Thoughts: Game 61 – Pens finally beat Caps 4-3 in penalty-filled game

By: Meesh Shanmugam

**Sorry for the long delay on this one. Blame llamas, dresses, narwhals, or whatever else you’ve seen on tv.**

Here’s a link to the Postgame Thoughts archive, in case you want to catch up on what you may have missed.

Pens 4  Capitals 3

Record: 35-17-9

Goals
Hornqvist (19) from Malkin, Perron
Sutter (13) (SH) unassisted
Crosby (20) (PP) from Malkin, Kunitz
Kunitz (16) from Comeau, Malkin

Click here to read the goal assessments

Gm 61 - Goals

Penalties
Comeau (roughing) – Inconsequential (gets into a scrum with Wilson after Wilson hits Kunitz and they end up in a battle on the Penguins bench and each receive a minor)
Downie (roughing) – Inconsequential (defends Comeau and joins the scrum as both he and Latta end up with roughing minors as well near/on the Penguins bench)
Kunitz (hooking) – Unnecessary (gets his stick parallel along Alzner as they go for a puck off of a faceoff and he gets a minor for hooking)
Letang (hooking) – Bad (loses control of the puck in front of the Penguins net and hooks Ward to keep him from getting a scoring chance)
Crosby (holding) – Unnecessary (reaches his left arm around Wilson and pulls him back in the neutral zone, causing him to fall to the ice for a minor penalty)
Martin (cross-checking) – Stupid (cross-checks Laich in the back in front of the net with the puck around the perimeter for a minor penalty)
Scuderi (roughing) – Inconsequential (gets into a tussle with Wilson after he takes a run at Ehrhoff, so Wilson and Scuderi each get a minor)
Comeau (slashing) – Unnecessary (jabs Ovechkin’s left arm with his stick in a game that’s already being called tightly, so he ends up with a minor penalty)
Fleury (roughing) – Unnecessary (gets knocked over by Ward, then slashes him back, then hits him in the face with his glove for a minor)

Notable Players

Forwards

Gm 61 - Forwards

Evgeni Malkin – Geno wasn’t flawless against Washington, but it certainly didn’t matter as he was setting up everyone for goals. He was a terror to the Capitals in the neutral zone with three takeaways, including one that led to Kunitz’s eventual game-winner as he stole the puck from Kuznetsov and took it to the offensive zone. Malkin also assisted on Hornqvist’s goal by not only dropping the puck to him in the offensive zone, but also driving Orpik back into the slot AND lifting the stick of Carlson so neither one could defend Hornqvist. The other assist he had was on Crosby’s goal on the powerplay when he fed Crosby at the right circle from the right point, from where the Capitals had backed away completely. Washington gave Malkin a ton of time and space all night and he took advantage of it as you would expect the star center to do. As I said though, his game wasn’t flawless. He lost the puck twice in the offensive zone, but his most glaring mistake was a missed coverage in the defensive zone on Brouwer’s goal. Malkin had a chance to poke check and/or hit Chimera skating across the defensive zone, but Malkin actually lifted his stick out of the way and skated right past him. It was an odd fly-by in a defensive situation and I can’t imagine his reasoning for it, but at least he had more than enough offense to cover it up. There’s definitely no concern with his previous groin injury anymore.

Chris Kunitz – Kunitz had another productive game after getting moved to the second line. He scored the epitome of a garbage goal as he boxed out Kuznetsov from the crease in front of Holtby and tapped in a rebound from Comeau for the eventual game-winner. He also recorded an assist after he missed the net following up on Malkin’s shot attempt on the powerplay, but then moved the puck back to Malkin, who sent it to Crosby for the PP goal. With two blocked shots and two broken-up plays in the defensive zone, it’s also important to note how Kunitz can help the 2nd line in the defensive zone too (though it wasn’t perfect as Comeau and Malkin were at fault for a goal). Aside from a lost puck, a failed clear, and a hooking penalty, the move to the 2nd line definitely looks like a success for Kunitz.

If Kunitz wants to keep succeeding on the 2nd line, this is where he'll be. (Nick Wass/AP Photo)

If Kunitz wants to keep succeeding on the 2nd line, this is where he’ll be. (Nick Wass/AP Photo)

Brandon Sutter – Amid all the Staal rumors and theories that maybe the rumors exist to motivate Sutter, maybe Sutter is picking up the hints. He had a team-leading five shots on net, including a breakaway shorthanded goal on a chance that was gifted to him from Matt Niskanen. He also had two broken-up plays in the defensive zone and drew a penalty as he looked strong with the puck for once. On the negative side, he did lose the puck three times, but it was an overall plus game for Sutter and that hasn’t been seen with regularity for a while. Even if the rumors don’t boost him, the acquisition of Winnik should at least help moving forward.

