Thoughts: Game 69 – Pens unravel in 5-1 loss to Red Wings

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.

Red Wings 5  Pens 1

Record: 39-20-10

Perron (17) from Crosby, Hornqvist

Click here to read the goal assessments

Gm 69 - Goals

Perron (unsportsmanlike conduct) – Inconsequential (gets into a crease battle with Quincey and they each receive a minor penalty)
Downie (unsportsmanlike conduct – 10 mins) – Unnecessary (skates through a scrum and takes out a linesman, which earns him a 10 minute misconduct after the refs had already warned him to calm down)
Martin (roughing) – Inconsequential (drops the gloves with Abdelkader as they grab each other and each gets a roughing minor)
Kunitz (roughing) – Stupid (grabs Abdelkader from behind when he and Martin are already engaged in a tussle, so he gets a minor for roughing)
Sutter (tripping) – Stupid (gets slightly interfered with by Tatar in the neutral zone and blatantly takes Tatar’s legs out from under him for a penalty)
Kunitz (unsportsmanlike conduct – 2 mins) – Stupid (shoots/slides the puck down to the refs after the 1st period ends and he gets an additional minor for that action)
Kunitz (10 min misconduct) – Stupid (gets an extra 10 minutes tacked on to his two minute minor for sliding the pucks to the refs)
Letang (unsportsmanlike conduct – 2 mins) – Stupid (argues with the refs after Hornqvist gets thrown into Mrazek and receives a minor penalty)
Letang (10 min misconduct) – Stupid (continues arguing with the refs and won’t stop after he gets the minor to get 10 mins)
Letang (unsportsmanlike conduct – game) – Stupid (ends up with a game misconduct for whatever he said to the refs in the above arguments)
Downie (cross-checking) – Inconsequential (gets knocked over by Ericsson and then gets into a cross-checking battle with him, which leads to each player getting a minor for it)
Downie (10 min misconduct) – Unnecessary (tries to get Smith to fight after Smith gets his stick in between Downie’s legs, but Smith won’t drop the gloves and Downie gets a misconduct for continually shoving him)

Three Forwards

Gm 69 - Forwards

Patric Hornqvist
  • Good: Led the team with seven shots on net, assisted on Perron’s goal by getting a loose puck along the boards and moving it down to Crosby, recorded an offensive zone takeaway, intercepted a pass in the offensive zone, and caused absolute chaos in front of the net for Mrazek.
  • Bad: Had one failed clearing attempt and, worst of all, left the game near the end of the 3rd period with an unknown injury.
  • Overall: Hornqvist continued to bring his “A” game and drove the Red Wings nuts on the crease. He was bowled into Mrazek twice by Detroit defenders who couldn’t figure out what to do with him aside from knock him into their own goalie. With seven shots on net, Hornqvist basically did everything he could to create offense, though it only resulted in a late meaningless goal. All of this is now overshadowed by whatever injury he suffered near the end of the game. It was reported to be a non-contact injury and no one seems to have any clue what it could be. Mike Johnston said that it looked serious as he came off of the ice and the trainers didn’t have a report yet after the game. We’ll wait for news, but I just hope he can return for the playoffs because he’s exactly the type of player that will succeed in the spring.
Hornqvist crashing the net was the highlight of this weekend. Then he got injured. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Hornqvist crashing the net was the highlight of this weekend. Then he got injured. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Steve Downie
  • Good: Drew two of the Pens powerplays, intercepted a pass in the offensive zone, and broke up a play in the defensive zone.
  • Bad: Received two 10-minute misconducts (one for skating into/taking down a linesman and the other for continuously trying to get Smith to fight unsuccessfully), gave the puck away once in the neutral zone, and had a failed clearing attempt.
  • Overall: Downie is such a tough player to evaluate because he’s productive when he’s on the ice, but he doesn’t stay on the ice. Despite the 22 penalty minutes, it should be noted that he didn’t put the Pens on the PK, which is impressive in its own right. Johnston said he talked to Downie before the game about the penalties and that it’s clear the trend needs to change. Clear or not, it didn’t change for this game and Downie has been valuable enough when on the ice that it’s actually tough to scratch him. Downie is not a fixable problem at this point in the season. Refs are looking for him and he doesn’t help himself out. The Pens just have to basically hope that when he gets out of control, it’s exactly like this game, where he draws a couple of powerplays but doesn’t put the team on the PK when he inevitably ends up with a misconduct of some sort.
Brandon Sutter
  • Good: Recorded two shots on net.
  • Bad: Had two offensive zone giveaways, lost the puck twice in the offensive zone, took a stupid/selfish retaliatory tripping penalty while on the penalty kill that led to a goal against, and lost a puck race and lost his coverage on Nyquist in the defensive zone which led to another goal against.
  • Overall: Sutter was bumped up to the 2nd line with Malkin out of the lineup and it was not a pretty showing. His puck decisions were bad in general and he never ended up on the same page as Comeau and Kunitz (not helped by Kunitz’s own issues, discussed below). Worse than any lack of offense or puck management though, he was at fault for two goals against. One was because he was in the penalty box for taking a stupid and unnecessary retaliatory penalty in the neutral zone on the PK. The other was the result of losing the race to a loose puck and then lackadaisically adjusting to the fact that Nyquist had the puck and an automatic 3-on-2 in the Penguins zone. Sutter’s inability to score consistently has been noted, but that lack of production cannot be accompanied by mental errors that lead to goals against.

