Thoughts: Game 62 – Penguins @ Sharks

Sharks 5  Pens 3

By: Meesh Shanmugam (@HockeyMeesh)

Goals
Maatta (8) from Glass, Goc
Kunitz (29) (PP) from Malkin
Maatta (9) (PP) from Sutter, Jokinen

Maybe not the best technique, but useful. (Don Smith/Getty Images)

Maybe not the best technique, but useful. (Don Smith/Getty Images)

Stats
Shots: Maatta (4)
Missed Shots: Crosby (3)
Blocked Shots: Glass (4)
Hits: Despres, Goc, Niskanen (2)
Ice Time: Niskanen (25:16) … Bortuzzo (4:20)
Faceoffs: Crosby (12/20) … Malkin (4/11)

Quick Summary
Good: Maatta, Despres, Scuderi, Pyatt, Malkin
Noteworthy: Zatkoff, Kunitz
Bad: Crosby, Jokinen
Other Players: Adams, Orpik
Misc Thoughts: New Lineup, Debuts, Backup Goalie, Overall
1st GF: Adams, Goc, Glass, Maatta
2nd GF: Crosby, Neal, Malkin, Kunitz
1st GA: Maatta, Crosby
2nd GA: Crosby, Malkin
3rd GF: Niskanen, Pyatt, Jokinen, Sutter, Maatta
3rd GA: Scuderi, Kunitz
4th GA: Zatkoff
5th GA: None
Jokinen (hooking; Bad)
Glass (hooking; Bad-Lazy)
Goc (unsportsmanlike conduct-embellishment; Inconsequential)
Orpik (slashing; Bad-Stupid)
Jokinen (holding; Bad)

Player Assessment

Good
No matter what happens this season, Maatta is the highlight. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP Photo)

No matter what happens this season, Maatta is the highlight. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP Photo)

Olli Maatta – Despite my controlled efforts to not gush over Maatta, is there anything he can’t do at this point? He handled top pairing minutes (24:38) and played on both the penalty kill and the powerplay while also recording the first two-goal game of his young career. Before Bortuzzo went out after a period, Maatta played with Orpik and appeared quite capable of sheltering Orpik when necessary. He led the team with four shots and forced two turnovers in the defensive zone as he played well all over the ice. The only mistake I caught him for was on the first goal against when he let Tommy Wingels beat him to the crease to steal a puck from Zatkoff and keep the play alive. Overall, it was another step forward for Maatta on a seemingly limitless path.

Simon Despres – Despres bounced back from a few questionable efforts with a very strong game against San Jose. One has to wonder if the trade deadline had been weighing on him and perhaps he will be freed of that burden now. He had a takeaway, two forced turnovers, and a big shot block in the slot in the defensive end. He also drew a double-minor for high-sticking as his helmet was knocked off and he did the proper thing – bleed. Finally, he won three puck battles along the boards, something several of the Penguins defensemen have looked weak on lately. That is the type of Despres everyone expects to see.

Rob Scuderi – Scuderi played one of his better games since returning from that ankle injury long ago. Though the pairings were rotating after the first period, he certainly looks like a better player when Matt Niskanen is by his side. He drew a roughing penalty, disrupted a shot on a potentially wide open net, broke up three centering passes in the defensive zone, and played two 1-on-1s so well that the opposing forward had to abandon the attack. Despite all of the good, he was partially at fault for one goal against still. On the third goal against, Scuderi covered Thornton well but then relaxed a little as Crosby skated over to give him help, allowing Thornton to pass the puck past him to Pavelski. Aside from that one issue though, Scuderi looked a lot more like the player he is expected to be.

Taylor Pyatt – Complain enough about Taylor Pyatt and he’ll stare through your criticisms and have himself a good game. Despite my wishes to have him out of the lineup, Pyatt did pretty well against the Sharks. He broke up a play in the defensive zone, drew a hooking penalty, and pulled a defenseman away from Sutter’s passing lane to Maatta on the third goal for. One area where his game was lacking was physically, especially as San Jose ramped up their hitting game and no one from Pittsburgh responded. Overall though, Pyatt deserves credit for contributing positively in this one.

Evgeni Malkin – Starting with the bad, Malkin had a rough time defending Marleau on the 2nd goal against when Marleau entered the Penguins zone 1-on-1 on the penalty kill. Despite the resulting goal, I would like to point out that Marleau took an impressive shot and Malkin was not cleanly beat, which is more than you can say for several of the defensemen in similar situations this season. That ugly incident aside, Malkin had a fairly strong game. He had three takeaways in the offensive zone, one of which set up Kunitz’s goal. He was also pretty solid on defense, breaking up two passes and also breaking up another potential breakaway that the Sharks had while the Penguins were on the powerplay. It was a good game for Geno despite the bad highlight.

