Thoughts: Game 61 – Penguins @ Predators

Penguins 3  Predators 1

By: Meesh Shanmugam (@HockeyMeesh)

 

Raise the roof for Rinne's return! (Mark Humphrey/AP Photo)

Raise the roof for Rinne’s return! (Mark Humphrey/AP Photo)

Goals
Niskanen (8) from Crosby, Gibbons
Niskanen (9) (PP) from Malkin, Crosby
Kunitz (2) from Crosby

Stats
Shots: Kunitz (7)
Missed Shots: Malkin (5)
Blocked Shots: Glass (5)
Hits: Glass/Kunitz/Vitale (2)
Ice Time: Niskanen (23:39) … Kobasew (7:34)
Faceoffs: Crosby (12/22) … Malkin (7/16)

Quick Summary
Good: Crosby, Glass, Niskanen
Noteworthy: Despres, Orpik
Bad: None
Other Players: Gibbons, Kunitz, Vitale, Maatta
Misc Thoughts: Defensive Pairs, Looking Ahead
1st GF: Kunitz, Gibbons, Crosby, Niskanen
1st GA: Jokinen, Orpik, Maatta
2nd GF: Fleury, Crosby, Malkin, Niskanen
3rd GF: Gibbons, Crosby, Kunitz

Bortuzzo may have rabies. (Mark Humphrey/AP Photo)

Bortuzzo may have rabies. (Mark Humphrey/AP Photo)

Neal (boarding; Bad-Stupid)
Bortuzzo (fighting; Inconsequential)
Despres (holding; Bad)
Team (too many men; Bad-Stupid)
Niskanen (hooking; Bad)

Player Assessment

Good

Sidney Crosby – Crosby had an oddly quiet three-point (should have been four) night in the 3-1 victory. He assisted on all three goals, earning primary assists on the first and third goals and a secondary assist on Niskanen’s second goal of the game. He also notched a takeaway in the neutral zone and forced a turnover in the offensive zone, which led to the 3rd goal for. The odd part about Crosby’s game was he recorded zero shots while Chris Kunitz took seven next to him. Aside from one offensive zone giveaway, it was a very solid game for Crosby.

Tanner Glass – The only reason Glass is here is absolutely because of his five blocked shots. Three of them were on Weber, two of them caused rebounds that cleared the zone, and another one caused a change of possession that allowed the Penguins to rush up ice. He was fearless on the PK in front of Shea Weber. Most importantly, he was positioned perfectly on the PK as the shot blocks would suggest. I’d rather see him have the puck of course, but playing solid in the defensive zone isn’t a bad thing either.  Now if only he could score an empty netter…

Matt Niskanen – Niskanen recorded the first two-goal game of his career with the opening goal from Crosby and a powerplay goal on a one-timer from Malkin. Aside from the goals, he was quite average though. He forced a turnover in the defensive zone, had two giveaways in the offensive zone, and took a hooking penalty in the defensive zone. The goals certainly outweigh the mistakes though. Niskanen led the team in ice time for the third game in a row, clearly proving he is the #1 defenseman until Paul Martin returns.

Noteworthy
Orpik is on for way too many of these celebrations. (John Russell/Getty Images)

Orpik is on for way too many of these celebrations. (John Russell/Getty Images)

Simon Despres – Despres had a better performance than in the outdoor game, but his shifts are still very hit or miss lately. He had takeaways in both the defensive zone and the offensive zone, and also had a clutch blocked shot inside the faceoff circles. On the other hand, he had a defensive zone turnover, took a holding penalty behind his own net, and was beat badly to the outside on a scoring chance. Despres hasn’t looked nearly as comfortable as he was when the entire AHL defense was up and that needs to change soon.

Brooks Orpik – Orpik is still struggling off and on without Paul Martin and hopefully a change in defensive pairings helps that. He missed a hit on the penalty kill that led to a scoring chance, which looked uglier than it was. He was also partially at fault on the only goal against as he couldn’t play the puck in front of Fleury. It was a bit of a fluke play, but Orpik seems to be finding his way into those fluke plays more and more frequently. Despite those issues, Orpik was pretty solid for most of the game. It just seems like his mistakes are getting magnified at an increasing rate.

Bad

None

Misc. Thoughts

Other Player Notes – For as much as we all question Brian Gibbons on the first line, he has been quite productive. He drew another penalty (his 5th in 3 games), assisted on the 1st goal, and helped out on the 3rd goal as well. Chris Kunitz had seven shots, a goal, and drew a hooking penalty. Despite all of the good, he turned the puck over three times and doesn’t look like he’s skating the full rink well right now. Joe Vitale had a solid game as he intercepted a pass on the PK, forced a neutral zone turnover, and also drew a penalty. Finally, Olli Maatta looked good as well with four good poke checks that broke up plays, though only one caused a turnover.  Unfortunately, he was also partially at fault for the only goal against.