Two Defensemen and a Goalie

Gm 69 - Defense

Paul Martin
  • Good: Recorded a shot on net, blocked a shot, broke up two plays, had a defensive zone takeaway, and intercepted a pass in the defensive zone.
  • Bad: Failed to clear the puck once.
  • Overall: Though Martin joined the team in giving in to rage, he at least did it inconsequentially as he and Abdelkader each received a roughing minor. Aside from that interesting decision, Martin was the steadiest defenseman on the team. He was generally the most efficient at getting the puck out of the zone, stayed close to his assignments on defense, and handled rotating partners well after Letang was thrown out. It was a quiet, unremarkable game for Martin, which made it remarkable based on the team’s performance against Detroit.
Ben Lovejoy
  • Good: Recorded two shots on net, intercepted a pass in the offensive zone, and pinched down the boards in the offensive zone to prevent a clear that led to Perron’s goal.
  • Bad: Had a defensive zone giveaway, lost the puck in the offensive zone, and had two missed coverages, one of which was on Detroit’s 5th goal when Lovejoy was caught up in the offensive zone and left a 2-on-1 rush coming back to Cole.
  • Overall: Lovejoy has been inconsistent since joining the team, but that could very well be due to joining a new group and also playing in some odd game situations. Though he was at fault for the 5th goal against, it’s also hard to blame him for jumping up into the play when the team is down 4-0 in the 3rd period. It would be nice to see his puck management improve, especially in the defensive zone under pressure. At least he did help contribute to a goal after being at fault for one.
Marc-Andre Fleury
  • Good: Stopped 12 of 16 shots he faced.
  • Bad: Looked shaky from the very start of the game, struggled with rebound control and had the typical Greiss “save that rolled up and over the shoulder” scramble, looked slow to pick up the puck from a distance, gave the puck away in the defensive zone corner, and allowed a bad one-timer goal to Pulkkinen when he had time to get into position but just didn’t square up to the shot and was slow to move.
  • Overall: Fleury hasn’t had many bad games and this one wasn’t completely on him with the team crumbling in front of him, but this was still a bad game. He simply looked out of it the entire time he was on the ice. He almost looked lethargic as he didn’t try to play some pucks behind the net and did a poor job of handling shots from afar. There’s no reason to believe it’s a long-term concern, but this was definitely in the “forget and move on” column for Fleury.
  • If it could go wrong, it pretty much did go wrong. Even for Fleury. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

    If it could go wrong, it pretty much did go wrong. Even for Fleury. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Four Thoughts

Referees and the Response – As a team, the Penguins took two 2-minute unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, three 10-minute misconducts, and a game misconduct. It started with matching unsportsmanlike conduct minors between Perron and Quincey, so there was no big deal early on. It escalated when Downie was given a 10-minute misconduct for essentially tackling/running over a linesman in a scrum. Though I’m sure Downie didn’t mean to take him down, apparently the officials had told everyone and Downie to calm down and Downie kept skating through the scrum, so he received the misconduct as a result of that.

At that point right there, it should have been clear to the Penguins that the officials weren’t going to put up with anything. At that point, the Penguins SHOULD adjust to what they are dealing with, regardless of whether it’s poor officiating, or sensitive referees, or perfectly logical calls with logical explanations. Instead, the Penguins got frustrated.

First they took it out on the Red Wings as Kunitz took a stupid roughing penalty, which could have been worse as he was the 3rd man into a battle between Martin and Abdelkader. Then on the PK, Sutter took a blatant tripping penalty when he was unhappy with being interfered with. These were both terrible, undisciplined penalties. That gets us to the end of the first period, when Kunitz leaves the penalty box for the locker room and sends a loose puck down to the officials to earn an additional unsportsmanlike conduct minor and a 10-minute misconduct. Why, Kunitz? What was the point? Downie’s penalty already made it clear that all actions were under a microscope.

Guys, there's no prize in there.

Guys, there’s no prize in there.

Later on, Letang received a 2-minute, 10-minute, and game misconduct for arguing with officials after a play in which Hornqvist was shoved into Mrazek. Keep in mind there was no goal on the play (this was the sequence after the no-goal call), there was no penalty on the play, and there wasn’t even a scrum after the play. There was absolutely no reason for Letang to go off on an official, let alone as incessantly as one might imagine that he he did to receive escalating misconducts until he was gone. Oh yeah, it was a powerplay situation, so the Penguins lost that too.