Noteworthy
Jeff Zatkoff might need to hire an assistant next game. (Don Smith/Getty Images)

Jeff Zatkoff might need to hire an assistant next game. (Don Smith/Getty Images)

Jeff Zatkoff – The fourth goal against, a knuckling wrister from the blue line, tarnishes Zatkoff’s game to an incredible degree with the final result. Despite that, it’s worth remembering that Zatkoff stopped 42 of 46 shots and came up huge for most of the game. Had he not been seeing the puck well early, the Penguins could have been blown out before they even made it to the third period. He was easily the biggest reason that the Sharks powerplay went 0 for 4 as the Sharks easily moved the puck around for a majority of each chance. With all of that good though, the fourth goal against was very deflating and completely on Zatkoff. It’s not a trend and certainly not anything to read into, but it was a bad play at the wrong time.

Chris Kunitz – Kunitz failed mostly with puck management, especially in the neutral zone. He had three giveaways in the transition game, which only increased the intensity of the Sharks comeback. He was also partially at fault for the third goal against as he was just a step too far away from Burns to properly cover him and prevent a shot. On the plus side, he did score a goal and had a couple of offensive zone takeaways, but his ability to get the puck moving from the defensive zone to offensive zone was lacking against the Sharks.

Bad
It appears Sidney Crosby is in a dark place. aljdf;aiewjf;slkdj (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP Photo)

It appears Sidney Crosby is in a dark place. aljdf;aiewjf;slkdj (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP Photo)

Sidney Crosby – I don’t believe in Crosby’s -5 rating but it might as well be mentioned because it’s such an ugly number. For the goals against that Sid was on for (all of them), my biggest issues were the first two. On the first goal against, the crease/slot area was Crosby’s assignment as the defensemen left the area to stay with their assignments. Crosby was in the general vicinity, but took a wide loop behind the net as he started to look up ice rather than pay attention to Burish battling with Zatkoff. Crosby ended up completely out of the play as Zatkoff tried to clear his own crease to make a save and the puck bounced into the net. On the second goal against, Crosby turned the puck over in the offensive zone on the powerplay and then slowly/lazily backchecked as Marleau went against Malkin 1-on-1. The effort isn’t great regardless of the situation, but it is amplified by the fact that Crosby didn’t help out a forward playing defense with any type of threatening backcheck. That situation should have demanded more effort from him. Beyond the two goals, I also had Crosby down for two other giveaways as well. To his credit, he helped on the 2nd goal for as he drew a defenseman near the crease so Malkin could pass the puck to Kunitz, but it certainly wasn’t enough to offset just how bad Crosby was in this game.

(Gif Credit: @annfrazi)

(Gif Credit: @annfrazi)

Jussi Jokinen – Jokinen had an uncharacteristically bad game as well, taking two penalties (hooking and holding) after only taking three all season to this point. He also ended up with two defensive zone giveaways and an offensive zone giveaway as he generally struggled with the puck in similar ways to how Kunitz did. On the plus side, he did notch an assist on Maatta’s second goal of the game. Overall though, Jokinen’s performance hurt the team more than it helped.

Misc. Thoughts

Other Player Notes – Craig Adams played a solid game, especially on the penalty kill. He intercepted a pass in the offensive zone, interfered with a defenseman on the first goal for, and made two great plays on the penalty kill to waste time in the offensive zone. Brooks Orpik also played relatively well and stayed out of trouble aside from a very stupid/unnecessary/cheap slashing penalty. He looked quite comfortable with Maatta when they were together.

New Lineup – The lines weren’t quite anything that anyone predicted, mostly because Taylor Pyatt was still in the lineup. The lines were as such:

Kunitz-Crosby-Gibbons
Jokinen-Malkin-Neal
Pyatt-Sutter-Stempniak
Glass-Goc-Adams

Orpik-Maatta
Scuderi-Niskanen
Despres-Bortuzzo

As I discussed in the Preds postgame thoughts, I like the idea behind the defensive pairings and I don’t mind keeping these at all for the time being. However, Bortuzzo sustained a lower body injury and assuming Engelland joins the lineup again, that could shift players around.

As for the forward lines, I still am not a big believer in having Pyatt in the lineup. I would rather see Engelland in the lineup (assuming he doesn’t have to play defense) or ideally Megna come up or even Vitale in at 4th line center. The lines didn’t stay together much throughout the night. Goc received 3rd and 2nd line time. Stempniak bounced to the first line a few times. Jokinen was moved around a bit as well. The forward lines will forever be a work in progress, so I guess it’s not worthy of too much thought.

