Thoughts: Game 56 – Pens drop another shootout to the Blackhawks, 2-1

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.

Blackhawks 2  Pens 1 (SO)

Record: 32-15-9

Goals
Spaling (9) from Bennett, Sutter

Click here to read the goal assessments

Gm 56 - Goals

Penalties
Sutter (hooking) – Unnecessary (gets his stick wrapped around the midsection of Kane as they’re exiting the Blackhawks zone)
Bortuzzo (slashing) – Inconsequential (gets a slashing minor along with Kane when they slash each other off of a faceoff)
Crosby (tripping) – Careless (tries to skate around Toews and skates through with his stick held out, which hits the legs of Toews and takes him down)

Notable Players

Forwards

Gm 56 - Forwards

Beau Bennett – Was it the benching? Was it new advice? Was it just a matter of time? Whatever it was that motivated Bennett against Chicago, it worked extremely well. He led the team with NINE shots and assisted on the Penguins’ only goal by taking a bad angle shot that rebounded to Spaling, who flicked the puck into the net. Bennett actually had a quiet game in terms of turnovers because he just kept receiving the puck and shooting it on net at every possible opportunity. While the team (and powerplay) has forgotten about Johnston’s mandate to put the puck on net, Bennett followed it perfectly and at least helped the Pens get on board. With his quick release, there’s no doubt that performances with even half as many shots will get him past his current career-high of three goals.

If he'll keep shooting, just keep giving him the puck. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

If he’ll keep shooting, just keep giving him the puck. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Steve Downie – Downie had a rather quiet game on the 4th line and his presence has dropped off over the past few weeks. He received just under nine minutes of ice time and the 4th line was often trapped in the defensive zone again against Chicago. As for puck management, he had a takeaway and a broken-up play, but lost two pucks on breakouts and also had a failed clear. As the team gets healthier and deeper, it’s getting tougher to figure out what Downie’s identity on this team is and what exactly he’s needed for. It seems like his talent ebbs and flows with his out-of-control tenacity, which is quite the double-edged sword.

Defensemen/Goalies

Gm 56 - Defense

Marc-Andre Fleury – Fleury had another solid game in regulation, added in a couple of scary moments, and then get destroyed in the shootout by Chicago yet again. He made 31 saves on 32 shots in regulation, including two on Hossa from the slot, a one-timer from Versteeg on the PK, and two on Kane inside the faceoff dots. The scariest moment of his game by far was when he lost his glove and play continued on while he held his left hand out as if there was a glove on it. If Fleury stops a puck with his bare hand, I will be ready to call it the end of Pens season. He survived though and everything went well until the shootout, when Toews, Kane, and Sharp all beat him (Fleury’s first 0-for-3 performance in a shootout) to give Chicago the win. Based on the amount of skill there…I’ll give Fleury a pass and compliment him on the strong game.

Kris Letang – Letang looked like he had been slowing down for a few games, but he was ready for the Blackhawks and put together a very strong performance. He had four shots on net (second to Bennett’s absurd nine) and recorded four takeaways, a forced turnover, and three broken-up plays in the defensive zone. He did end up with two lost coverages that I wasn’t thrilled with, especially because he got caught too far in the offensive zone for one of them, but no harm, no foul in this performance at least. One way he made up for it was by harassing Chicago’s forwards endlessly with slashes and cross-checks as the refs stopped calling penalties. As far as production goes, if Crosby and Malkin stay split up on the powerplay, I would expect Letang’s PP performance to improve moving forward with one less star to defer to.

Letang is finding new ways to round out his game even better than before. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Letang is finding new ways to round out his game even better than before. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Derrick Pouliot – Pouliot joined the top powerplay and at least added movement to that unit while playing a generally good game overall. He finished the game with one shot on net and two broken-up plays in the defensive zone with no major errors. He has developed a tendency towards just doing what he needs to do to clear the defensive zone and create passing options in the offensive zone. Both are great signs of his development and it’s hard not to think that he’s starting to pass guys on the depth chart. It will be interesting to see how the team deals with him when Ehrhoff returns (TBD).

Misc. Thoughts

Shootout Performance – The Penguins are not the shootout team they used to be and many people have fresh memories of the Blackhawks going 5-for-5 against Fleury right now. First off, it’s the Blackhawks; their shootout talent speaks for itself. Second, I am quite okay (even happy) with the Penguins continuing to not worry about shootouts in practice and focusing on rushes, board play, and other issues instead. This team is bound for the playoffs and they need to round out into 60-minute playoff form. Shootout points are nice for winning the division/conference/whatever, but no matter who any of us thinks will be the best matchup for the team, anything goes in the playoffs. Give me a team that’s focused on playing perfect playoff hockey over one that’s prioritizing earning extra points in the shootout. Are those things mutually exclusive? No, they’re not. But if the team has 10 extra minutes of practice, I’d certainly rather see it used on the powerplay and penalty kill over a shootout. The playoffs are going to be difficult no matter who the Pens draw in the first round. We’re all better off hoping that the Pens focus on their own game instead of hoping for a specific draw.

Sometimes you just have to give credit to the other team. (Paul Beaty/AP Photo)

Sometimes you just have to give credit to the other team. (Paul Beaty/AP Photo)

Powerplay Changes – The Pens rolled out new powerplays, which were essentially the first line with Letang/Pouliot and the second line with Martin/Despres. I am not opposed to the Crosby/Malkin split since the powerplay has looked abysmal for a while, but I do think that’s overthinking the problem and probably taking more steps than are necessary. There is nothing wrong with the original unit or really, any five-man unit this team puts out on the ice. The only issue is philosophy, as every blog has discussed at this point. It’s simple. Shoot more and go to the net. The wait continues…

Bennett’s Usage – Now that we’ve discussed how awesome Bennett was and how the powerplay is not awesome, let’s question why Bennett wasn’t used on either powerplay. First off, props to the coaching staff for getting that performance out of Bennett. Honestly, I don’t think the benching had anything to do with it (weird two-game delay in results, if that’s the case). However, I have no doubt that someone at least said something to him to get him to shoot as much as he did. Now, with Bennett unloading nine shots throughout the game, I question why he a) wasn’t used on the powerplay and b) wasn’t used in the 4-on-4 OT. The Penguins have a lot of offensive talent at their disposal and it will be tough for Bennett to crack that at any time. However, given his mentality against Chicago and the lack of overall offense in the game, it seemed like it would have made sense to use the only hot hand that the team had. I’m curious to see if Bennett’s performance against Chicago will alter his usage on Tuesday against Washington, who has yet to allow a goal to Pittsburgh this season.

Next Game: 2/17 vs Washington, 7pm

Thanks for reading!