatta skates back to retrieve it and throws it behind the net as he’s being chased closely by Clifford. Matt Niskanen receives the puck behind the net, skates it above the goal line, and makes an errant pass into the neutral zone. The pass hits Robyn Regehr’s skates at center ice and bounces back to Tanner Glass who is skating through the neutral zone. Glass picks up the puck and accelerates to full speed as he moves towards the right side boards to the outside of Regehr. Glass skates the puck down to the right faceoff dot and then takes a perfect backhand shot that beats Martin Jones over his right shoulder to the far corner of the net.
Players contributing to the fourth goal for: Maatta (28), Niskanen (41), Glass (11)

Penalty Assessment

Kunitz (hooking): Bad, reaches back and hooks Slava Voynov to the ground on an offensive zone faceoff after over-skating the puck and Voynov right after puck drop.
Crosby (hooking): Bad-Lazy, is standing along the boards in the offensive zone below the goal line as the puck comes down to Anze Kopitar in the corner. Instead of skating to the puck and Kopitar, he keeps his feet idle and gets his stick into the hands of Kopitar to pull him back a little.
Glass (slashing): Bad, gets into a puck battle along the boards in the defensive zone and tries to slash Colin Fraser’s stick away from the puck but breaks Fraser’s stick for an easy call.
Sutter (tripping): Bad, attempts to poke check Jeff Carter as they enter the Penguins zone, but he gets his stick into Carter’s skates, taking him down.

Player Assessment

Let him be your backup. He can do it. (Noah Graham/Getty Images)

Let him be your backup. He can do it. (Noah Graham/Getty Images)

Jeff Zatkoff – Though he didn’t get a shutout, Zatkoff had a very similar game to what Fleury faced against Buffalo earlier in the week. He made 30 saves on 31 shots, only allowing a powerplay goal to Anze Kopitar that may have literally been unstoppable. Many of his saves were easy and from long range shots since the Kings’ offense was rather inept, but there were still five or six breakdowns in the Penguins’ defense that allowed for some great chances. Amongst his best saves were gloving a Justin Williams breakaway and stopping both Williams and Kopitar inside the crease. Zatkoff continues to prove himself as a worthy backup for this team.

James Neal – Neal only added an assist to his point total in this game, but he was the only player on the roster that I did not mark down for any sort of mistake. He was efficient all over the ice with takeaways in the offensive zone and defensive zone, and broken up passes in the neutral zone and defensive zone. He recovered his own rebound to help set up Malkin’s goal and he started the play that led to Kunitz’s eventual game-winner on the powerplay. Neal may not be getting the points, but his overall play is still steady right now.

Evgeni Malkin – Throughout the latter half of January, Malkin has easily been the best and most dynamic skater for the Penguins. Not only did he show that off again against Los Angeles, but the Penguins coaching staff utilized it to its full potential. Malkin was frequently seen as the 3rd forward coming up the ice, often circling back through the neutral and defensive zones so he could pick up speed as Neal and Jokinen created space for him. Malkin then gave the Kings fits as they were left flat-footed while he skated around creating chances and opportunities for the team. He finished with a goal and an assist, helped out on the Kunitz game-winner, and also drew both penalties that led to the two powerplay goals in the first period. On the downside, his free skating led to a few giveaways (two neutral zone, one offensive zone). Since his free skating was more by design though, players were almost always in position to defend turnovers. One of the more underrated parts of Malkin’s game to me was how he backed off in the 3rd period and cut down on his turnovers and risky plays in the process.

With Dupuis out, welcome to your top trio on the team. (Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)

With Dupuis out, welcome to your top trio on the team. (Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)

Jussi Jokinen – Jokinen basically tore Los Angeles up in the first 12 minutes of the game. He had three points (goal, two assists) as he continually found soft spots in coverage where no one would pay attention to him. Through the rest of the first period, he also added a forced turnover on a great backchecking effort and had an offensive zone takeaway. He was very quiet for the latter two periods though, as were the Penguins in general. He did end up with three turnovers (one neutral zone, two defensive zone) as the team took their foot off of the gas pedal. The first period was good enough for everyone though.

Matt Niskanen – Has Matt Niskanen basically taken over for Paul Martin? He had another solid game at both ends of the ice, notching two assists and playing mostly risk-free hockey in the defensive zone. He broke up two plays on defense with nice poke checks and also intercepted a neutral zone pass to break up an offensive zone rush. Niskanen is doing a great job of staying calm with the puck, providing outlets for Maatta, and boosting the offense any time he gets a chance. He is really shining as a well-rounded defenseman right now.


