Thoughts: Game 57 – Pens finally score on Holtby, still lose 3-1 to Caps

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.

Capitals 3  Pens 1

Record: 32-16-9

Goals
Downie (10) from Adams, Letang

Click here to read the goal assessments

Gm 57 - Goals

Penalties
Bennett (unsportsmanlike conduct) – Inconsequential (gets into a scrum with Wilson near the Capitals net and they each receive a minor penalty)
Comeau (tripping) – Careless (reaches in front of Backstrom’s skates for a puck in the offensive zone and Backstrom goes down for a tripping call)
Bortuzzo (fighting) – Inconsequential (fights Latta off of a defensive zone faceoff and they each receive a fighting major)
Lapierre (cross-checking) – Inconsequential (gets into a scrum with Fehr before the puck is even dropped and each player receives a minor)
Downie (roughing) – Unnecessary (goes after Carlson after Lapierre/Fehr engage with each other and Downie gets an extra minor for escalating the scrum)
Comeau (unsportsmanlike conduct) – Inconsequential (gets into the face of Orpik after an offside whistle and each guy gets a minor penalty)
Downie (roughing) – Stupid (punches Hillen in the face after a whistle and gets a minor and misconduct for it)
Downie (10 minute misconduct) – Stupid (gets sent off the ice for his punch and continued arguing with the refs)
Adams (10 minute misconduct) – Inconsequential (gets into a scrum with Wilson and they each receive a misconduct for it)
Kunitz (boarding) – Bad Call (catches Ward off balance and knocks him into the boards with a hit to his shoulder that gets a minor penalty)
Letang (slashing) – Unnecessary (two-hands Johansson’s stick and breaks it in half when Johansson has the puck in the Penguins zone for a minor penalty)

Notable Players

Forwards

Gm 57 - Forwards

Nick Spaling – It wasn’t a strong game for the forwards across the board, but Spaling at least made his presence felt in the defensive zone and on the penalty kill with a good, responsible effort. Just in the defensive zone, he had a takeaway, two pass interceptions, and a broken-up play. The third line couldn’t create much offense aside from a couple of individual chances, but Spaling was at least strong positionally and smart with the puck. That was the best the Pens could get from their group of forwards against Washington.

Steve Downie – From the previous thoughts post, re: Downie – “It seems like his talent ebbs and flows with his out-of-control tenacity, which is quite the double-edged sword.” Right on time, Downie put both on display again with a rollercoaster of a game. He scored the only goal for the Pens on a rebound in front of the crease and he also had an offensive zone takeaway. On the other hand, He had two lost pucks, two bad minor penalties, and was given a 10-minute misconduct after one of those minors as well in the 3rd period. Downie didn’t cost the Penguins this game by himself, but he started a march to the penalty box that hurt the Penguins in the 3rd period and forced their focus on winning the game into question. He continues to be a complete wild card from night to night and it’s still very difficult to assess how good or bad that really is.

Even when he scores, Downie looks like he's going to attack someone. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Even when he scores, Downie looks like he’s going to attack someone. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Sidney Crosby – Sidney Crosby is listed here mostly because I have nothing to say about him. My only note on Crosby is that he drew a penalty. No giveaways, no takeaways, nothing except for drawing a penalty. He did overpass the puck a few times as well, but that is a team issue as much as his own. I can’t remember the last time that Crosby went through an entire game with such a lack of noticeable moments. The first line played okay, but they didn’t even remotely test Holtby (again), which might be the biggest concern going into a potential playoff matchup between these two teams. Through three games in the season series, it’s clear that Washington has effectively found a way to neutralize Crosby.

Defensemen/Goalies

Gm 57 - Defense

Marc-Andre Fleury – Fleury watched another wonderful performance end up as a loss thanks to a lack of goal support. He faced 32 shots for the second game in a row, this time stopping all but two, but still only received one goal of support in another loss. He was magnificent in the first period with saves on Burakovsky, Wilson, and Laich from the slot, Backstrom from the right circle, and Ovechkin from the point. Both of the goals that he allowed came on the powerplay, with the first one coming on an Ovechkin breakaway and the second one on a cross-crease one-timer from Ward on a 5-on-3. Fleury even drew two penalties to put the hapless powerplay to work. There really isn’t much more that Fleury could do for this team right now. He might have to start shooting on goalies at this rate.

Who knew offensive support would ever be an issue for Fleury? (Keith Srakocic/AP Photo)

Who knew offensive support would ever be an issue for Fleury? (Keith Srakocic/AP Photo)

Simon Despres – Despres had a terrible start to the game with a lost puck in the defensive zone and a bad neutral zone giveaway in his first few shifts. He was also partially at fault for Ovechkin’s breakaway goal on a terrible change, when Martin was next to the bench and flat out standing there to come off the ice and Despres was slow to jump back on because he was watching the play in the neutral zone. Perhaps it’s generally a good thing that Despres was being safe about his change, but there is no time for a slow change in any penalty kill situation. After the dismal first period, he bounced back nicely through the rest of the game though. He finished with four shots on net and solidified his defensive game with a forced turnover and a broken-up play. His ability to find a consistent performance level is going to be important as the Pens eye up trade deadline candidates on the blue line.

