Thoughts: Game 67 – Pens avoid embarrassment with 6-4 win over Oilers

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.

Pens 6  Oilers 4

Record: 39-18-10

Goals
Sutter (14) (SH) from Winnik, Lovejoy
Sutter (15) from Downie, Winnik
Perron (16) from Crosby, Letang
Crosby (23) (PP) from Letang, Malkin
Downie (12) from Lapierre, Spaling
Hornqvist (23) from Crosby, Perron

Click here to read the goal assessments

Gm 67 - Goals

Penalties
Spaling (interference) – Unnecessary (subtly leans into Roy as the puck is crossing into the Oilers zone so Roy is taken out of the play when he can’t play the puck, leading to the penalty call)
Kunitz (slashing) – Overly aggressive (slashes down on Marincin’s stick with two hands trying to keep him from the puck in the offensive zone and knocks his stick to the ice for a penalty)
Cole (fighting) – Inconsequential (drops the gloves with Hendricks late in the 1st period and they each receive a fighting major)
Lovejoy (high-sticking) – Careless (carries his stick high across his body as Fraser is skating to the slot and he ends up clipping Fraser in the face with his blade for a penalty)
Letang (high-sticking) – Inconsequential (gets into a little battle in the defensive zone with Nugent-Hopkins and they each get a minor penalty)
Downie (hooking) – Unnecessary (tries to lift the stick of Aulie chasing a puck in the offensive zone and gets into his hands for penalty)

Three Forwards

Gm 67 - Forwards

Brandon Sutter
  • Good: Recorded a team-leading six shots on net, scored the first two goals of the game including a shorthanded breakaway goal on a backhander while cutting across the slot and a rebound goal from the inside corner of the left faceoff circle, and intercepted two passes in the defensive zone.
  • Bad: None.
  • Overall: Sutter’s play has improved since the acquisition of Winnik and the results finally showed up on the scoreboard against Edmonton. In fact, Winnik assisted on both goals as he forced the turnover that led to Sutter’s breakaway and also had the secondary assist on Sutter’s rebound goal. Regardless of Winnik’s influence though, Sutter was the man who did the finishing with a highlight reel backhander for a shorthanded goal and a rebound goal just minutes later. Giving him competent wingers seems to be improving his play, so the Penguins may have added more depth than they even realized going into the trade deadline.
For all of his faults, no one can deny that Sutter can score a pretty SHG. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

For all of his faults, no one can deny that Sutter can score a pretty SHG. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Sidney Crosby
  • Good: Recorded four shots on net, scored a powerplay goal on a one-timer from the right circle, assisted on Perron’s goal from behind the net, assisted on Hornqvist’s goal from the right corner, forced two turnovers, had a takeaway in the defensive zone, and broke up a play in the offensive zone.
  • Bad: Lost a coverage going back into the defensive zone to allow a 3-on-2, lost a puck in the neutral zone, and had an offensive zone giveaway on a forced pass.
  • Overall: Crosby was a bit more careless with the puck than in his past two games (who wasn’t), but his overall performance was still strong in all three zones. Questions about his wrist continue to fade away as he keeps putting the puck on net, including a one-timer from the right circle that flew past the glove of Scrivens. He also did work in his best areas as he toyed with Scrivens behind the net before setting up Perron for a one-timer that left Scrivens unable to find the puck and then he later set up Hornqvist’s one-timer from the right corner with a pass that threaded the needle through three Oilers’ sticks. The results will keep coming (read: he’ll take over the scoring lead) as long as he keeps playing strong two-way hockey and gets to work deep in the offensive zone.
Evgeni Malkin
  • Good: Recorded a secondary assist on Crosby’s powerplay goal for his 700th career point, broke up two plays in the neutral zone, had a defensive zone pass interception, and drew a penalty.
  • Bad: Had three giveaways (two in the offensive zone) and was partially at fault for Eberle’s goal after he pinched deep into the offensive zone with two forwards behind Edmonton’s net and left the defensemen to deal with an odd-man break the other way.
  • Overall: For some unknown reason, Sid and Geno can’t seem to align their perfect performances together. As Crosby has elevated his game over the past week, Malkin and the 2nd line have slowed down in their overall performance, which may have been due as Comeau and Kunitz also did not look sharp against Edmonton. Malkin didn’t play a terrible game, but he certainly started forcing the play as Edmonton came back, which led to some very blatant giveaways and an ill-advised pinch with a three-goal lead that brought the Oilers back into the game. It looks like power may be shifting from the second line back to the first line now.