Brandon Sutter – In an odd change of pace, Sutter did more good in the offensive zone than defensive zone. He forced an offensive zone turnover with a poke check and also intercepted two clearing attempts to keep the puck in the Kings’ zone. On the defensive side, he did have a pass interception, but two bad plays that hurt the Penguins. One was the tripping penalty on Jeff Carter (yes, Carter dove, but he was still tripped first). The other was the very awkward decision to retrieve his stick on the penalty kill as Anze Kopitar scored just seconds later. Sutter dropped his stick on the defensive zone faceoff, at which point he could have retrieved it before the Penguins settled into their formation. Once the Kings and Penguins were both settled into their formations, Sutter decided to go retrieve his stick when Voynov broke his and went to the bench. It was a great idea in theory except for the fact that Craig Adams was not prepared for this and Sutter gave him little to no warning that he would do such a thing. The lack of communication led to Adams getting stuck too deep in the zone to step up on Kopitar. Sutter didn’t play a bad game overall, but that was certainly a poorly executed decision.

Orpik was more positioning over big hitting early in the year. That has changed completely in a bad way. (Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)

Orpik was more positioning over big hitting early in the year. That has changed completely in a bad way. (Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)

Brooks Orpik – The only player I wasn’t pleased with throughout the game was Orpik. He is still in the habit of getting caught flat-footed at the blue line or lunging to intercept passes or make hits. It’s great when he connects, but it’s incredibly risky when he misses because there is usually no one behind him or not enough room for his defensive partner to make up for his miscue. I marked him down for two defensive zone turnovers and two situations where he missed the player he was lunging for. Of the lunges, one turned into a breakaway that Zatkoff stopped and the other was nicely covered up for by Paul Martin. Orpik is just playing a little riskier than necessary right now and needs to focus more on his positioning like he did earlier in the season.

Misc. Thoughts

Other Player Notes – Chris Kunitz and Sidney Crosby figured in to the game-winner on the powerplay but had a very quiet night as the top line. The Kings actually did an excellent job of defending them and the rotating right winger situation certainly hurts chemistry at times. Rob Scuderi didn’t have a great game with the puck (two failed clears and a neutral zone turnover), but his positioning was just about perfect all game. Deryk Engelland played a strong game at forward, forcing a turnover with a hit and intercepting a pass in the defensive zone. I want him to be a regular 4th liner at this point. Brian Gibbons and Jayson Megna both showed flashes of top six potential and flashes of not belonging in the NHL. They both have great speed but get a little ahead of themselves at times and lose the puck. Both players also perform vastly different depending on who their linemates are. Megna seems to be a better fit on the 3rd line and Gibbons on the 1st line based on who is available right now.

Hits like this one (which was uncalled) could be very costly on a night to night basis. (Noah Graham/Getty Images)

Hits like this one (which was uncalled) could be very costly on a night to night basis. (Noah Graham/Getty Images)

Letang Sits – Letang was scratched due to an illness that has been going around the team according to the postgame press conference. Supposedly Fleury was ill as well. Put away your trade rumors, etc., I don’t see any reason to not believe the team on this one (Letang is missing practice as I finish this as well). Bortuzzo played a solid game in Letang’s place and certainly set the tone early and throughout the game with some huge hits. As you can see in the picture, some of those hits were questionable, even if he didn’t get called for it. I love Bortuzzo in the lineup as a big hitter and as a pest, but he does tend to toe the line a lot and I wonder how far he can go without being a negative factor. For what it’s worth, Bortuzzo has been the 2nd worst player on the team in my goals for/goals against assessments both per game and per 60 minutes played. Therefore, don’t expect to see me clamoring for him in the lineup as a regular quite yet. (FYI – Scuderi is the worst in both categories).

Lesser Competition – The win was another nice one, but I’m not sure LA is playing much better than Buffalo right now. They have been on a horrible streak over the past two weeks and have no offense to speak of whatsoever. In fact, over the past 300+ minutes, they have three goals – all from Kopitar. The Kings appeared to basically roll over and die after the Penguins scored two powerplay goals in the first period for a 3-1 lead. They knew, much like their fans knew, that scoring 3+ goals was very unlikely. It certainly didn’t help their case that Zatkoff was playing a fantastic game either. So while the win over the Kings is nice, it doesn’t prove anything if you ask me. Everyone would like to play the Kings right now.


Pens Record: 38-14-2
Next Game: Saturday, 2/1 @ Phoenix, 8pm

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