Kris Letang – Letang had some mix of a bad game and a hard luck game as he played a part in every goal scored in the game. On the only goal for, Letang did a wonderful job of skating the puck through the neutral zone and down to the left faceoff circle in the Capitals zone, where he centered the puck to the slot and it eventually bounced to Downie for the goal. On to the goals against… For Ovechkin’s breakaway goal, Letang got caught skating too far into the neutral zone when the puck wasn’t controlled by his team and Martin was changing, so he was caught flat-footed when Ovechkin got the puck and he turned away from Ovechkin, opening up a breakaway lane for the goal. On the second goal against, Letang was in the penalty box for an unnecessary slashing penalty when he two-handed the stick of Johansson and broke it in half. Finally, he gave the puck to Carlson weakly along the boards on a failed zone entry/dump-in at the end of the game that allowed Carlson to throw the puck long distance into an empty net. In terms of puck management, Letang had a pass interception, a forced turnover, and a broken-up play on the good side, but the bad side included two giveaways, a lost puck, and a lost coverage. None of this even includes the slash he took to this back of his leg from Ovechkin, but he only missed a couple of shifts from that and looked fine when he returned. Regardless, Letang just wasn’t at his usual level against Washington.

Misc. Thoughts

Refs Never Take Control – This isn’t going to start with the Letang/Ovechkin non-call. This entire issue started in the first period and continued to escalate with non-calls. The referees in this game seemed fully intent on not making calls unless they absolutely had to from the very start of the game. In the first period alone, Crosby was held twice, Malkin was interfered with, and Perron should have received two slashing penalties on one shift for whacking a forward leaving the Capitals zone. All of these infractions continued for both teams through the second period, and of course escalated in the third with Ovechkin’s slash on Letang. Personally, I didn’t think the slash was malicious – but it doesn’t have to be to be a penalty. It should have been a two minute minor and that would have probably ended the situation aside from a little yelling here and there. Instead, nothing was called, then Kunitz went after Ovechkin on the next shift, where again, nothing was called, and then things continued to escalate as the Penguins started a march to the penalty box.

My biggest issue with all of this is how the Penguins responded to a non-call in a tie game. That’s what it boils down to; this was a 1-1 game against a good team that is right behind the Penguins in the standings. Despite the game scenario, the focus for a few Penguins (Kunitz, Downie, Lapierre, etc.) appeared to turn from winning to sending a message. The only message that was truly sent in this game was that the Capitals continue to own the Penguins offense and special teams. The 5-on-5 play was fine – the Penguins actually had the edge there with a 5-on-5 goal. However, the Caps ended up with two powerplay goals and a shorthanded empty-netter, which I would normally ignore if it wasn’t completely hopeless that the Penguins could score on the powerplay with two minutes left in a one-goal game. Defending a teammate is great depending on game scenario, but there are times that it can wait. Kunitz is the one guy I want to completely single out for this because he’s on the first line to produce, not skate around throwing his body on everyone. His penalty wasn’t a great call, but I’m also not surprised with it given that he was running bodies for several shifts after the Letang slash. Just keep playing hockey and have a long memory, especially when your team is carrying the 5-on-5 play. These teams play each other again in a week.

Where's the line between responding and being stupid? (Keith Srakocic/AP Photo)

Where’s the line between responding and being stupid? (Keith Srakocic/AP Photo)

Special Teams Issues – As mentioned above, the powerplay and penalty kill both failed the Penguins miserably in this game. The powerplay started to get more shots on net on their second chance, but their other chances were generally a trainwreck with too much passing. It continues to be the same story over and over again, everyone is just deferring for the perfect shot, even when shooting lanes exist (looking at you, Sid). This has nothing to do with personnel and it never will based on the talent the Penguins have. It’s all about their attitude. One thing I remembered as I was watching the game last night was that the first month powerplay had a lot of backside movement and backside skating in the offensive zone. The opponent’s PK constantly had to shift around because of all of that movement and it opened up “perfect” plays. Now, everyone is stationary and trying to pass the puck around as if the PK will move with the passes. Instead, PKs are happy to stay in a box or diamond that easily covers everything. Thus, instead of just shoot and crash the net, let’s upgrade to move, shoot, and crash the net.

Moving on to the penalty kill, the turnover/botched change/botched coverage on the Ovechkin goal was just an unfortunate play from top to bottom and one that none of those guys should ever allow to occur. It didn’t help any that Bennett was on the ice for the PK since he had just come out of the box for matching minors. As for the 5-on-3 goal against, Martin was caught lost in the zone and doing nothing before he realized Ward was open on the backside. It was a scenario he should have read better, but a 5-on-3 will always be tough to defend, and even more so when Sutter is being used to shadow Ovechkin at that point. Either way, both sides of special teams play is letting this team down over and over again right now.

Next Game: 2/19 vs Columbus, 7pm

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