If Stempniak continues to go to the top of the crease, good things will happen. (Don Smith/Getty Images)

If Stempniak continues to go to the top of the crease, good things will happen. (Don Smith/Getty Images)

Debuts – Lee Stempniak and Marcel Goc both made their Penguin debuts against the Sharks. Goc had a quick start, assisting on Maatta’s first goal of the game. Goc finished with 11:03 of ice time, going 7/13 on faceoffs and registering two hits, one shot, and a penalty (diving). He was used mainly on the 4th line while also playing on the 2nd and 3rd lines and also receiving 2:27 of PK time as he was paired with Adams. Overall it was a solid game and I expect his usage to grow as the staff figures out the best linemates for him. Meanwhile, Stempniak played 15:08 including 1:28 of powerplay time. He had no shots, one blocked shot, and went 0 for 1 in faceoffs. Despite having more time than Goc, Stempniak was generally less visible throughout the game. He found himself in several scrums and puck battles in the neutral zone, but managed to neither win nor lose any of them. We’ll see what the future brings with him.

Backup Goalie – Just to head this off before people go crazy (oh wait, I’m too late), one bad goal does not ruin Zatkoff’s ability to be Fleury’s backup now or in the playoffs if that’s what happens. Every goalie ever has allowed a goal like that fourth one at some point. It hurts for this game, but it’s meaningless overall. He’ll get a chance to bounce back against Washington next week, so I will refrain from reading into it unless he puts together another bad game or two. I’m still fully confident in him as a backup.

Overall – Was it a messy game? Absolutely. However, it was against the Sharks, not exactly a middle of the road team. On Monday’s podcast, Nick and I discussed where the Penguins fell in line with the best teams in the league. I had the Penguins and Sharks tied up with a slight edge to Pittsburgh. Move the game to San Jose without Martin and Letang, play mostly with five defensemen, and start your backup goalie…yeah that’s plenty to shift it over to the Sharks for a game. Add in Crosby’s rare horrid performance and there’s no question that the Sharks should have had the edge. Despite all of it, the Penguins were still within reach until the empty-netter with 2 seconds left. A March loss to one of the best teams in the league is not a big issue. Wait and see how next week’s two home-and-homes (Washington and Philadelphia) go before hitting the panic button.

Also, don’t forget to manage expectations. I called this team a conference semi-finals to conference finals team in the trade thoughts post because there are still plenty of holes that just couldn’t be filled this season due to injuries/cap space/trade market, etc. It’s foolish to expect this team to dominate everyone if you don’t consider them the best. Just a thought to keep in mind.

Goal Assessment

First Goal For (Maatta)
Tanner Glass dumps the puck into the Sharks zone. Antti Niemi plays it towards the right corner for Scott Hannan. Craig Adams comes in on the forecheck to hit Hannan so that he can’t play the puck more than pushing it further up the boards. Olli Maatta pinches in to right faceoff circle and deflects the puck to the right faceoff dot. Marcel Goc gets to it at the right faceoff dot and drops it back to Tanner Glass, who has dropped back to the right point to cover for Maatta. Both Adams and Maatta leave the right corner and skate to the front of the net as Glass winds up and takes a slapshot that Niemi stops. Adams gets tied up with the closest defenseman (Scott Hannan), giving Maatta a clear lane to pick up the rebound in front of the net. Maatta grabs the puck and pulls it around Niemi, who is sprawling out to attempt a save, and then fires the puck into the net.
Players contributing to the first goal for: Adams (12), Goc (1), Glass (12), Maatta (34)

Goal: Maatta (1) - by JustPuckIt

Goal: Maatta (1) – by JustPuckIt

Second Goal For (Kunitz)
On the powerplay, Evgeni Malkin picks up a cleared puck in the Penguins defensive zone and passes it up to Chris Kunitz at the offensive zone blue line on the left side boards. Kunitz mishandles the puck at first and then throws it towards the right corner of the zone as the rest of the line enters the offensive zone. Scott Hannan has a few strides available to get to the puck first, but both Evgeni Malkin and James Neal chase him down and pressure him as he gets to the puck. Malkin then lifts Hannan’s stick so he misses the puck on an attempt to clear it out. Malkin then picks up the puck and skates it to the bottom of the right faceoff circle. Sidney Crosby moves to the crease, drawing Justin Braun over to cover that passing lane and leaving a wide open passing lane to Chris Kunitz, who is entering the slot. Malkin passes to Kunitz, who one-times the puck past Niemi’s right pad before he could stretch from post to post.
Players contributing to the second goal for: Crosby (94), Neal (55), Malkin (76), Kunitz (76)

Goal: Kunitz - By JustPuckIt

Goal: Kunitz – By JustPuckIt

First Goal Against (Braun)
Andrew Desjardins enters the Penguins zone on the right side and throws the puck on net. Zatkoff stops the puck and doesn’t get a chance to cover it as Tommy Wingels skates past Olli Maatta to pick up the puck and take it into the right corner. Wingels passes the puck up to the right point for Justin Braun, who quickly throws the puck on net. Adam Burish is standing in front of Jeff Zatkoff and uncovered as Sidney Crosby takes a wide loop behind the Penguins net instead of cutting back to the crease to cover Burish. Zatkoff stops the puck awkwardly as he’s stands up taller to fight the shot off behind Burish and the puck deflects to the ice and bounces into the net.
Players at fault for the first goal against: Maatta (29), Crosby (17)