Relax, Bylsma's changes had some sense to them. (Mark Humphrey/AP Photo)

Relax, Bylsma’s changes had some sense to them. (Mark Humphrey/AP Photo)

Defensive Pairings – The pairings in this game were Maatta/Orpik, Scuderi/Niskanen, and Despres/Bortuzzo. Despres and Bortuzzo are comfortable with each other from their AHL time together. Scuderi and Niskanen got off to a fantastic start this season when Letang was out for the first couple of weeks. Maatta/Orpik frightened me at first but settled down decently. If Maatta can bring up Orpik’s game like Martin tends to, these pairings have a lot of potential. I am also hoping that Niskanen can bring Scuderi back to where he was at the start of the season. These pairings actually have a decent amount of potential given their histories.

Looking Ahead – The Penguins now have three sets of back-to-back games coming up. First it’s San Jose/Anaheim, then home-and-homes with Washington and Philadelphia. Expect the intensity to skyrocket in the latter two matchups with playoff positioning on the line. This should also be a good chance for the Penguins to find their desperation/playoff level again that they have lacked for quite a while. Finally, Zatkoff should get back into the net a few times and he hasn’t started since January 30th. It will be important to keep him ready and Fleury rested because the goaltending situation is clearly Fleury/Zatkoff and maybe Vokoun going into the playoffs. It should be a fun two weeks ahead.

Goal Assessment

First Goal For (Niskanen)
Chris Kunitz carries the puck into the Predators zone on the right side. He cuts towards the middle and takes a wrist shot that misses the net and bounces out by the left corner of the zone. David Legwand attempts to chip the puck out of the zone, but Kunitz blocks the attempt and picks up the puck in the corner. He then passes it along to Brian Gibbons below the goal line. Gibbons is tightly covered by Weber and he attempts to skate the puck through the corner and up the left side boards. Weber knocks Gibbons over next to the left faceoff circle and Sidney Crosby picks the puck up. Crosby is shoved by Legwand, but he picks up the puck and skates it below the goal line. He fakes a move towards the crease as Legwand follows him and then he continues behind the net as Matt Niskanen starts skating deeper into the zone from the top of the right faceoff circle. Crosby passes the puck to Niskanen, who one-times it from the right faceoff dot under Rinne’s left pad.
Players contributing to the first goal for: Kunitz (74), Gibbons (12), Crosby (91), Niskanen (46)

By @JustPuckIt

By @JustPuckIt

First Goal Against (Hornqvist)
Off of a faceoff at center ice, the Predators dump the puck into the Penguins zone. Marc-Andre Fleury stops it behind the net for Olli Maatta, who plays it up the right side boards to Jussi Jokinen. Jokinen is tightly covered and redirects the puck higher into the defensive zone, where Mike Fisher chases it down. Fisher immediately takes a slapshot that Fleury saves. The rebound bounces down in front of Fleury, where it’s kicked by Brooks Orpik, goes off of Maatta’s skate, and ends up in front of Patric Hornqvist. Maatta tries to play the puck and misses it instead of tying up Hornqvist, who shoots the puck off of Fleury and into the net.
Players at fault for the first goal against: Jokinen (10), Orpik (28), Maatta (28)

Second Goal For (Niskanen)
On the powerplay, a loose puck slides into the Penguins zone as Paul Gaustad chases after it with a chance for a breakaway. Marc-Andre Fleury comes out and plays the puck, diving to chip it straight up in the air. The puck lands right in front of Fleury, who gets up and chips it forward to Chris Kunitz at center ice along the left side boards. Kunitz passes the puck to Crosby skating through the neutral zone. Crosby brings the puck into the offensive zone and moves to the right side down to the right faceoff dot. Then he makes a drop pass to Evgeni Malkin, who had skated in front of Crosby and dropped back behind him along the right side boards. Malkin makes a one-touch pass to Matt Niskanen at the left point. Niskanen then one-times the puck over Rinne’s left pad into the net.
Players contributing to the second goal for: Fleury (1), Crosby (92), Malkin (75), Niskanen (47)

Third Goal For (Kunitz)
Roman Josi picks up the puck in the Predators zone against the boards by the left faceoff circle. Sidney Crosby swoops in on the forecheck and turns behind Josi, making contact between his right skate and Josi’s left skate and taking Josi down. Crosby then picks up the loose puck in the left faceoff circle as Brian Gibbons gets into shooting position backing into the slot and Chris Kunitz enters the high slot in shooting position as well. Crosby looks to Gibbons as Shea Weber stays back to cover him and then passes instead to Kunitz, who rips a one-timer past Rinne’s glove into the net.
Players contributing to the third goal for: Gibbons (13), Crosby (93), Kunitz (75)

By @JustPuckIt

By @JustPuckIt

Penalty Assessment

Neal (boarding): Bad-Stupid, hits Del Zotto square in the back in the corner of the offensive zone, putting Del Zotto’s head into the boards.
Bortuzzo (fighting): Inconsequential, gets challenged to a fight by Colin Wilson after he puts a big hit on Wilson. They both go off for fighting majors.
Despres (holding): Bad, turns the puck over in the defensive zone and then pulls back Nick Spaling behind the net with his free hand as they go for the puck.
Team (too many men): Bad-Stupid, the Pens get caught with six men on the ice at the tail end of their powerplay as they are switching to non-PP personnel.
Niskanen (hooking): Bad, tries to keep Gaustad from getting a rebound in front of Fleury and takes him down with a hook and a leg sweep as well.

Pens Record: 41-16-4
Next Game: Thursday, 3/6 @ San Jose, 10:30pm

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