Three Defensemen

Ian Cole
  • Good: Led the defensemen with three shots, blocked two shots, had one broken-up play in the neutral zone, and drew a penalty.
  • Bad: Lost his man once in the defensive zone and made an interesting decision to fight with a three-goal lead at the end of the first period.
  • Overall: Cole was the only defenseman who escaped the night with at least an average game. He was steady even as the comeback occurred and he formed a strong, dependable pairing at even strength with Scuderi. The only excessively notable thing about his game was his fight with Hendricks at the end of the first period. It was an oddly timed fight because one would guess there is no reason to drop the gloves while up three goals at the risk of waking up the other team. However, with Ehrhoff set to return as early as Saturday, it was also a display of another facet that Cole can bring to the lineup. Perhaps it was a selfish decision by Cole to show his value in the lineup, but that may have been a good thing regardless of the result because he does appear to make this team better overall. Now we’ll just have to wait and see who the healthy scratch on defense will be this weekend.
Derrick Pouliot
  • Good: Started the play in motion from the defensive zone for Sutter’s 2nd goal of the game, broke up two plays, and had two takeaways in the defensive zone.
  • Bad: Gave the puck away twice in the neutral zone, lost the puck for a turnover in the defensive zone, lost track of his man four times in the defensive zone, and was partially at fault for two goals against during those mistakes.
  • Overall: Pouliot had a very rough night against the free-skating Oilers as he fell into the trap of free-skating as well. His performance seemed very unstructured and out of character compared to every other game over the past few weeks, so I wouldn’t expect it to be a long-term issue. In this game though, it was certainly an issue. He was partially at fault for the 2nd goal against when he turned the wrong way after Fayne shot the puck through his legs and then went to the wrong side of the crease, which left him covering empty space and air instead of any of the four Oilers that were trying to put the loose puck past Fleury on the other side of the crease. He was also partially at fault for the fourth goal against when he tried to get too fancy in the slot in the defensive zone and tried to skate the puck around Roy, who poked it away from Pouliot for a turnover. That play ended with a bad rebound from Fleury and Pouliot trying to clear the puck, which went off of Roy’s legs and into the net to add some bad luck to a bad play. Pouliot demonstrated he was able to bounce back from getting burned against Colorado and I would expect the same result after this performance. He is certainly the guy to watch down the stretch though because the Pens don’t need his talent as much as they need to trust him if he’s going to get a lineup spot in the playoffs.
The Pouliot/Lovejoy has seen better days...like every other day of their existence. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