Defensemen/Goalies

Christian Ehrhoff – Ehrhoff had a surprisingly smooth return to action after missing a few weeks with a concussion. He was paired with Pouliot and the two didn’t look out of sync at all throughout the night. Ehrhoff drew a penalty and also contributed to the first goal as he dug a puck away from a board battle in the defensive zone and slid it over to Malkin to start the zone exit. He also had a takeaway, forced turnover, and two broken-up plays to go against a giveaway, lost puck, and one lost coverage. It was immediately evident that Ehrhoff improves the ability of the offense to move through the neutral zone, so expect him to play a big part in the stretch run coming up.

The German probably encouraged this. (Nick Wass/AP Photo)

The German probably encouraged this too. (Nick Wass/AP Photo)

Derrick Pouliot – In an unexpected turn of events, Pouliot has found a way to look calmer and more attentive on defense than offense. He looked great in the defensive zone with three blocked shots, a forced turnover, and a broken-up play as he played a 1-on-1 situation perfectly. He wasn’t necessarily bad on the offensive side, but he lost the puck twice as he got a little ahead of himself while trying to make difficult zone entries on his own. After Pouliot’s initial string of games in the NHL, Johnston sat him and had the staff work with him on his defensive game. Since then, there has definitely been a shift in his performances from offense to defense. It’s a very good sign in the long run because he’ll eventually be able to combine both and turn into a well-rounded defenseman.

Simon Despres – There’s no nice way to say it, Despres looked terrible against the Capitals. He was partially at fault for Brouwer’s goal as he didn’t step up on Chimera and was caught completely flat-footed as Chimera moved in and passed the puck to Brouwer. He also was awful with the puck as he recorded two giveaways and three lost pucks in comparison to creating no turnovers. It was generally a game where Despres contributed nothing from start to finish, which has been a rarity this season. He was also knocked around through most of the game, absorbing big hits from Ovechkin and Wilson specifically. If the game plan for Washington was to target Despres, they certainly did a good job of it.

Misc. Thoughts

Winnik Trade – As you certainly know by now, the Pens acquired Daniel Winnik from Toronto for a 2nd rounder in 2016, a 4th rounder in 2015, and Zach Sill. Toronto is also paying for half of Winnik’s remaining $1.3 million salary. Winnik is an unrestricted free agent after this season. Looking at it piece by piece: 1) I love the addition of Winnik as a 3rd line winger who can take heavy PK minutes. He brings a physical game AND can move the puck, which should help the 3rd line get out of the defensive zone greatly. 2) Toronto picking up half of Winnik’s salary helps the deal work out and also gives the Pens some flexibility to make another possible move. 3) Giving up the 2nd rounder in 2016 is important. I’m glad to see the Pens keep their 2nd rounder in a deep draft this year and they still have all of their other picks in 2016, so it’s a reasonable trade piece. 4) The 4th rounder stings a little since the Pens will pick in the 2nd round and then not again until the 5th, but 4th rounders aren’t exactly surefire NHL material, so it’s probably not worth thinking about. 5) Getting rid of Sill basically factors in for money and also getting rid of Sill. It’s a win in both areas. Overall, I think it’s a great trade for a team that is trying to get deeper for this year’s Cup run and the price is reasonable in this trade market. I also would not rule out Winnik re-signing in the offseason depending on how this year plays out and what the future is for Sutter and Scuderi for cap reasons.

Officiating Anomaly – This game was loaded with penalty calls on both sides, but I wouldn’t expect that to become a regular thing. It’s interesting to note that Gary Bettman was at this game and spoke before the game. Bettman was specifically asked about Ovechkin’s slash on Letang in the prior Caps/Pens game, the review of that play, and the officiating in that game. Now, Bettman may not be the man in charge of officials, but I have a hard time believing that this string of events didn’t play into some discussions and how the game was eventually called. Though hockey would turn into a cleaner, better sport if games were called this tightly and players adjusted to it, I’m certainly not holding my breath waiting for it. It would be surprising if there is even another game this season called this tightly.

The man is a game-changer. (Nick Wass/AP Photo)

The man is a game-changer. (Nick Wass/AP Photo)

Next Game: 3/1 vs Columbus, 5pm

Thanks for reading!