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.
Pens 4 Blues 2
Comeau (13), unassisted
Hornqvist (16) (PP), from Crosby, Letang
Comeau (14) from Despres, Malkin
Sutter (12) from Comeau, Perron
Click here to read the goal assessments
Pouliot (tripping) – Overly aggressive (tries to reach around Berglund to poke the puck in the corner and ends up taking out Berglund’s legs)
Letang (high-sticking) – Inconsequential (gets into a battle with Pietrangelo after a whistle and they each receive a minor)
Bortuzzo (roughing) – Inconsequential (gets into a scrum with Backes after Backes goes after Malkin and gets a minor along with Backes)
Bortuzzo (10 min misconduct) – Inconsequential (gets a misconduct along with Backes after their scrum/arguing)
Blake Comeau – The best value on the team continued to lead the even-strength offense with a three-point night. Comeau scored the first goal of the game by stopping a clearing attempt by Lindbohm, taking the puck towards the net, and backhanding it through Elliott’s five-hole. He later scored his second goal of the game towards the end of the 2nd period with a redirection in the slot on a sequence that began with him blocking a pass in the neutral zone. Finally, he assisted on Sutter’s goal in the 3rd period to give the Pens a 4-0 lead. Comeau’s game was beautifully efficient. He took two turnovers and turned them into two goals, had four shots on net, and did a great job of creating space for everyone else in the offensive zone (see: Sutter’s goal). His smart style of play continues to benefit himself, everyone around him, and his future earnings.
Patric Hornqvist – Hornqvist had a few mistakes throughout the game (two giveaways, two lost pucks, a failed clear, and was at fault for the first goal against), but this was the first game that he actually looked like his old self in quite a while. He had three shots on net, a pass interception, three forced turnovers, a broken-up play, and scored a powerplay goal from the slot to finally end that unit’s drought. He was buzzing around the net and kept going to the crease, which created plenty of room for Perron and Crosby to skate around the offensive zone and get shots off. It wasn’t his best game, but it was a huge step forward in an effort to return to his early season form.
Sidney Crosby – Crosby was finally separated from Kunitz and also finally started to look like his old self again too. The most noticeable change in his game that no stat sheet will tell you about is that he was driving to the net on every shift. There is no better place for Crosby to make things happen in the offensive zone. He finished the game with five shots on net and an assist on Hornqvist’s goal. In terms of puck management, he had two takeaways and a broken-up play to go against two lost pucks. On the downside, he was partially at fault for the first goal against when he drifted into Pouliot’s coverage area and left Jaskin alone near the slot. Overall though, the important takeaway is Crosby going to the net. He crashed the area several times, even running over Elliott at one point, and he also set up Hornqvist’s goal from the goal line. If Crosby keeps going to those areas, he’ll be the leading scorer in the NHL again very quickly.
Simon Despres – Despres had a bit of a tough start, which has turned into a trend over the past week, but he turned it around for a strong game overall. He had two takeaways, a pass interception, and two broken-up plays in the defensive zone to cover up for his two giveaways and lost puck. He was certainly not helped by Scuderi, who made several questionable decisions with passing the puck into bad situations, but was often saved by Despres. Despres also ended up with an assist as he got off a quick slapshot before getting hit at the point on Comeau’s redirection goal. He hasn’t returned to his peak level from earlier this season, but he’s steadying himself at least.
Thomas Greiss – Greiss wasn’t tested much throughout this game, but he got the job done aside from a couple of late goals that weren’t on him. Of the key saves he did make, the best one by far was a 2-on-1 one-timer stop on Tarasenko from the right faceoff circle in the 2nd period. He also made nice stops on Pietrangelo from the same circle, Steen in the slot, and Schwartz on the crease. As for the goals he allowed, the first one from Jaskin was essentially in a 1-on-1 situation where Jaskin faked a shot and had Greiss moving side to side to open up his five-hole just enough to get the puck to trickle through. The second goal was a one-timer from above the right circle that was screened by Stastny so Greiss had no chance. They were both acceptable goals from Greiss and he did exactly what he needed to do as a competent backup.
