Thoughts: Game 66 – Niemi wins a goalie duel as Pens lose to Sharks 2-1 (SO)

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.

Sharks 2  Pens 1 (SO)

Record: 38-18-10

Crosby (22) from Perron, Letang

Click here to read the goal assessments

Gm 66 - Goals

Downie (tripping) – Careless (gets his stick under Goodrows’s skates and takes him down in the corner for a tripping penalty)
Scuderi (cross-checking) – Unnecessary (cross-checks Wingels in the back of the neck and knocks him over as a puck is coming to center ice)
Perron (holding) – Inconsequential (gets tied up with Vlasic after Vlasic knocks him over and they each receive a minor for holding after tying each other up for 20ish seconds)
Downie (tripping) – Careless (reaches out for a puck he lost in the neutral zone and swings his stick along the ice, taking down Vlasic in the process for a penalty)
Kunitz (roughing) – Inconsequential (gets into a battle with Hertl in front of the Penguins bench and they each receive a roughing minor)

Three Forwards

Gm 66 - Forwards

Sidney Crosby
  • Good: Scored the only goal for the Penguins on a backhander from the right faceoff dot after rushing into the zone past Karlsson, led the team with five shots, drew a slashing penalty, broke up two plays in the defensive zone, had a takeaway and pass interception in the neutral zone, broke up another play in the offensive zone, and played another responsible game all over the ice.
  • Bad: Had a failed clear from the defensive zone and forced the puck a little on the powerplay for two offensive zone giveaways.
  • Overall: Crosby continued his strong efforts from the Kings game with another performance that saw him playing well at both ends of the ice. The backhand goal was a thing of beauty as Crosby burst through the neutral zone, past Karlsson into the offensive zone, and took a rare snap backhand shot past Niemi’s blocker. Just as important as his goal though, he played great defense at the Penguins crease and continually rushed back to cover the neutral and defensive zones. Crosby looks like he’s ready for playoff hockey based on the past two games.
Maybe Hornqvist thought he'd never see Crosby score again? (Don Smith/Getty Images)

Maybe Hornqvist thought he’d never see Crosby score again? (Don Smith/Getty Images)

Brandon Sutter
  • Good: Put four shots on net (not including a post and a couple that were blocked), had a defensive zone takeaway and broken-up play, intercepted a pass in the offensive zone, and did a phenomenal job of getting back to break up a 3-on-1 that Martin was trying to defend by himself.
  • Bad: Had one neutral zone giveaway.
  • Overall: Sutter was moved from the “3rd line” to the “4th line” early in the game as the bottom-six was flipped around through much of the night, but he came up with one of his better efforts through the switches. He played a much simpler game than usual, focusing on skating the puck forward and getting it to the net. He wasn’t rewarded on the scoreboard for his efforts, but it was the type of game that Sutter needs to have to boost the bottom-six going into the playoffs. Instead of defensive intelligence, it was his effort that was on display with a takeaway along the boards and an impressive sprint to get back and break up a 3-on-1 against Martin. Sutter certainly played up to the competition against San Jose.
Chris Kunitz
  • Good: Had two defensive zone takeaways, broke up a play in the neutral zone, intercepted a pass in the defensive zone, and recorded two shots on net as he kept crashing the crease.
  • Bad: Gave the puck away twice, lost the puck in the defensive zone, and missed on several shooting opportunities around the net.
  • Overall: The box score would suggest that Kunitz played a fairly competent, quiet game. The game itself made you want to shake Kunitz vigorously. He was in all of the right places but couldn’t get anything done despite knowing where to be. He missed a wide open net in tight along the goal line as a puck from Pouliot stood up on edge as it got to him and he shot it behind the net. He had a great rebound chance after a 2-on-1 shot by Malkin produced a rebound, but he couldn’t lift the puck and shot it into Niemi’s right pad (a great save, either way). He had another chance as both he and Hornqvist crashed the net but he shot the puck into Niemi again. He also had another wide shot on the powerplay towards the end of the game with a decent chance to beat Niemi. Kunitz isn’t *hurting* the 2nd line or the top powerplay by any means, but he’s certainly missing quite a few chances and quality opportunities. Either it’s a string of bad luck that will correct itself or someone that will finish needs to take over his spot on the powerplay at least.

