Thoughts: Game 63 – Sluggish start dooms Pens in 3-1 loss to Avs

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.

Avalanche 3  Pens 1

Record: 36-18-9

Malkin (27) unassisted

Click here to read the goal assessments

Gm 63 - Goals

Comeau (interference) – Stupid (cross-checks MacKinnon under the chin away from the puck and knocks him over for an interference call)
Comeau (tripping) – Careless (loses the puck at the blue line in the offensive zone and then trips Redmond before he can take the puck into the neutral zone)
Pouliot (interference) – Bad Call (stands up from a previous collision and has Duchene run into him and lose his balance, which ends up getting called as interference on Pouliot though he didn’t do anything)

Three Forwards

Gm 63 - Forwards1

Evgeni Malkin
  • Good: Scored the only goal for the Pens, recorded a takeaway in the offensive zone and a pass interception in the defensive zone, terrorized Colorado in the neutral zone with a takeaway, a forced turnover, and two broken-up plays.
  • Bad: Had a very quiet start with the rest of the team, lost control of the puck twice on offensive rushes, was partially at fault for the 3rd goal against as a bad pass hit Kunitz’s skates and sent the Avs going the other way for Landeskog’s goal.
  • Overall: Malkin is still the only part of the offense that’s consistently clicking and he showed his ability to take over a game in the 3rd period.
Daniel Winnik
  • Good: Recorded three shots on net, had a very strong game on the penalty kill which even led to a nice 2-on-1 opportunity shorthanded, forced a turnover in the offensive zone, and recorded two takeaways.
  • Bad: None
  • Overall: Winnik did exactly what he was brought in to do as he boosted the overall play of the 3rd line and looked solid on the penalty kill as well. He tilted the ice in favor of the Penguins with every opportunity he had. Underrated note – watch Winnik in coverage as the Penguins come back into the defensive zone; he did a wonderful job of finding and taking away open guys all night.
Winnik forced Varlamov to be better, and unfortunately, he was. (Michael Martin/Getty Images)

Winnik forced Varlamov to be better, and unfortunately, he was. (Michael Martin/Getty Images)

Patric Hornqvist
  • Good: Led the team with seven shots on net, intercepted two passes in the offensive zone, defended Colorado’s breakouts very well, and forced a turnover in the neutral zone.
  • Bad: Turned the puck over along the boards in the defensive zone due to a poke check from O’Reilly that sent the puck to Landeskog before the 2nd goal against, had a lost coverage in the defensive zone, and lost another puck in the offensive zone.
  • Overall: Hornqvist continues to put the puck on net as much as possible and is still crashing the net, though he didn’t find as many opportunities to do so in this game. His seven shots (or at least the ones at even strength) were the entire output for the first line. His turnover in the defensive zone was costly though and certainly not helped by Crosby’s lack of coverage either.

Three Defensemen

Gm 63 - Defense

Ian Cole
  • Good: Blocked three shots, recorded a neutral zone takeaway, intercepted passes in the offensive and defensive zones.
  • Bad: None
  • Overall: Cole only played 12:20 as the clear 6th defenseman (3:01 behind Scuderi) with no special teams time. He was very strong as a 6th defenseman though. He looked comfortably positionally, stepped up on the puck whenever he got a chance, and was physical along the boards as well. It was a solid debut for him.
Ben Lovejoy
  • Good: Led the defense with two shots on net, recorded two defensive zone pass interceptions, and had a takeaway and forced turnover in the neutral zone.
  • Bad: Had a giveaway and a lost coverage in the defensive zone.
  • Overall: Lovejoy played 19:27 as a 3rd/4th defenseman (Pouliot received the same amount of time) and received 2:03 of penalty kill time as well. He looked comfortable with Pouliot and generally comfortable within the Penguins’ scheme. He appeared to press forward a little too much at times given that Pouliot is his partner, but they will likely adjust with time. It was also nice to see that Lovejoy was willing to throw the puck on net any chance he got (2 shots on net, 3 missed shots), which is something Johnston is sure to love.
Lovejoy did a solid job of stepping in for Ehrhoff in his return to the Penguins. (Michael Martin/Getty Images)

Lovejoy did a solid job of stepping in for Ehrhoff in his return to the Penguins. (Michael Martin/Getty Images)

Kris Letang
  • Good: Led the team with four blocked shots, broke up two plays in the defensive zone, and had an offensive zone pass interception.
  • Bad: Pinched heavily early in the game which led to some odd-man breaks the other way, had two lost coverages in the defensive zone, lost two pucks, and had a defensive zone giveaway.
  • Overall: Letang started the game a little perilously with several pinches into the offensive zone corners that led to Winnik, Sutter, and Kunitz covering for him. In general, he and Martin did not play up to their usual levels with poor puck control throughout the night. Much like the rest of the team, they just looked sluggish until the 3rd period, at which point Letang at least broke out of it, but it was too late.

Three Thoughts

First Line Woes – Sidney Crosby had 0 shots. David Perron had 0 shots for the first time as a Penguin. Patric Hornqvist had 7 shots. While I certainly love seeing Hornqvist get the puck on net, the first two recording 0 shots will effectively kill the performance of the first line usually. Crosby was invisible for much of the game as he lost pucks in 1-on-1 situations and struggled to make clean passes around the ice. He and Hornqvist were both partially at fault for the 2nd goal against as Hornqvist turned the puck over and then Crosby stopped skating in his “attempt” to defend Hejda skating to the left faceoff dot. There’s no need to panic over a loss that ends a four-game win streak, but Perron’s drop in production (3 points in his last 9 games) is something to watch, especially if he’s not getting the puck to the net anymore.

Fourth Line Improvement – On the other hand, the fourth line made some positive strides, though the odd mix of forwards still needs to build some chemistry. Nick Spaling, who Jesse Marshall (@jmarshfof) has rightfully been talking up lately, had a solid game with two offensive zone pass interceptions and an offensive zone takeaway. He was generally difficult to get around for the Avs in every zone. Meanwhile, Beau Bennett had a couple of nice shots on net and also threw his body in the defensive zone, giving fans more of the “4th line player” that some think he should be if he’s going to be on the 4th line (Note: I don’t agree with that, I just want him to shoot). As a whole, the 4th line effectively got the puck out of the defensive zone and into the offensive zone, though they struggled as a group to actually turn that movement into shots on net. The performance was certainly a step forward overall though.

Regardless of what line he plays on, Bennett just needs to keep shooting the puck. (David Zalubowski/AP Photo)

Regardless of what line he plays on, Bennett just needs to keep shooting the puck. (David Zalubowski/AP Photo)

Sluggish Start – The most disappointing part of this game was that the Penguins didn’t look ready to start at puck drop. The Avs played a more thorough, complete game as the Pens simply allowed it to happen with little pushback. After a couple of days off, it took until the 3rd period for the team to really get their legs underneath them. Perhaps it’s that mile-high air and the start of a trip out west, but I expected the team to be more energized with additions from the trade deadline and the relief of the deadline being over. They were at least still in this game against Colorado after a slow start. That won’t be the case this weekend if they start slow against Anaheim or Los Angeles. When coupling the 0-11-4 record when trailing after two periods with the penchant for slow starts over the last month or so, it’s clear that this is one of the issues that the team needs to focus on / figure out before the playoffs arrive.

Next Game: 3/6 @ Anahem, 10pm

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