Robert Bortuzzo – Bortuzzo had a pretty average game with a broken-up play, lost puck, lost coverage, and failed clear, but I wanted to put him in here for the rare “grit”/”heart” praise. Bortuzzo probably played his most effective role midway through the 3rd period, when he skated to Backes and challenged him after Backes got into a tussle with Malkin. Not only did Bortuzzo effectively “defend” Malkin, but he took himself and Backes off the ice for 12 minutes (the rest of the game) with roughing and 10-min misconduct penalties. That was a phenomenal trade-off for the Penguins to take Backes off of the ice, it didn’t cost the Penguins anything, and it was in defense of Malkin as well. That is the type of result you want to see when your stars are being pushed around and this has been an element that Bortuzzo hasn’t provided much of since the Jagr/Tootoo incident with the Devils. Great job, Bort.
Line Changes – Almost everyone finally got the top six they wanted with Perron-Crosby-Hornqvist and Kunitz-Malkin-Comeau. After one game, it’s safe to say the lineup tweak worked. Hornqvist did a wonderful job of going to the crease for the first line and it often opened up skating room for Crosby with the puck. Crosby also seemed more willing to go to the net, though it’s tough to say that was due to the line changes. As for the second line, both Comeau and Kunitz crashed the net at-will and it opened up room for Malkin all over the offense zone, even as close as 15 feet to the net. Both lines played out exactly how they were meant to at the start of the season – wingers crashing the net and providing puck support while Crosby and Malkin do their thing with more time and space than they usually get. Now remember, the team did play this way early in the season and lost their way at some point, but if they can get back to this style consistently, Crosby and Malkin will start lighting up the net again quickly.
Return to Form? – As just mentioned, this game featured crashing the net and opening up space for Malkin and Crosby, which was long overdue. It wasn’t the only thing that changed though. The defensive zone work by the forwards, minus the first goal against, was much better than it was against Columbus. Forwards were coming a few strides deeper into the zone and it helped the defense immensely. The forwards chart against Columbus had failed clears all over it. This game featured plenty of broken-up plays in the defensive zone. A little extra work goes a long way. Another nice thing to see was movement on the powerplay. Hornqvist’s goal occurred because Letang carried the puck in deep, which allowed Hornqvist to skate into the slot uncovered since the PK had to watch everyone moving around. Finally, the puck support was there for the offense. Note Sutter’s goal, which occurred because Sutter was following Comeau and ready when Comeau lost the puck. It will be interesting to see if the Penguins can keep this up or if it’s just a blip on the radar right now. St. Louis was playing their second game in as many nights and they never really looked like they had the energy to throw the body and dominate like they often do. Can the Penguins compete like this in back-to-backs?
Staal Rumor – The internet blew up as rumors came out from the Trib and later the PG that Jim Rutherford wouldn’t mind acquiring Jordan Staal back from Carolina. The Trib specifically mentioned that it’s more likely to occur in the offseason than before the trade deadline due to salary cap issues. Personally, I would be against the deal. I definitely agree that Staal would be a boost to this team as a 3rd line center. He also has 2nd PP and 1st PK abilities, but the PK has been pretty solid for the most part, so I’m not sure that is an issue. My biggest issue is simply money. Staal still commands 7 more years at $6 mil. per year, which takes him to the age of 34. First off, forwards usually peak in their mid-to-late 20’s and he has already played a lot of hockey in his career, so I wonder about when his decline is coming. Aside from that, how much depth at the wings or on defense does that sacrifice? The money can be worked out – Martin and Ehrhoff might be gone, eventually Kunitz, Dupuis, and Scuderi contracts will disappear, and the team could certainly unload Sutter, Spaling, or whoever else to free up space. Does going back to the three-center model help a team that has been struggling with winger depth for years though? On top of that, all of those contracts that could be unloaded, still need to be replaced by competent players. Through the life of Staal’s contract, guys like Pouliot, Maatta, Perron, etc will need raises as well. Would Carolina be willing to retain salary? If so, they would probably also demand an entry-level player to offset the loss in money. I’m not thrilled with the idea of giving up a Pouliot or Kapanen to make that work. Staal could certainly be an upgrade in the short-run, but I just think that’s too much money to give up in the long-run. Sutter only has one more year, there will be flexibility there soon. Staal really cuts down on the flexibility to make moves for years to come, and that is my biggest sticking point. Love the player. Hate the contract. So I would pass on Staal. Also, for what it’s worth, Aaron Ward has said that Carolina reassured Staal that there is no basis to any of this. Plus, would anyone be surprised if this rumor leaked to motivate Brandon Sutter? The math works to acquire Staal, but there are many ways to build a Stanley Cup Champion and this wouldn’t be my way. Spend the extra money between Sutter and Staal on more Comeaus and say bye to Sutter soon enough.
Next Game: 2/22 vs Florida, 6pm
Thanks for reading!