Thoughts: Game 58 – Penguins vs Rangers

Rangers 4  Penguins 3 (SO)

By: Meesh Shanmugam (@HockeyMeesh)

Maatta pinched and good things happened. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Maatta pinched and good things happened. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Maatta (6) (PP) from Crosby, Jokinen
Malkin (18) (PP) from Neal, Niskanen
Neal (20) from Maatta, Megna

Shots: Crosby (6)
Missed Shots: Crosby (3)
Blocked Shots: Martin (2)
Hits: Glass (8)
Ice Time: Martin (25:23) … Engelland (5:34)
Faceoffs: Crosby (19/32) … Sutter (3/12)

Quick Summary
Good: Malkin, Niskanen, Maatta
Noteworthy: Neal, Crosby
Bad: Orpik, Scuderi
Other Players: Kunitz, Sutter, Bortuzzo
Misc Thoughts: Neal and Diving, Olympic Break, Roster Moves, Letang News
1st GA: Scuderi
1st GF: Martin, Crosby, Malkin, Maatta
2nd GA: Neal, Sutter, Maatta
2nd GF: Crosby, Niskanen, Malkin, Neal
3rd GA: Orpik
3rd GF: Niskanen, Megna, Maatta, Neal
Neal (slashing; Bad-Lazy)
Orpik (interference; Bad)
Neal (diving; Bad-Stupid)
Kunitz (roughing; Inconsequential)
Kunitz (roughing; Bad)
Zolnierczyk (roughing; Inconsequential)
Orpik (holding; Bad)
Malkin (tripping; Inconsequential)

Player Assessment

Geno has enjoyed several of these celebrations lately. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Geno has enjoyed several of these celebrations lately. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Evgeni Malkin – Malkin’s streak of great overall play continued against the Rangers as he recorded a powerplay goal, helped on the first goal, and also scored in the shootout. Though the team as a whole had major puck management issues, Malkin played an extremely responsible game. He had two takeaways in the defensive zone and one in the offensive zone. He also broke up passes in both the neutral zone and the defensive zone. Meanwhile, I didn’t see a single giveaway/turnover from Geno. He is heading to Sochi quite ready to take advantage of a bigger rink.

Matt Niskanen – Niskanen continues to look like the perfect heir to Paul Martin’s role. He helped out on the 2nd and 3rd goals, forced two turnovers in the offensive zone, drew a tripping penalty, and broke up three plays in the defensive zone using his poke check. Nisky finished 4th on the team in ice time, behind only Martin, Crosby, and Malkin. The increased ice time did lead to a couple of mistakes, namely two defensive zone giveaways, but he looked solid overall and handled playing on the top powerplay very well. It looks like the coaching staff now trusts him in offensive situations more than Martin (4:13 PP time compared to 1:16 for Martin).

Olli Maatta – Maatta was all over the ice against the Rangers and showed no hesitations when it came to pinching into the offensive zone. For his risk taking, he was rewarded with a powerplay goal and the primary assist on the game-tying goal. He managed to fluidly move up and down the ice without ever getting caught too far up, just another surprising ability that the youngster shouldn’t have yet. Beyond his skating awareness, he also drew an interference penalty and broke up a play in the defensive zone with a poke check. One area that Maatta did disappoint in was his coverage on the Rangers’ second goal. Maatta stood next to Pouliot and tied up his stick in front of Fleury, which meant absolutely nothing as Pouliot had a full screen on Fleury. Though Maatta is not often found clearing out the crease, he will have to learn how to when necessary. Aside from that issue and also a giveaway in the defensive zone, it was a solid game for Maatta.

Is he going to score or get a penalty? You never know... (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Is he going to score or get a penalty? You never know… (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

James Neal – Neal came up clutch for the Penguins with a powerplay assist and the game-tying goal, but he was equally frustrating at times. The points were certainly nice and he also recorded a defensive zone takeaway and a neutral zone pass interception, but his penalty trouble has been an issue lately. Neal took two penalties – slashing and unsportsmanlike conduct – diving. Neither one was incredibly smart or necessary for the situations he was in. In fact, had he skated a little harder in both scenarios, neither penalty would have happened. I guess Geno calls him “Lazy” for a reason at times.

Sidney Crosby – Crosby continued with his strong effort from the Buffalo game but Henrik Lundqvist was up to the task on him. He finished with a team-leading 6 shots (and another 3 missed), including a breakaway and a point-blank chance that Lundqvist saved. Crosby still managed to get an assist and also help out on the 2nd goal, so he wasn’t shut out completely. One issue he did have in this game was forcing the puck in the offensive zone, where he recorded three turnovers (two on the powerplay). Overall though, Crosby played a stronger game than the results and his stat line would suggest.


Brooks Orpik – The Rangers put a significant amount of pressure around the Penguins net and below the goal line. Despite these being areas where Orpik should be comfortable, he struggled with the pressure that the Rangers brought into the Penguins zone. He ended up with two penalties (interference, holding), two defensive zone giveaways, a failed clear, and a neutral zone giveaway. With all of that, I didn’t mark him down for a single above average play. After a string of three or four decent games, Orpik looked completely outmatched and frustrated at times against the Rangers.