Finally, Downie received the last 10-minute misconduct of the game in the 3rd period when he challenged Smith to a fight and Smith refused to drop the gloves, leading Downie to shove him repeatedly until the refs gave him the misconduct. He’s lucky that’s all he got on that play, but that’s just Downie for you.

So what is this? A lack of composure? A lack of discipline? Forget all of the previous storylines and previous years of frustration. The issue I continue to notice this season is that the team doesn’t adjust to their officials. Everyone knows penalties are down and there have been countless columns questioning whether the refs hate the Penguins. Who cares? Let’s say the refs do hate the Penguins – what are they going to do about it anyways? The only option this team has is to play through what they perceive to be slights against them and to learn quickly in each game what they can and cannot get away with. In the past month we’ve seen a Capitals game with barely any calls and a Capitals game with every call. These trends are shown early in each game. Play within the rules set by the refs officiating each game. The tone was set when Downie received his 10-minute misconduct. The team (by team, I mean coaches and players, literally every individual) should have known what the guidelines were at that exact moment. A stupid penalty by Kunitz, a selfish penalty by Sutter, and terrible decisions that led to misconducts for Kunitz and Letang were inexcusable after that with the team already down. The officiating won’t get better in the playoffs and the Penguins have certainly developed a reputation by this point. It’s time to learn how to constructively deal with frustration or the end of this team’s season will not be a pretty sight.

**Note: I do not think this is a crippling issue to this roster, nor do I think this game was necessarily a microcosm of this team, but it’s certainly something that they can improve on and should improve on heading into the playoffs**

Don’t Forget the Hockey – Okay, penalties aside, how about the fact that the Penguins have scored one goal on their last 73 shots? For all of my complaints about shooting the puck over the past two months, that was not a problem this weekend. However, one total goal against Boston and Detroit is its own issue. Both Rask and Mrazek played great games this weekend, Crosby missed an entire game, and Malkin missed the majority of the weekend, but is that enough to excuse the lack of conversion? The Penguins struggled to score on three of their four games on their road trip too (three goals total against Colorado, San Jose, and LA). People can rightfully point to Kunitz for missing some big opportunities, but when it comes down to it, the entire team is not scoring and that’s a concern for every player. Even if you want to go as far as to suggest the league is turning into a low-scoring 2-1 league, the Penguins still need to find a way to get to 2 more often. There’s still too much firepower on this team to not make it happen.

Kunitz hasn't finished anything around the net, but he's not the only one guilty of that. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Kunitz hasn’t finished anything around the net, but he’s not the only one guilty of that. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Chris Kunitz – On to everyone’s favorite topic now. 2015 Chris Kunitz is not 2013 or 2014 Chris Kunitz. He never will be again. Getting ready for Team Canada was likely the peak of his career, which is rather impressive given he was approaching his mid-30’s for that. How does one evaluate 2015 Chris Kunitz, on the decline of his career (after you peak, you decline – it’s not an insult). Many fancy stats say he’s playing great. Many observations say he’s playing poorly. Crazy idea – combine all of this stuff to come to the conclusion that he’s in the middle of all of it. Kunitz is not playing great and he’s not playing awful. He’s not finishing his chances. However, he is putting himself in position to get chances, which is more than most of the team can say given the scoring output. If he’s not finishing, what is he doing? He has created space for Malkin on that line, his backchecking and defense have been around average to above average depending on the game, and he’s getting the puck to the net/going to the net. Kunitz is the perfect example of the right process without the intended results right now (this game notwithstanding). Regardless of health, age, or whatnot, he knows where to be and he’s getting there, but it’s not working for him. Personally, I think it will work itself out eventually as it often does with players in slumps, but he’s never going to score at his previous outputs. Even without that production, he is still better than more than half of the forwards on this team because he’s in the right place for his linemates and he’s still doing the right things away from the puck. In the end, I still think he’s a top-six forward and I thought he was playing very well on Malkin’s line. However, I don’t think he has any business being on the top powerplay. Only time will tell if Kunitz finds his scoring touch again, but it’s safe to say he’s not as bad as he may look because of everything he does aside from missing scoring chances and he’s not as good as some numbers may suggest because he’s not finishing the chances he’s getting. Find the middle ground because that’s actually where Kunitz is.

Aftermath – Well, now that all of my ranting is done… Mike Johnston said that Malkin is not expected to be out long-term and he has a lower body injury. Crosby would not say more than he wasn’t feeling well on Saturday, but he certainly looked fine against Detroit. We’ll anxiously await news on Hornqvist and his injury, which would be brutal to the team but might actually force other players into trying as hard as he has lately. Now the Penguins will head out for a three-game road trip at New Jersey, Dallas, and Arizona. There is no reason they shouldn’t come back home with three more wins, but I will continue to emphasize process over results. The process against Detroit was terrible. Try again on Tuesday. Your thoughts, Letang?

Next Game: 3/17 @ NJ, 7pm

Thanks for reading!