Two Defensemen and a Goalie

Gm 66 - Defense

Derrick Pouliot
  • Good: Intercepted a pass in the defensive zone, broke up three plays in the defensive zone, recorded two shots on net, and looked flat-out incredible skating all over the ice all night.
  • Bad: None.
  • Overall: Pouliot’s ability to skate and move the puck were on display all night, and importantly – with no detriment to his defensive game. He was simply impressive to watch as he skated from the defensive zone to the offensive zone and he was incredibly active in the offensive zone. Two specific plays come to mind to describe Pouliot’s game: 1) He skated/stick-handled through the middle of four Sharks in a box formation in the Sharks zone (very Crosby-like) before finally running out of room so Niemi could poke check the puck away, and 2) he skated the puck around the offensive zone to the right-side boards, took a shot from the right-side boards, then was at the left faceoff circle when the puck bounced there just seconds later. His constant movement in the offensive zone opens up passing and shooting lanes and he looks more and more confident with the puck every night. As Mike Johnston said after the game, Pouliot has shown enough already to demonstrate that he’s worthy of a playoff lineup spot.
That's NHL defenseman, Derrick Pouliot, to you. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP Photo)

That’s NHL defenseman, Derrick Pouliot, to you. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP Photo)

Marc-Andre Fleury
  • Good: Stopped 30 of 31 shots in the game, stopped 6 of 8 attempts in the shootout, and made three extremely big saves in the 2nd period on blown coverages: a glove save on Hertl cutting across the crease, a left pad save on Thornton alone in the slot, and a right shoulder save on a Scott one-timer from the left circle
  • Bad: None.
  • Overall: Fleury had another outstanding game, though the 31 shots he faced weren’t as much of a test as he faced on Saturday. San Jose took a lot of long range shots to pad that number. Either way though, Fleury was almost unbeatable, only allowing a goal to Nieto alone in front after a Letang turnover behind the net and a pass from behind the goal line that left Fleury with no chance to go post-to-post in time for the save. Though he lost in yet another shootout, his effort wasn’t bad with only two goals allowed on eight attempts. Luckily for the entire team, shootouts will disappear in a month. Fleury continues to keep this team in every game regardless of their production.
Paul Martin
  • Good: Broke up two plays, had a defensive zone takeaway, and intercepted two passes.
  • Bad: Lost a puck in the offensive zone, gave one away in the neutral zone, and had three lost/missed coverages, including on Nieto’s goal when he was at the top of the crease as he left Nieto but didn’t block the passing lane to him either, leading to the goal.
  • Overall: Martin didn’t take the morning skate in San Jose but played anyways, so he may not have been 100% going into the game. If he wasn’t, it certainly showed. He was a bit slow on recoveries and in the transition game from the neutral zone. He was partially at fault for allowing Thornton to get a wide open chance in the slot on Fleury, he got caught in the neutral zone on a 2-on-1 against Letang, and as mentioned above, he was partially at fault for Nieto’s goal when he abandoned his coverage and didn’t block the passing lane cleanly. It was an uncharacteristic game for Martin, though his absence from the pregame skate might explain that pretty quickly.

Three Thoughts

Shots on Net – Though the powerplay still has work to do (four shots on three chances), the Penguins dominated the play and put a plethora of pucks on Niemi throughout the game. Niemi played a fantastic game as he stopped 39 of 40 shots, but it was nice to see that the process was there for the Penguins. Every line contributed as guys like Sutter (four shots) and Bennett (three shots) put the puck on net and looked more dangerous than they have in a while. The only two Penguins to not record a shot on net were Downie and Cole. With the firepower on this team, there won’t be many games where they unload the puck like this and don’t get the result that they want. If there is such a thing as a satisfying loss, this might be it.

Playoff Intensity Continues – Perhaps it’s because the Kings and Sharks are both battling for their playoff lives, but the end of the west coast trip provided an intense playoff feel, especially at the end of each game. This was escalated by the referees continuing to call not much of anything in the way of obstruction, which should prepare the Penguins for life in the playoffs. For the second game in a row, the Pens matched the intensity of their opponents as the game progressed and they demonstrated the type of effort and desire that everyone has been dying to see consistently. Will it continue against lesser opponents (Edmonton coming up on Thursday)? That remains to be seen, but the entire organization at least knows that this team can step up when they need to. Now about those Metro division games and that record when trailing after two periods (now 0-11-5)….

Lucky for the Penguins, there will be no shootouts in the playoffs to ruin these efforts. (Don Smith/Getty Images)

Lucky for the Penguins, there will be no shootouts in the playoffs to ruin these efforts. (Don Smith/Getty Images)

Extra Player Notes – The most baffling decision of the night may have been Steve Downie’s penalty shot attempt with Hornqvist, Pouliot, and Comeau yet to go. Hornqvist was reportedly slow to get to the bench after his last shift in overtime, so he may not have been able to go, but the skilled Pouliot had a fantastic game and Comeau’s goals speak for themselves. Supposedly Downie has some shootout moves in his pocket, but he certainly didn’t bother to use them. … Ben Lovejoy had a very nice bounce back game after a rough effort against the Kings. He led the team with five blocked shots and made no big mistakes in the defensive zone after getting pushed around in Los Angeles. It will be interesting to see if he has similar issues against the Metro teams like he did against LA. … Back to Downie, he also took two tripping penalties, which may very well lead to the reemergence of Adams in the lineup. … Nick Spaling had a very strong defensive game and has been fantastic on the penalty kill on this trip. He has single-handedly broken up several plays on the PK with great gap coverage high in the zone. He is last year’s Sutter in my eyes when it comes to smart defense and broken-up plays.

Next Game: 3/12 vs Edmonton, 7pm

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