Scuderi looks on as the Rangers celebrate his mistake. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Scuderi looks on as the Rangers celebrate his mistake. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Rob Scuderi – Perhaps the issue was how the Rangers jumped on all of the defensive defensemen, as Scuderi has some similar issues to Orpik. I marked him down for two failed clears, two defensive zone turnovers, and getting caught flat-footed three times in the defensive zone. The flat-footed aspect is not something I often look at, but it was very noticeable from Scuderi. He was at fault on the first goal against as he failed to clear the puck and looked quite surprised to even get it. Meanwhile, I had no good notes on him either. Just like Orpik, Scuderi just struggled with the pressure the Rangers brought around the net.

Misc. Thoughts

Other Player NotesChris Kunitz didn’t figure into any of the scoring plays, but he had three neutral zone pass interceptions to help the Penguins transition game throughout the night. His overall performance was solid in all three zones. Brandon Sutter had an uncharacteristically bad game with two turnovers and a failed clearing attempt. He also lost the faceoff cleanly that led to the Rangers’ 2nd goal. In fact, Sutter was only 3 for 12 in faceoffs after dominating a game earlier. Finally, Robert Bortuzzo was the only “stay at home” defenseman that had a solid game. He had three perfect shot blocks in the slot area to prevent high percentage chances.

Neal and Diving – Neal was called for his third unsportsmanlike conduct – diving penalty of the season. Per the NHL rulebook, he was eligible for a hearing and possible suspension, but the NHL decided not to pursue discipline. Looking back at his “dives”, I’ve marked two of them as bad calls and this one as an actual dive. I am quite curious as to why Neal has earned this diving reputation when pretty much every NHL player does it from time to time and it usually looks no worse than Neal’s. Whatever started it, it’s clear that the refs have diving in mind when they see him.

Olympic Break – The Penguins hit the Olympic break dominating the division, leading the East, and with a decent chance of getting healthier when the NHL returns. Of the Olympians, Malkin, Maatta, and Jokinen are playing some of their best hockey right now. Crosby and Kunitz have been average. Martin and Orpik have been below average. It will be fun to see how the bigger ice surface changes their game, how quickly they adjust, and how quickly they adjust back in 20 days. One thing we can all agree on – c’moooooon no injuries.  By the way, here is a great resource for the times/channels for all of the Olympic hockey games.

Roster Moves – The Penguins sent down Andrew Ebbett, Brian Gibbons, and Harry Zolnierczyk to play in the AHL during the Olympic break. Zolnierczyk did have to clear waivers, and to many people’s surprise, he did clear waivers. If I had to guess, that’s because most teams don’t want to add salary for two weeks during which a player won’t play with the trade deadline coming up. Either way, that’s great news for the Penguins.

Letang News – As everyone knows by now, Letang suffered a stroke a week and a half ago. Not much to say here except best wishes and get well soon, Letang. I also encourage all of you to read up about strokes instead of relying on twitter/hockey analysts for news about Letang and strokes.

Goal Assessment

First Goal Against (Pouliot)
The Rangers dump the puck into the left corner of the Penguins zone from just outside of the blue line. Tanner Glass retrieves the puck against the boards below the goal line with pressure from Mats Zuccarello, so he quickly makes a backhand pass to Rob Scuderi, who is on the goal line. Scuderi tries to lift the puck out of the zone, but gets stopped by Benoit Pouliot and the puck deflects to the left side boards by the faceoff circle. Derick Brassard gets the puck and moves it to Marc Staal at the left point. Staal takes a quick wrist shot towards the net, which deflects off of Scuderi in the slot and bounces off of the backboards behind the net and out on the other side. Mats Zuccarello gets the puck on the right side goal line and tries to slide it into the net, but Marc-Andre Fleury makes the save by pinning the puck in between his skate and the goal post. As the puck lies between Fleury’s skate and the post, Benoit Pouliot skates around Rob Scuderi on the crease and prods at Fleury’s left pad, knocking the puck into the net.
Players at fault for the first goal against: Scuderi (13)

First Goal For (Maatta)
With the Penguins on the powerplay, Lundqvist makes a kick save that sends the puck to the left corner. Olli Maatta skates down from the left point to retrieve it and passes it to Paul Martin at the center of the blue line. Martin then passes it to Sidney Crosby near the right faceoff dot. Crosby skates the puck higher in the zone above the faceoff circle as he surveys the scene and then he passes the puck back to Martin at the blue line while Maatta moves to the top of the left faceoff circle. Martin winds up and takes a snap shot that goes off of Rick Nash’s stick, bounces past Jokinen in the slot, and gets redirected towards the bottom of the right faceoff circle by Anton Stralman’s skate. Crosby skates in and backhands the loose puck on Lundqvist, who makes the save. The rebound then bounces to the other side as Stralman, Evgeni Malkin, and Marc Staal all get tied up on top of the crease. Olli Maatta, who had skated in from his position at the top of the left faceoff circle, then backhands the puck into the net as Lundqvist can’t get across in time.
Players contributing to the first goal for: Martin (20), Crosby (87), Malkin (70), Maatta (30)
*I realize that Jokinen received the second assist on this goal, but I cannot find any replay that shows he touched the puck at all.