The Pouliot/Lovejoy pairing has seen better days…like every other day of their existence. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Ben Lovejoy
  • Good: Broke up two plays in the defensive zone.
  • Bad: Lost a puck in the defensive zone, had a failed clear, lost two coverages in the defensive zone, took a careless high-sticking penalty, and was partially at fault for three goals against in unique ways.
  • Overall: If you want a prime example of why I started doing goal assessments and hating on plus/minus, it’s this performance from Lovejoy. He was partially at fault for three goals that would total to a -1 because of their situations. The Oilers scored their first goal on the powerplay with Lovejoy in the penalty box for a high-sticking penalty, which was careless as he was just carrying his stick high in the defensive zone and let the blade hit Fraser in the face. He was then partially at fault for the 2nd goal against in a tough situation where he and Pouliot attempted to defend an odd-man break against. Lovejoy reached his hand out to grab a rebound in the air that Nugent-Hopkins batted with his stick, which left Lovejoy off-balance and without his hand on his stick so he wasn’t able to recover on the play or defend any of the Oilers in that situation. Lovejoy was then partially at fault for the third goal against on the penalty kill as he left his area to retrieve Fleury’s stick while the Oilers still had control of the puck, which left Benoit Pouliot open to receive a pass across the slot and beat Fleury. Not helping matters, Lovejoy returned to the top of the crease with Fleury’s stick and had to drop it as he panicked and tried to cover Hendricks, which caused more chaos for Fleury to try (unsuccessfully) to see through as the puck moved across the slot. It was a very rough game for Lovejoy, but it certainly would be a tough performance to repeat, which is a good thing for the Penguins. I doubt he is in the mix for a healthy scratch when Ehrhoff returns, but performances like this one certainly can’t happen.

Three Thoughts

Process, Not Results – After the Pens lost to the Sharks on Monday, the message was clear. The process was correct, the results did not match the process, but that was an acceptable result given the performance. The game against Edmonton was the complete opposite. The process was okay for about 25 minutes, then all hell broke loose, but the Pens still won the game for an acceptable result using an unacceptable method. The last 15 games of the season are strictly about process more than results. The team is making the playoffs. The team is playing a Metro opponent in the first round and will have to beat another one to get through to the conference finals. They’re playing to win, but it’s not nearly as important as making sure everyone is playing a strong 60 minutes of hockey going into the playoffs. That certainly wasn’t the case against Edmonton and it may have been a nice reminder after a very strong set of games in California.

This group of men had no business getting back into the game against Pittsburgh. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

This group of men had no business getting back into the game against Pittsburgh. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Backing Off/Rest of the Schedule – As anyone can tell you, the team completely backed off of their game after taking the 4-0 lead against the Oilers. They did something similar against Anaheim before two playoff-like games against Los Angeles and San Jose. Whether it’s Anaheim or Edmonton, any NHL team has the talent to make a comeback once the foot is off the gas. The Penguins have one of the easiest schedules the rest of the way with only four opponents currently in playoff position. There is a decent chance that there will be several games where the Pens run over an opponent early and have a similar situation to this game. While we wait to see if the Pens ever find the mental toughness to come back when trailing after two periods, they will also get the chance to work on their mental toughness when it comes to maintaining their level of play with a big lead. As we saw last year in the playoffs, leads can evaporate quickly regardless of the situation. They better not underestimate how important their style of play is when they’re leading after two periods.

Johnston’s Comments – A crazy/sloppy game led to some pointed comments from Johnston in the postgame press conference. He specifically called out Downie for taking an offensive zone penalty with the lead, so it wouldn’t shock me if Adams returns to the lineup this weekend (and he probably will since there are back-to-back games anyways). Johnston also was asked about Pouliot’s rough performance and he had a strong answer for it. Aside from acknowledging that he knows how to handle Pouliot, he talked about how he could sit a guy like Pouliot but it’s dangerous since Pouliot’s game stems from his confidence, which could be hurt from benching him. This isn’t to say he won’t sit Pouliot for a game this weekend possibly, but in comparison to the last regime, it is great to see that he acknowledges that factor and that he’s careful about hurting his young prospect’s confidence on the ice. It certainly suggests that Johnston can be trusted with any decision he makes in regards to Pouliot as the regular season winds down. The other comments Johnston made included praise for Sutter against Edmonton, praise for Crosby’s two-way game over the past month, and a bit of an unfocused jab at the team as he said that certain individuals played too casual. In the end, I’m happy that Johnston is very unhappy (instead of relieved) with this game, and that bodes well for the Penguins improving their process down the stretch.

Next Game: 3/14 vs Boston, 1pm

Thanks for reading!