Second Goal Against (Marleau)
On the powerplay, Sidney Crosby holds the puck on the right side boards and tries to make a pass across the ice to Simon Despres. His pass is picked off by Jason Demers in the slot. Demers passes the puck up to Patrick Marleau at the Sharks blue line and Marleau skates into the Penguins zone 1-on-1 against Evgeni Malkin as Crosby slowly follows the play. Marleau keeps the puck on his left until Malkin attempts a poke check, and then he pulls the puck to his right and gets a half step on Malkin. As he carries the puck towards the slot on his backhand, he flips a quick shot past Zatkoff’s blocker.
Players at fault for the second goal against: Crosby (18), Malkin (18)

Third Goal For (Maatta)
On the same powerplay, the Penguins enter the Sharks zone and the puck gets knocked into the air. Tommy Wingels tries to bat it out of the zone with his hand, but Matt Niskanen catches it and pulls it down at the right point. Niskanen moves the puck down the right side boards for Jussi Jokinen, who quickly moves the puck to Brandon Sutter near the right faceoff dot. Sutter carries the puck towards the net as Olli Maatta skates deeper into the zone from the left point. Taylor Pyatt stays on the crease to draw Justin Braun’s attention and Sutter passes the puck to Maatta as Braun moves to stop any potential movement by Pyatt. Maatta gets the puck on the inside corner of the left faceoff circle and wrists it past Niemi’s blocker.
Players contributing to the third goal for: Niskanen (48), Pyatt (4), Jokinen (49), Sutter (24), Maatta (35)

Goal: Maatta (2) - by JustPuckIt

Goal: Maatta (2) – by JustPuckIt

Third Goal Against (Burns)
With the Sharks moving the puck around the Penguins zone, Joe Pavelski tries to center a puck from the right side boards. The puck glances off of multiple people and ends up in the right corner of the zone. Joe Thornton picks the puck up and tries to move out of the corner, but is pressured by both Rob Scuderi on his left and Sidney Crosby on his right, so he moves the puck deeper into the corner to his left past Scuderi for Joe Pavelski. Pavelski gets the puck with no one around him and quickly passes it into the slot before Orpik can reach him as Orpik tries to slide over from the crease. Pavelski’s pass reaches Brent Burns, who is very loosely covered on the inside of the right faceoff circle by Chris Kunitz. Kunitz reaches for the pass but can’t get it and Burns one-times the puck past Zatkoff’s blocker.
Players at fault for the third goal against: Scuderi (17), Kunitz (15)

Fourth Goal Against (Thornton)
Off of an even faceoff in the neutral zone, Joe Thornton, Lee Stempniak, Sidney Crosby, and Joe Pavelski all battle for a puck against the boards. Joe Thornton emerges with the puck and skates it along the left side boards to the Penguins blue line, from where he takes a long, knuckling wrist shot on net. Jeff Zatkoff completely misses the puck with his glove as it lands in the net.
Players at fault for the fourth goal against: Jeff Zatkoff (7)

Fifth Goal Against (Burns)
With the Penguins net empty, Brent Burns picks up a loose puck in the Sharks zone and flips it in the air through the neutral zone. Joe Pavelski exits the Sharks zone first in a race for it and gets hooked back by Jussi Jokinen (delayed penalty), but still reaches the puck first as it slows down in the left corner of the Penguins zone. Pavelski just throws the puck across the ice to open space at the right side boards, where Brent Burns skates down to pick it up and throw it into an empty net before any Penguins can reach him.
Players at fault for the fifth goal against: None

Penalty Assessment

Jokinen (hooking): Bad, chases Jason Demers behind the net in the offensive zone and gets his stick parallel on the waist of Demers as he gets tangled up and goes down, leading to a hooking call.
Glass (hooking): Bad-Lazy, glides back into the defensive zone allowing James Sheppard to pass him skating into the slot. Then he has to hook Sheppard to prevent a scoring chance since he didn’t keep skating.
Goc (unsportsmanlike conduct-embellishment): Inconsequential, gets interfered with at the blue line by Scott Hannan and goes to the ground hard, drawing calls on both men.
Orpik (slashing): Bad-Stupid, gets his stick between the legs of Demers and lifts up once, and then a second time so that he goes down.
Jokinen (holding): Bad, gets his arm around Vlasic on the forecheck and wraps his arm around Vlasic’s, pulling him down for a second.

Pens Record: 41-17-4
Next Game: Friday, 3/7 @ Anaheim, 10pm

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