(Credit: @JustPuckIt)

Maatta’s Finnish…. (Credit: @JustPuckIt)

Second Goal Against (Girardi)
James Neal is in the penalty box for slashing. On a faceoff at the left faceoff dot in the Penguins zone, Derick Brassard beats Brandon Sutter cleanly to win the puck back to the point. Dan Girardi settles the puck down and quickly takes a shot from the left point. Marc-Andre Fleury doesn’t even react to the shot as it goes past his glove because Benoit Pouliot (with Olli Maatta standing next to him) is completely screening Fleury on the crease.
Players at fault for the second goal against: Neal (7), Sutter (12), Maatta (27)

Second Goal For (Malkin)
With the Penguins on the powerplay, Sidney Crosby wins a faceoff at the left faceoff dot back to Matt Niskanen at the left point. Niskanen passes the puck back down to the left boards to Crosby, who passes it to the top of the left faceoff circle for Neal, who taps it right back to Crosby. Crosby then makes a saucer pass across the ice to Evgeni Malkin at the top of the right faceoff circle. Malkin passes it to Matt Niskanen at the center of the blue line, where he fakes a wind up for a shot and then passes the puck right back to Malkin. Malkin then skates down the boards to the outside of the right faceoff circle as James Neal moves to the area just above the right faceoff dot. Malkin passes the puck to Neal, who taps it back to Malkin, who taps it back to Neal, who taps it back to Malkin. On the final pass, Malkin winds up and takes a one-timer that goes past the blocker of Lundqvist, who was surprisingly deep in his crease.
Players contributing to the second goal for: Crosby (88), Niskanen (43), Malkin (71), Neal (50)

Why on earth was Lundqvist so far back? (Credit: @JustPuckIt)

Why on earth was Lundqvist so far back? (Credit: @JustPuckIt)

Third Goal Against (Pouliot)
Brooks Orpik is in the penalty box for holding. The Rangers dump the puck into the Penguins zone as they cross the red line. Marc-Andre Fleury stops the puck behind the net and throws it around the boards. The puck makes it all the way out to the right point, where Dan Girardi is in place to stop it. Girardi passes the puck to the left point for Brad Richards, who starts skating towards the top of the left faceoff circle and then passes the puck back to Girardi at the middle of the blue line. Girardi then fires a wrist shot that goes wide to the left of Fleury. The puck hits the back boards and bounces directly back out past the goal line, where Benoit Pouliot picks it up and immediately fires a shot over Fleury’s arm before Fleury can get to the post.
Players at fault for the third goal against: Orpik (23)

Third Goal For (Neal)
After the Penguins had pressure in the Rangers zone, the Rangers clear the puck out to center, where Olli Maatta gloves it out of the air and pulls it back to the Penguins blue line. He passes the puck across the ice to Matt Niskanen as he faces pressure from Ryan Callahan. Niskanen skates up to the middle of the ice and chips the puck over to Jayson Megna entering the Rangers zone on the right side. Megna is immediately pressured by Brad Richards and the puck rolls down the right side boards. Olli Maatta skates into the zone past Megna and Richards to get to the loose puck first. He pins it against the boards just above the goal line as Chris Kreider comes in and hits him. Maatta takes the hit as he shields the puck from Kreider, and then he turns and centers the puck to the slot. James Neal skates into the slot and shoots the loose puck past Lundqvist’s blocker to tie the game.
Players contributing to the third goal for: Niskanen (44), Megna (7), Maatta (31), Neal (51)

Should probably cover this guy. (Credit: @JustPuckIt)

Should probably cover this guy. (Credit: @JustPuckIt)

Penalty Assessment

Neal (slashing): Bad-Lazy, goes after a loose puck against Chris Kreider in the defensive zone and instead of skating all the way through the play, he starts gliding and slashes Kreider’s stick when Kreider gets to the puck first.
Orpik (interference): Bad, skates to a loose puck in the defensive zone but steps up and hits Daniel Carcillo before Carcillo gets to the puck instead of just playing the puck.
Neal (diving): Bad-Stupid, Neal gets hooked by Hagelin and then clamps his arm down on Hagelin’s stick and throws his feet out from under himself quite dramatically.
Kunitz (roughing): Inconsequential, gets into a scrum with Zuccarello and they both go off for roughing.
Kunitz (roughing): Bad, gets an extra minor in the scrum with Zuccarello. It appears this is because Kunitz throws an extra punch at Zuccarello when everyone is grabbing each other.
Zolnierczyk (roughing): Inconsequential, gets into a shoving match with Dominic Moore near the benches and they both go off for roughing.
Orpik (holding): Bad, is trying to keep Derick Brassard from a puck in the defensive corner and wraps his arms completely around Brassard to hold him back.
Malkin (tripping): Inconsequential, trips Ryan Callahan at the end of the overtime period when it had no impact on the game.

Pens Record: 40-15-3
Next Game: Thursday, 2/27 vs Montreal, 7pm

Thanks for reading!